Articles that are feature stories.

Prospect of the Week: December 17, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for December 9-15, 2013 is … Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

There comes a point in every NHLer’s rookie season where things start to slow down for him. The pace of the game steadies, reads are made quicker, and suddenly the player’s confidence is at a familiar level to him, which usually equals increased production.

Lightning fans are seeing the evolution of Tyler Johnson as an NHLer right before their eyes. Johnson made his debut last season and started this year with Tampa Bay, but only in the last few weeks has he started to look like the real Tyler Johnson – smart, savvy, speedy, and consistently on the scoresheet.

Familiar Face Devos Unsure of Future

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Signed to a tryout deal last month, Philip-Michael Devos joined the Syracuse Crunch with no idea about the length of his stay.

A Calder Cup champion with the Lightning's affiliate in Norfolk, Devos spent all of last season with the Crunch and played all 18 playoff games on Syracuse's run to the Calder Finals. He was not re-signed in the offseason and ended up with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL, but with the injury bug taking bites out of the Crunch lineup, Tampa Bay looked for a familiar face to fill in.

"We brought him up because he could be a useful player for us," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler of Devos. "He can play in all kinds of different situations, and what we liked was that he's familiar with how we play, and he's familiar with our guys and our culture. He seamlessly fit right in."

Prospect of the Week: December 10, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for December 2-8, 2013 is … Ondrej Palat, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

The most underappreciated prospect in the Lightning system in recent years is finally getting the attention he deserves. Ondrej Palat, a seventh round pick of the Lightning in 2011, has been a coach’s dream since he forced his way onto AHL Norfolk’s roster in 2011 when the Lightning though he’d return to QMJHL Drummondville. He’s been an integral part of Norfolk, Syracuse, and now Tampa Bay ever since.

Palat is a do-it-all player who thinks the game at another level than most young players. Most times that description refers to offensive vision, but Palat’s is a big-picture, coach-like ability to read the game. His responsibility level is off the charts and he has the skating, size, and skill to fit in on any line.

Korobov Climbing Organizational Ladder

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Dmitry Korobov got the call he had been waiting for -- from teammate Vlad Namestnikov.

Korobov, the hard-hitting Belarusian on the Syracuse Crunch blueline, was having phone troubles, so the message from Crunch coach Rob Zettler about Korobov's first National Hockey League call-up arrived through Namestnikov.

"I was a little shocked, happy, and nervous at the same time," Korobov said through Namestnikov, who helped translate. "Mostly happy."

After playing one game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, being sent back to the Crunch, and making the round trip again, Korobov got a taste of what he came to North America for. Now he’s working to earn more of those calls -- no matter who they’re from -- and eventually a permanent role in the NHL.

Crunch Look to Limit Opposition Opportunities

By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Rob Zettler, it all comes down to being in the right position.

With the offensive lines lacking their normal scoring punch, the Syracuse Crunch coach knows the margin for error is slim. But his defense has keyed in on limiting the opposition’s offensive opportunities, and Syracuse grinded out wins last weekend by holding St. John’s to a pair of goals Friday and shutting out Adirondack Saturday.

"We really limited both teams' chances because we were in good position," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "We didn't have the high-end skill we've had in the past, but we made up for it in position and hard work."

Prospect of the Week: December 3, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for November 25 – December 1, 2013 is … Cedric Paquette, C, Syracuse Crunch (AHL – USA).

Rookie pro Cedric Paquette played superhero last week, rescuing the injured, falling Syracuse Crunch by swooping in at the last moment to lead the club to two needed wins.

The Crunch entered last weekend banged up, short on players due to injuries in Tampa, and on a season-long 5-game losing streak.

Nesterov Takes Next Step Toward NHL Dream

By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Nikita Nesterov, this season is his first away from home.

The Syracuse Crunch defensemen, who spent the last four seasons in his hometown of Chelyabinsk with the junior MHL team or with Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League, is still getting acclimated to his new surroundings. While his homeland is halfway around the world, the ultimate goal -- to play in the National Hockey League -- is one step away.

"It was pretty tough, I won two medals with my KHL team, third and second place in the past two years, but I wanted to learn something new," Nesterov said through a translator.

Prospect of the Week: November 26, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for November 18-24, 2013 is … Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

Tyler Johnson is getting good at the NHL hockey.

The Lightning’s recent trip out west was rather forgettable, but there were a few positives among the negatives. One of those positives was the ascending play of rookie Tyler Johnson.

What to Expect from Nikita Kucherov

Not since Steven Stamkos has a Lightning scoring prospect generated as much excitement as Nikita Kucherov.

Regarded as one of the best players not playing in the NHL, Kucherov will lose that label tonight as the club’s 2011 second round pick will make his NHL debut against the Rangers.

Pure and simple, Kucherov is a point machine. He first got on the elite-scorers map when he shattered records at the 2011 U18 championships when he had 11 goals and 21 points in seven games. He followed that up with 24 goals and 43 points in just 23 MHL games in Russia, then had 29 goals and 63 points in 33 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games last season. As a rookie in AHL Syracuse this year, Kucherov has 13 goals and 24 points in 16 games. He also had 15 points (7 goals) in 14 World Junior Championship games spread out over two tournaments.

Originally known primarily for his shot, Kucherov’s vision is the best to come from a Lightning draft since Brad Richards. He sees the ice exceptionally well and has the ability to make every pass needed. Add to that quick decision-making and he’s a power play weapon.

Kucherov has as good a one-time pass as we’ve seen in quite some time out of a Lightning prospect. This is because he can think the game faster than most players; his hockey sense is off the charts.

Collegiate Defensemen Making Presence Known at Forward for Syracuse

By Jeremy Houghtaling

With a glut of players occupying the organizational blueline, the Tampa Bay Lightning came up with a new plan for Drew Olson and Carl Nielsen.

Despite spending more than a decade as defensemen, the pair was signed and turned into forwards. A dozen games into their rookie seasons, Olson and Nielsen are getting acclimated with the position change with the Syracuse Crunch.

“At first it was a little different, I wasn’t really sure what to expect or what to think about it,” Nielsen said. “But the more I play it, the more comfortable I feel and actually enjoy playing on the front end -- getting in front of the net and going into the corners as opposed to playing defensively.”

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