One of the more important parts of a young hockey player’s development is the opportunity to play meaningful games. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, that would include their prospects in their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, who are poised to make another run in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs. Going into this weekend’s action, the Crunch are currently in third place in the North Division, one point behind the Utica Comets but also only one point ahead of the fourth-place team, the Rochester Americans.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Crunch will be looking to gain home ice in the first round but will also have to hold off the Americans to avoid the AHL’s best-of-three play-in series. This will allow the Crunch players to develop skills in playing meaningful minutes that will benefit the Lightning in the short and long term.
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No matter the level, playing games that get you into the playoffs and the actual games in the playoff greatly benefits a team. That is because with similar to certain on-ice skills, such as speed, playoff experience cannot be taught. It’s also impossible to replicate postseason scenarios in practice. This is something that must be earned, and while it doesn’t guarantee success in the postseason, it makes a tremendous impact in critical moments. These are things that the Lightning hope to gain from their young prospects as they experience playoff hockey with the Crunch.
Current Lightning Have AHL Playoff Time
For this season’s playoffs, the Lightning players who will benefit from last year’s Crunch playoff experience will be Nick Perbix and Darren Raddysh. In addition to the five playoff games with the Crunch last season, Perbix played for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics before joining Syracuse. The 24-year-old also skated in the Frozen Four with St. Cloud State in 2021. While the NHL playoffs are at another level, his experience playing in high-pressure situations should make that transition easier.
After an outstanding season in Syracuse, Raddysh was called up and played his first game with the Lightning on March 2. He has done a respectable job while in the lineup, and head coach Jon Cooper has confidence in his game. The 28-year-old has been paired consistently with Mikhail Sergachev, and his solid play has allowed Sergachev to be comfortable in utilizing his offensive skillset. In addition to the five playoff games for Syracuse last season, Raddysh played in nine Calder Cup playoff games in 2018 as a member of the Rockford IceHogs.
Lightning Have Current Crunch for Playoff Help
The current Crunch players with AHL or NHL playoff experience that could make the Lightning playoff roster include Alex Barre-Boulet, Gabriel Fortier, Cole Koepke, Rudolfs Balcers, and Phillippe Myers. However, the player who might be the most important call-up is goaltender Maxime Legace, who figures to be the next man up if something happens to either Andrei Vasilevskiy or Brian Elliott. The 30-year-old has 11 Calder Cup playoff appearances and has posted a 2.71 goals against average, and also has 20 NHL games under his belt.
The previously mentioned group will all be considered to be “Black Aces” when the rosters expand for the playoffs. In addition to being ready to play if needed, these players are usually valuable for team practice when regulars are either held out of some or all of the practice. Of that group, Myers has experience in the NHL playoffs, appearing in 16 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2020, where he registered a goal and three assists. The Lightning can take comfort in knowing that their “ready if needed” players have had playoff experience at a professional level.
Future Lightning Get Experience
Younger prospects of the Lightning who get AHL playoff experience will help the team in the future. Lucas Edmonds, the team’s third-round draft pick in 2022, is headed for his first professional playoff experience. The 21-year-old leads all first-year players on the Crunch with 25 points in 43 games. The playoffs would be a nice way to conclude a valuable first-year experience for a player for whom they traded into the third round to acquire.
Another prospect who will gain experience from his first pro playoff experience is 2020 third-round pick, Jack Thompson. The 21-year-old has 19 points (6g, 13a) in 62 games during his rookie campaign. He is also not a stranger to high-level hockey experiences, having been a part of winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Jack Finley and Max Crozier, who recently signed an entry-level contract after finishing his season with Providence College, are just two more of the young Lightning who will pick up valuable playoff experience this season.
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Due to the number of trades the Lightning have made in recent years, the organization has a shallow prospect pool. However, the organization has continued to be successful in developing prospects, thanks in part to a successful development program in Syracuse, which has also included many playoff appearances that have added greatly to these players’ growth.