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Namestnikov Adds NHL Experience to Development Path


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Vlad Namestnikov received the unexpected news earlier this month.

The Syracuse Crunch center went through a range of emotions when he learned he would be making his National Hockey League debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning Feb. 8.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Namestnikov recalled. “Nerves, excitement -- everything together.”

During the first 31 games of his sophomore season, Namestnikov accumulated 13 goals and 30 points to earn the look from the Lightning. Despite already eclipsing his rookie season output of 28 points in 62 games, the first step onto the NHL ice seemed imposing.

“The first period I just couldn’t believe I was there,” Namestnikov said. “Everything seemed so fast and everyone was so big.”

Prospect of the Week: February 17, 2014

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 February 17, 2014 is … Brian Hart, W, Harvard Crimson (NCAA – USA).

For the third consecutive week a collegiate player is our Prospect of the Week. This week the honor goes to Harvard’s Brian Hart, a second round pick (53rd overall) of the Lightning in 2012.

Hart, a 6-3 212-pound forward out of Phillips-Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, had two goals and an assist this week to raise his season point total to 12 (four goals) in 25 games. The Maine native had a goal in Monday’s 6-2 Beanpot Consolation Game win over Boston University and followed that up with an assist in a 1-0 upset win over Clarkson on Friday. He finished his weekend with a goal in a 2-2 tie against St. Lawrence on Saturday.

BP Mailbag: 2-14-14

Need some reading material for the Olympic break? Cartoony Newman is here to help with this week's mailbag.

@sheehandave:
@BoltProspects What are the odds of Adam Erne making the team next year? Might he replace Ryan Malone? #BPMailbag

Well, step one there is Ryan Malone, who has one more year left on his contract with a $4.5 million cap hit. His actual owed amount is “only” $2.5 million, but he also has a limited No Trade Clause. He can submit a 12-team list of teams to which he’d accept a trade. Last June CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Lightning were trying to trade Malone and even offering a draft pick an enticement for someone to take him. Obviously there were no takers. There were also rumors that the Lightning had him submit his 12-team list after his limited clause kicked in on July 1. It’s possible they could buy him out this year, but with one year left, is it worth it?

Prospect of the Week: February 10, 2014

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 February 10, 2014 is … Matt Peca, C, Quinnipiac Bobcats (NCAA – USA).

Matt Peca was one of the best-kept secrets in the NCAA until his natural hat trick last year in the East Regional Finals.

As the 2013-2014 collegiate hockey season got underway, much was expected from the junior forward. He was coming off an excellent post-season and regular season in which he had 15 goals and 15 assists. Many thought Peca would challenge for the Hobey Baker as the NCAA’s top player, but Peca found himself in a little different role.

What to Expect from Vladislav Namestnikov

The Lightning recalled center Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced Friday. Gudlevskis was recalled on an emergency basis due to an injury to Ben Bishop.

According to the Lightning’s press release, Namestnikov, 21, has skated in 31 games this season with Syracuse, posting 13 goals and 30 points to go along with 19 penalty minutes. He ranks tied for first on the team for points and assists. The Zhukovskiy, Russia native also ranks tied for first on the Crunch for power-play goals with six. The 6-foot, 183-pound forward has skated in 75 career AHL games over the past two seasons, all with the Crunch, recording 20 goals and 51 points.

He was originally drafted by the Lightning in the first round, 27th overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft.

Crunch Rookie Paquette Climbing the Charts


By Jeremy Houghtaling

At the beginning of the season, Cedric Paquette classified himself as a third line center.

A defensively responsible forward that plays with an edge, Paquette knew where he was likely to find ice time. But with injuries and call-ups constantly shuffling the Syracuse Crunch lineup, the rookie has found a home where he didn’t expect — on a scoring line.

Paquette has seen spot duty on the top line, but has spent most of the season on the Crunch’s second unit. Forty-five games into Syracuse’s season, the 20-year-old leads the team with 14 goals and is tied for first with 30 points.

“He’s quickly found his way up the charts,” said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. “He just does a lot of really good things. Above all the things he does well, he’s a competitor. He plays hard every night, and that’s why he’s been successful.”

BP Mailbag: 2-5-14

Thanks for the questions this week as we move closer to the Olympic break and the trade deadline.

The tea leaves reveal...

@Jayslightning79:
@BoltProspects Do you see Yzerman making a spot for Brett Connolly? ..or do you see him traded? #BPMailbag

I think the only way to do that is to trade Teddy Purcell (top-9 forward who’s moderately expendable and doesn’t have a no-trade clause), but that wouldn’t be the wisest move mid-season as experience is a big deal in a playoff push. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Connolly move as I think Drouin and Kucherov are ahead of him on the projected 2014 roster for roughly the same spots (skill, possession forward). I think, big picture-wise, better balance could be attained by trading Connolly for a defenseman close in age/development (I’ve always thought Ryan Ellis would be a logical target. Not so much anymore, but there’s a name).

I’d like to say Yzerman likes his young forward prospects too much to deal one, unless it’s a Bishop-type deal, but after last week’s Mailbag projecting the roster for the next two years, there’s just not room for them all.

Witkowski Learning from Increased Ice Time


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Luke Witkowski has learned many lessons in the first half of his rookie season.

The defenseman is surrounded by quality teachers, whether its a coaching staff with decades of experience in professional hockey or the many veterans that dot the Syracuse Crunch lineup.

But sometimes, the best lessons are taught through personal experience.

“These guys help him and we try to help him as much as possible, but I think sometimes you have to live through some of those mistakes,” said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. “You can tell a guy to move the puck quickly as much as you want, but sometimes he has to learn the hard way and get caught doing it.”

Prospect of the Week: February 3, 2014

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 February 3, 2014 is … Adam Wilcox, G, Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA – USA).

They call Adam Wilcox “the Iron Man.” The Gophers goalie and Tampa Bay Lightning sixth round draft pick (2011) has the Marvel Comics character on his mask and has played in nearly every game since starting his collegiate career with the University of Minnesota.

Sustr Focuses on Big Picture After Reassignment to Syracuse


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite being sent to Syracuse for more ice time, Andrej Sustr hasn't seen much game action.

The 6-8 defenseman, hurt on his second shift since being reassigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this month, practiced with the Crunch Tuesday. After missing five games, he is nearing a return to the lineup.

“It’s been pretty good,” Sustr said of working his way back into game shape Tuesday. “I’m aiming for this weekend.”

With Syracuse on a five-game losing streak, the addition of Sustr is a major shot in the arm to a struggling Crunch defense that has surrendered 23 goals in the past five games.

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