Jordan Henry is no stranger to Syracuse.
The 27-year-old defenseman spent parts of six seasons in the American Hockey League, including three with the Crunch’s rival, the Rochester Americans. For Henry, the Onondaga County War Memorial has been the site of plenty of fight-filled rivalry games.
“We played a million games here it seems like,” Henry said, then motioning to the opposing team’s entrance. “I played a lot of games from that side and coming out that door.”
But now, Syracuse is Henry’s home. The 6-2 Alberta native, who played two games on a tryout deal with the Crunch in November, was signed to a standard players contract Jan. 8.
The BP Mailbag continues this week with more questions for my Alex Kharitonov-sized crystal ball (prospect followers from the Dudley era will understand that reference).
If you believe the rumors that Tommy Pyatt is being shopped, that’s how a roster spot opens up for Stamkos. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Pyatt waived if Tampa Bay is backed into a corner, but right now I’m of the opinion that Richard Panik would be the one to go down to Syracuse if someone is demoted. Panik’s averaging about 12 minutes of ice time for the year, but around 10 for the last five games and less than that if you spread it out over the last dozen games. He’s also been a frequent healthy scratch. Those are the signs, and they've been there for a while.
The way Jon DiSalvatore looks at it, he doesn’t have much time to waste.
The 32-year-old forward, after being the odd-man out due to a restriction on import players with Munich of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany, wasn’t getting the ice time he had hoped for in his first European season.
DiSalvatore didn’t want to wait around, so he chose to return to North America.
"I just felt like the way things were being run out there, it felt like it was becoming a wasted year, a wasted opportunity," said DiSalvatore, a veteran of 10 American Hockey League seasons. "I don't feel like at this point in my career I have any years to waste."
Now for Part 2 of this week’s mailbag, which was pretty full. Also, there is no literal mailbag. It’s all a lie.
Do you see Vasilevskiy as the backup in TB or the starter in SYR next season? (@boltsjolts)
I can’t see him in Tampa for a few reasons: Lindback will likely be under contract and Vasilevskiy needs games. Give him and Gudlevskis a year in Syracuse to split games and compete against each other while furthering their development. The only way I see Vasilevskiy in Tampa is if there’s an injury, and even then it could be a situation where he and Gudlevskis split as the No. 3 so one is getting games in Syracuse. Stay patient for at least another year. Bishop’s an unrestricted free agent in two off-seasons and who knows what the plan will be. The important thing is TB has options.
What do you think the lightning will do at the deadline?(@tfernandez2190)
Lots of mailbag questions this week, so let’s get right to them:
With all of the young, small forwards in the system, and with Drouin and Kucherov ready to be the 2 small forwards on the top six in 2 years, do you think that they attempt to re-sign St. Louis or do they let him walk when his contract expires next year? (Donnie D via BP Messageboard)
Yzerman haters won’t believe me, but I think it’s up to Marty. If Marty wants to play for another year or two, I don’t see how Yzerman keeps him off the roster (stop laughing, haters, it’s a lot harder to make Team Canada than it is an NHL club). This is coming from someone who wasn’t surprised by Marty’s omission from Team Canada. As long as Marty will accept a cap-friendly contract and is an asset on the ice, I don’t see why he’s not re-signed. I also, respectfully, don’t think Drouin is in the same “small” category as he’s basically about 6’ tall and plays with a big base.
For Brett Connolly, the first one was the hardest.
The Syracuse Crunch forward, who posted 74 points in 89 games last season, went 10 games before registering his first American Hockey League goal this year. Still, he knew it was only a matter of time before the goals would start flowing.
Connolly finally broke through with a power play goal against Norfolk Dec. 6, turning months of frustration into relief.
"I knew it would come around," Connolly said. "At the start of the year, things weren't going in for me, but I think, in terms of my stats, I'm right back to where I was in the first 22 games last year. Usually it works itself out."
Despite receiving word that he was selected to represent his country at the Olympics, Kristers Gudlevskis is focusing on the task at hand.
The netminder was included on the Latvia men's national hockey team's preliminary roster for the games in Sochi next month, but after finishing practice with the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday, Gudlevskis reiterated what's important to him now.
"I don't concentrate on (the) tournament yet," the 21-year-old said. "I concentrate on the Crunch and do everything possible to win some games, get some points. When I need to go to the Olympics, then I start concentrating on the Olympics."
Defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote is finally making his return to the NHL after a seven year absence after signing a 2-year, 2-way contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday. Cote has been an integral part of the Lightning organization for its AHL squads the last three year, most recently with Syracuse.
In September, we called Cote an "elite player for the Lightning organization" for his mentoring roles with prospects, high character, and all-around likability.
Simply put, there are players with all the skill in the world that kids try to emulate, trying trick shots and near-patented moves. Cote's the type of person and player that a dad will take his son by the shoulders, turn him in Cote's direction, and say "be like him." Even if the kid never makes the NHL, he's a player and person his family can be proud of.
For a second-straight season, Vladislav Namestnikov spent most of December watching from the stands.
After getting off to more than a point per game pace, the Syracuse Crunch center had his sophomore season interrupted when he required surgery on his left hand, which was broken from blocking a shot against Hamilton at the Bell Centre in Montreal Nov. 22. The 21-year-old is now counting the days until he can return to the lineup.
"I'm even hungrier now," Namestnikov said. "I just want to get back as soon as possible. I can't wait."
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.