In his first taste of professional hockey last season, Tanner Richard  learned the importance of being versatile.
The Syracuse Crunch forward started his first game on the fourth line, but was promoted to the top line after a mid-game injury. The lines shuffled a few more times, and after reinforcements were sent for the team’s Calder Cup run, the 20-year-old fresh out of junior was back to a grinding line to finish out his eight-game stint.
Although he was a playmaking first-line center with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, Richard has become acclimated with his role changing on a game-to-game or shift-to-shift basis.
“It means you can fit in anywhere,” the rookie said. “That’s important, because whenever someone goes down, it’s not always going to be the same position. So if the coach knows you can play at any position, it’s an upside that you’ll probably be one of the guys moved up or moved around in some kind of way.”
For Crunch coach Rob Zettler, Richard’s importance comes on his ability to win face-offs and -- unlike most players who are on the fourth line -- provide some punch to the second power play unit.
"Tanner is learning how to play the game at the pro level five-on-five," Zettler said. "He's a pretty skilled player that can make plays, and that's why he's got some opportunity on the power play."
Richard, picked in the third round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012, registered 118 points in 106 games with Guelph. A dual citizen of Canada and Switzerland, he also played for the Swiss during the World Junior Championships, where he had eight points in 12 games.
“The power play in junior pretty much ran through me on the halfwall,” Richard said, but noted there’s still room for improvement. “I’ve got to work on getting shots off from there and getting myself dangerous because if I stay out on the wall, I’m letting everyone know I’m passing the puck.”
Fifteen games into his first full pro season, Richard is focused on developing his game, not what line Zettler is putting him on.
“I just pretty much go out there whenever he tells me to,” he said.