Over the past week or so the Syracuse Crunch have gotten a significant boost to the player options in their lineup after the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers acquired depth options at the NHL Trade Deadline. Those acquisitions have taken time to show up in Syracuse thanks to COVID quarantines, roster shenanigans and such, but now looking at the roster, the Crunch are bolstered for the final 11 games of the AHL season.
Hopefully the additions, along with some players coming back from injury, help the team put together more consistent performances. The Crunch have three games this week, but before we go over them, here’s an updated list of the roster:
LW: Boris Katchouk, Gabriel Fortier (R), Henry Bowlby (R), Peter Abbandonato, Jimmy Huntington (inj), Cole Koepke (R)
C: Otto Somppi, Aleksi Heponiemi, Antoine Morand, Ryan Lohin, Boo Nieves (inj)
RW: Taylor Raddysh, Grigori Denisenko, Declan McDonnell (R), Serron Noel (R), Odeen Tufto (R)
LD: Devante Stephens, Lucas Carlsson, Andreas Borgman, Sean Day, John Ludvig (inj), Vladislav Kolyachonok (R), Alec Rauhauser (R)
RD: Luke Witkowski (inj), Ben Thomas, Chase Priskie, Brady Keeper, Alex Green, Dmitri Semykin, Jack Thompson (R)
G: Spencer Martin, Samuel Montembeault, Tyler Johnson (not that one)
The Panthers have also reassigned forward Aleksi Heponiemi and defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Brady Keeper to the Crunch.https://t.co/RaVmggGs7L
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) April 17, 2021
I really like this forward group. If you’ve heard me talk about the Crunch (for example on Alex Ackerman’s podcast!) you’ll know I’m a big fan of Somppi and Heponiemi. Both are very good distributing centers that can play up the middle in both zones. Neither are perfect, but they’re a good one-two punch up the middle in the AHL. In terms of wingers, Raddysh and Katchouk are both having breakout seasons both in points and in consistency on a nightly basis. Coach Groulx told them they needed to be leaders this season and they’ve delivered.
Going down the lineup, Antoine Morand has instantly created an offensive depth line. The coaching staff has done a good job of maximizing Morand’s scoring by putting him on the ice in the offensive zone at even strength or on the power play. Rookie forward Fortier has really shown his relentlessness on the penalty kill, making me optimistic for his development in the league in the coming years.
There’s a good balance of scoring, playmaking, size, and speed. One problem that has persisted is penalties. It was something star forwards like Alex Barre-Boulet and Ross Colton were able to mitigate by essentially making the lives of their teammates easier by taking on more responsibility themselves. Raddysh and Katchouk have been doing that to some degree, but hopefully a more dependable second line (something that was missing last week until the weekend) will take it the rest of the way.
On defense, the additions of Lucas Carlsson and Andreas Borgman have been huge. With Luke Witkowski out, they’ve brought a bona-fide top pair to the team. Both are big, mobile, and good at transitioning play out of their zone to the offense while under pressure. There’s a logjam on defense right now with them, the original top line with Stephens and Thomas, the offensive pair with Day and Keeper, as well as finding ice time for the handful of rookies the team now has. The team is about six pairs deep now that almost everyone is healthy.
Martin and Montembeault haven’t been perfect, but it’s hard to complain about a pair with a .910 and .905 save percentage, good for top-20 in the AHL among qualified goalies.
Games this Week
Game #22: Syracuse Crunch at Rochester Americans (Wed, Apr 21, 7pm)
Game #23: Rochester Americans at Syracuse Crunch (Sat, Apr 24, 7pm)
The Amerks are coming off a tough couple weeks. They lost three straight to the Cleveland Monsters by a combined score of 20-8. Yeah, 20 goals in three games, not great. The Amerks are dealing with a lot of call-ups, including their goalie Ukko Pekka-Luukkonen. The Amerks have to play three games in four nights this week, including on the second half of a back-to-back in Syracuse.
Game #24: Utica Comets at Syracuse Crunch (Sun, Apr 25, 3pm)
It’ll be another meeting between the Crunch and Comets this month, with lots more on the way. The Crunch will be on the second half of their back-to-back, while the Comets play on Wednesday and Friday before the Sunday afternoon matinee.
Around the AHL
Musical chairs is back for another offseason. The New Jersey Devils have ended their affiliation with the Binghamton Devils, putting the AHL team’s future very high in the air. Meanwhile, there are talks the Vancouver Canucks want to move their affiliate closer to home. An old AHL city in Abbotsford, BC (the same province as the Canucks play in) may or may not be in the cards for a new agreement. This is all very early days.