When Ondrej Palat was first drafted as a 19-year-old, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren't sure if he could immediately challenge for a spot in the American Hockey League.
The Czech winger, taken in the seventh round in 2011, didn't waste time showing he was ready to make the jump to professional hockey, earning a contract less than a month into the 2011-12 season.
Now, after posting 39 points in his initial AHL campaign with the Norfolk Admirals and winning a Calder Cup, Palat is settling into his role on one of the Syracuse Crunch's top lines.
The American Hockey League announced today that Syracuse Crunch left wing Cory Conacher was selected the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 14, 2012. Conacher was also named our prospect of the week here at Bolt Prospects. Since the AHL candidates for their award far outnumber the number of prospects in the Lightning organization, we listed the AHL’s award first. On pure importance, value, and prestige, ours would be listed first, of course. But we’re nice.
Conacher picked up where he left off last season when he was named the AHL’s Most Valuable Player and Most Outstanding Rookie. During the league’s opening weekend, Conacher potted two goals and added three assists. His center, Tyler Johnson, had three goals, and his opposite winger, Ondrej Palat, had three helpers over the weekend.
By Jeremy Houghtaling
Cory Conacher did a little bit of everything Saturday.
Besides supplying the Crunch with a goal and an assist, he played the point on the first power play unit and drove hard to the net when he wasn't. The last part surely got under the skin of Bears goalie Braden Holtby. The two met in the crease a few times, and at one point it appeared Holtby was throwing punches after the two crashed into the net.
"I just broke my stick and stumbled into him," Conacher said. "I'm the one that goes to the net and does that kind of stuff."
Fruitless on four previous power play attempts, the Syracuse Crunch found themselves with a two-man advantage for nearly two full minutes early in the third period Saturday.
"I had a few chances last night and tonight," Connolly said. "It's always nice to see the puck go in the net."
Syracuse hangs on hard against one of the league's perennial powers.
Riku Helenius allowed 3 goals on 26 shots for the victory, in a successful return to North American hockey. This battle between Helenius and Dustin Tokarski for the top spot between the pipes in Syracuse is going to rage all season, and both guys are going to be better for it. It's an embarrassment of riches to boast two guys who won championships last season in the AHL and Finnish SM-liiga, respectively. Good. Problem. To. Have.
SYR Angelidis, (2) (Wyman), 11:23 (SH)
SYR Johnson, (3) (Conacher, Palat), 5:36
HER Mitchell, (1) , 7:26 (SH)
HER Almeida, (1) (Taffe, DiSalvatore), 14:36
SYR Conacher, (2) (Taormina), 18:44
SYR Connolly, (1) (Barberio, Conacher), 5:02 (PP)
HER DiSalvatore, (1) (Kundratek, Taffe), 13:04 (PP)
Cory Conacher (pictured) and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars. For my money, Conacher was the best player in the league the first half of last season and Johnson the best in the second half. Why wouldn't they lead the Crunch in the home opener this year? With a little offseason rest, Conacher looks every bit the pesky scorer that tore up the league to start last year.
No offense to our friends in Hershey, but I have to confess to being a little stunned that this year's version of the Bears is the least stacked, on paper, I've seen in a while. Sure, there's some fine players like Orlov and Holtby, but without the likes of Bourque or Giroux, this year's team lacks the fear factor of many recent editions. It's going to be interesting to see how the division plays out over the course of the season.
The Crunch travel to Albany next on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
A Syracuse comeback takes away a point on opening night.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 5 goals on 24 shots and 1 of 5 shooters to convert for the shootout loss. That's an ugly stat line for a young man trying to stave off a Riku Helenius challenge for the starting job.
RCH Tropp, (1) (Hodgson), 0:24
SYR Barberio, (1) (Namestnikov, Killorn), 5:28 (PP)
RCH Tropp, (2) (Adam, Schiestel), 14:52
RCH Foligno, (1) (Porter, Mancari), 16:12
RCH Pysyk, (1) (Rankin, Varone), 3:22
SYR Angelidis, (1) (Wyman), 19:14
SYR Conacher, (1) (Palat), 1:42
SYR Johnson, (1) (Conacher, Taormina), 8:01
SYR Johnson, (2) (Conacher, Palat), 10:09 (PP)
RCH Mancari, (1) (Brennan, Foligno), 12:42 (PP)
Cory Conacher (pictured) was the game's second star after posting 1 goal and 2 assists on opening night.Tyler Johnson had a pair of goals and Ondrej Palat also had a multi-point night with a pair of helpers. Youngster Vladislav Namestnikov also posted his first professional point on an assist on Mark Barberio's game opening goal.
I'm stunned that Syracuse threw out a shootout lineup of Palat, Connolly, Panik, Johnson, and Conacher and got nothing. That's five stud prospects with a lot of skill and... nada. I wouldn't have bet on that.
Syracuse outshot Rochester 34-25 in the game, and was very game to come out of a three goal hole to get a point out of the night. When Johnson pulled Syracuse ahead for the first time in the Third Period, you even had to think for a moment that maybe that killer instinct from Norfolk last season was still in effect. There was plenty of good, plenty of bad, and plenty of coachable moments for Jon Cooper to work on the team with after this one.
On to Syracuse tomorrow and the home opener against perennial power Hershey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse has announced that they have sent Lightning prospects Alex Hutchings and Charles Landry to Florida of the ECHL along with AHL signee Maxime Langelier-Parent. The only surprise in the group might be Hutchings, who looked strong down the stretch in limited action for Norfolk last season after scoring 12 goals and 24 points in 23 games last season with the Everblades.
At 22 years old, Tyler Johnson already has a tough time picking out the biggest accomplishment of his young career.
Success seems to follow the Syracuse Crunch center, who won the Memorial Cup in his first junior season, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and hoisted the Calder Cup last year in his rookie professional season.
"Each specific trophy has great memories, and holds a different piece of my heart," Johnson said.
Despite the large void the NHL lockout created, the hockey season is already long underway. Various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action.
The Lightning's new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts the nucleus of last season's Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience: (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick Gauthier, Riku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning's future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.
For many of the Syracuse Crunch players, the beginning of the new hockey season comes with high expectations.
A previous season that included a record-breaking 28-game win streak and was capped with a sweep of the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup finals will tend to do that. But the 15 former Norfolk Admirals moving to Syracuse with the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliation welcome the pressure.