For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2020-21 regular season should be considered a success. After winning the 2020 Stanley Cup in late September and losing key contributors like Cedric Paquette, Zak Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency, and most importantly Nikita Kucherov to injury, there was reason to believe that the team would regress, especially to start the season.
Instead, they picked back up in January where they left off, stringing together win after win and placing themselves firmly in the upper echelon of the division. Even with a few struggles along the way, the Lightning have clinched a playoff spot, and with the imminent return of Kucherov, should be ready to defend the Stanley Cup.
With so much success from their NHL team right now, it can be easy to lose track of the future for Tampa Bay. The franchise went all-in again at the deadline, after all, trading valuable picks in order to beef up their already impressive lineup. Despite giving up a number of top picks and prospects over the last two seasons, the Lightning still have a solid prospect pool, filled with talent who is quickly developing into players whom you could see on the ice in the coming years.
So, as the Lightning look towards their next playoff run, let’s take a step back from the NHL and take a look at the players who are impressing with their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
Lightning’s AHL Stars Are Finding Success
While Crunch, won’t be able to compete for the 2021 Calder Cup after the postseason was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, this doesn’t mean that the Crunch players have been taking it easy this season. In fact, in back-to-back weeks, two members of Syracuse found themselves gaining accolades from the league.
First was Taylor Raddysh, a prospect who has been quietly refining his game in the AHL over the last three seasons. While he is a player who has a lot of potential, there was uncertainty about whether or not his offensive game would develop alongside his 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame.
With offensives leaders like Alex Barre-Boulet, Ross Colton, and Alexander Volkov graduating from the AHL, Raddysh was leaned upon to pick up the slack on offense, which he has done in a meaningful way. Through 21 games played so far, he has nine goals and 24 points to his name, which sit second overall for the Crunch. More impressive, however, was his play in mid-April, where he capped off a six-game scoring streak by being named AHL player of the week.
Not to be outdone, Raddysh’s linemate and Crunch scoring leader Boris Katchouk continued on his scoring ways the week after. While in the midst of a 14-game scoring streak, Katchouk had a dominant stretch, posting two goals and nine points while earning player of the week honors himself for the week of April 25th. With 29 points scored in 24 games played, he sits tied for fifth overall in AHL scoring, while his impressive plus-19 ties him for third in the league.
As players selected in the second round of the NHL Draft, there were expectations that both Raddysh and Katchouk could become this kind of top-end scorer, but to see them both reaching this level of play while acting as leaders for the Crunch is promising for their futures with the franchise. So, while there will be a lot of competition for those final spots on the roster out of the 2021 training camp, don’t be surprised if either player sneaks their way onto the line-up with a strong showing.
Crunch’s Strong Year Won’t Be Lost On Lightning
For the Lightning, there will be a lot of positives to take out of the Crunch’s season, even if they will not have the opportunity to compete for the Calder Cup. When you consider the number of players that Syracuse lost to the taxi squad and the roster shuffling caused by the adoption of Florida Panthers’ players, you would expect the team to struggle this season. Yet, they sat firmly in the playoff hunt all year, and likely would have made the postseason if they had happened.
By having this solid season on the ice, Tampa Bay was able to continue developing players that couldn’t afford to lose another year. Without this time played, Katchouk and Raddysh were able to prove that they were ready to take that next step in their careers. Outside of them, you also have their first-line center Otto Somppi, who has gone from looking like a long-shot seventh-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the third-best scorer on the team with sights on a roster spot in the near future.
So, while they may not get a chance to compete for the Calder Cup, the Crunch still had a successful season for the Lightning, and as a team that needs talent and depth from all areato continue pushing for a Stanley Cup, that is all the franchise can ask for.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.