JT Brown may be a rookie on a line with a pair of veterans, but he certainly doesn't look out of place.
Twelve games into his first Calder Cup run, the Syracuse Crunch forward has been counted on to provide timely goals and tough defense that wears down the opposition's top line. Flanked by JT Wyman and Mike Angelidis, Brown is learning from two guys with plenty of postseason experience.
"You don't have to do too much, they're always doing what they're supposed to," Brown said after practice Tuesday. Syracuse hosts Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals Saturday. "They're vets and they know what needs to be done."
Angelidis, the Crunch's captain who hoisted the cup with the Norfolk Admirals last season, has been impressed by Brown's effort every night.
"He's a fast learner," Angelidis said. "And we're learning things from him too. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he works hard."
Vincent Lecavalier's tenure with the club that drafted him first overall in 1998 has been a stretch of lean and occasionally tumultuous seasons interrupted by a cluster of four consecutive postseason appearances that included a Cup and, several years later, another deep playoff run. Though the Lightning's first bona fide superstar and despite widespread admiration for his efforts on and off the ice, Lecavalier has been dogged (see Exhibits A , B, C, D and E) at various junctures of his professional career by speculation that he is or should be destined for some other hockey market.
He came close.
Lecavalier was nearly traded on three known occasions: first, to Toronto in late 2001 after bristling under the tutelage of temperamental coaching newcomer John Tortorella (cooler heads prevailed), then, in 2006, Lightning GM Jay Feaster shopped Lecavalier to Vancouver for goaltender Roberto Luongo, and finally, in 2009, Canadiens and Lightning brass established parameters for a deal that was never consummated.
Knowledge of these episodes has no doubt kept the prospect of his departure from the Lightning simmering, but it's the succession of injuries and diminished production following an 11-year, $85 million extension signed in 2008 as well as the arrival and rapid emergence of new No. 1 center Steven Stamkos that have really stoked the flames of conjecture. What was once a confluence of impassioned, covetous rumor-mongering that served as a grim specter for those concerned with the state of the Lightning has become a discussion steeped in practicality for fans and pundits alike.
The Crunch forward plowed through Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney, creating a rebound for Mark Barberio to bury less than a second later to give Syracuse a two-goal lead in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last week. It was Namestnikov’s first of two assists on the night, his first professional postseason points.
"Not a lot of players make that play," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "A lot of players go behind the net instead of going to the front of the net. He's got the courage and the speed to make those plays."
For Zettler, it’s just one example of the recent development in Namestnikov’s game.
"Over the last two or three weeks, his play has really elevated," Zettler said of the 20-year-old. "He's really skating well, he's battling for pucks and going to the hard areas."
For a 30-goal scorer, Brett Connolly is essentially flying below the radar.
Overshadowed by the success of the Syracuse Crunch's top line, Connolly has quietly continued his nearly one point per game pace in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He has five points in seven postseason games, having already notched 31 goals and 32 assists in 71 games in the regular season.
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 April 25 is … Syracuse’s Top Gun line (AHL – USA).
Tyler Johnson is sharing the wealth.
Johnson had a hat trick and seven total points (2 GP, 4-3-7) last week as the Crunch came off a week-long break with two wins over Springfield in Massachusetts. Syracuse holds a 2-0 series lead on the Falcons entering Wednesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
Johnson has won our Prospect of the Week three times in the last six weeks and we’re running out of ways to say he’s good at the hockey, so we’re giving the award to his line, made up of Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik. The line was recently named the Top Gun line, though it has also been called the PTPer (Prime Time Players via Dick Vitale). Regardless of what people are calling it, the line is on fire.