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Articles that are feature stories.

Crunch's Richard Looks to Improve Skating, Challenge for NHL Job


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Tanner Richard remembers getting the call, taking the ice for warmups, and then hitting the showers.

The Syracuse Crunch center earned his first call-up to the Tampa Bay Lightning last December, but was a healthy scratch and never saw game action. Richard is looking to change that this season.

In a system that's all about high tempo play, Richard has continued to work on his skating in order to take the next step to the NHL.

"You're so close. You can't get any closer than doing the warmups and showering while the guys are walking out getting their names called," the fourth-year pro said. "You can't get any closer than that. It left a little taste in my mouth to just make it to there so that one day I can hear my name called during the game too.

"I used that for motivation this summer. I thought I had a good summer, so hopefully this year it can happen."

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Episode 76

This week’s “Yevgeni Artyukhin Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast includes the following topics:

· The No. 76
· Second chances
· Point is on point
· Leave Hedman alone
· Crunch updates
· Interview with Yanni Gourde
· New prospect rankings
· Prospect of the Week

Bolt Prospects 2016-2017 Preliminary Rankings

Introduction
Granted, we're about a month into the Lightning's NHL campaign. But, like a fine wine, we decided to let our 2016-2017 Bolt Prospects Preliminary Rankings age a bit before presenting them to you. Overall, the first month of the year has been very kind to the Lightning prospect pipeline. The Lightning have three Bolt Prospects currently in Tampa this year who look on track for graduation this year while an improved Syracuse team is studded with young players who will get an opportunity to play on what could potentially be one of the better teams in the AHL. Meanwhile, in junior and the NCAA, the fruits of the 2015 and 2016 drafts, in particular, are off to a roaring start that leave us optimistic that the Lightning prospect depth chart is returning to a level of quality we haven't seen for the past couple of years.

Before we begin, a reminder of the eligibility rules for the Rankings. Only players under 24 years of age on the opening night of the Lightning season are eligible to be ranked. As a consequence, talented players like Nikita Gusev and Kristers Gudlevskis are no longer counted in the top twenty-five. These "overage prospects" are not to be ignored, though, and add yet another level of depth to the team's pipeline. Skaters with 41 or more NHL games in a single season or 82 or more career NHL games are considered graduated and no longer eligible to be ranked. Goaltenders with 30 or more NHL decisions in a single NHL season or 41 or more NHL career decisions are also considered graduated from prospect status and no longer eligible to be ranked. For those wondering, yes, a certain Russian goaltending prospect is very, very close to graduation as of this posting. Lastly, NCAA prospects are eligible to remain on the rankings for the duration of their college careers, even if they are over 24 years of age.

Terms and conditions apply. Employees and family of Bolt Prospects are not eligible. No purchase necessary. Re-read the least paragraph for full rankings rules.

With that out of the way, let's begin...

Gourde's Move to Center Has Sparked Crunch's Offense


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Yanni Gourde’s move to the middle has provided a spark for the Syracuse Crunch’s offense.

Used primarily a winger over the course of his pro career, Gourde was asked to center a line with Mike Halmo and Cory Conacher last weekend. The forward registered the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Rochester on Friday, and had the primary assist on Halmo’s go-ahead goal in a 2-1 win over Utica on Saturday.

Although there are still some aspects of center he’s looking to improve, Gourde feels comfortable in the middle.

“It is a little bit tougher, especially taking draws, but I’m working on it and I’m trying to get better,” Gourde said. “But once the puck is dropped, hockey is hockey. I know what you have to do and I do it.”

Wilcox Hopes Offseason Work Leads to More Starts


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Adam Wilcox has focused on calming his game down.

The Syracuse Crunch goalie concentrated on cutting down on unnecessary movements and improving his positioning throughout the summer. The work put in has quickly paid dividends for the second-year pro.

Wilcox earned back-to-back wins for the Crunch last weekend, and hopes his offseason work continues to earn him starts.

“I really worked hard at being in control, being calm and eliminating acrobatic saves and stuff like that,” Wilcox said. “When you don’t make those, you’re in better position. It was a good summer for me and it’s really leading into having a good start of the year.”

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Episode 75

This week’s “Radko Gudas Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast includes the following topics:

· The No. 75
· “Boring defensemen” is a legit compliment
· Backing away from the cliff
· The Lightning are only good when …
· Interview with Cory Conacher
· Syracuse goalie controversy and how it negatively affects Tampa Bay (think Desjardins vs Tokarski)
· Interview with Adam Wilcox
· #BPMailbag (Peca, Imama probabilities … Koekkoek in 3 years … Tyler Johnson waiting game … Marchessault freed … Market for Nesterov? … Carolina in Bishop race? … Vladdy as C or W? … Imama timeline … DeAngelo trade)

Conacher Staying Positive While Working Way Back to NHL


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Cory Conacher knew he was on the bubble.

After being one of the last players cut by the Tampa Bay Lightning during training camp, the forward has gotten off to a fast start with the Syracuse Crunch. Conacher earned his first call-up and played one game Saturday, but was returned to the Crunch Sunday.

Conacher is keeping a positive attitude as he continues to work towards another call-up.

“You don’t worry about too much. You just control what you can control,” Conacher said. “You just have to be ready for that next call. Whether it’s one game, a 10-game stint or the rest of the year, you’ve just got to be ready for whatever happens.”

The Bolt Prospects Podcast, Episode 74

This week’s “Nick Tarnasky Edition” of the Bolt Prospects Podcast includes the following topics:

· The No. 74
· 2005 prospects vs 2016 prospects
· The Lightning are good at the hockey
· Are we seeing a Namestnikov breakout party?
· Bowness challenging Drouin?
· Still room for improvement
· Speed and offense an organization-wide priority in 2016
· Interview with Matt Taormina
· Interview with Joel Vermin
· #BPMailbag (Does Bishop HAVE to go? … Jaro Janus status? … Goat sacrificing for Brayden Point? … Taking one prospect from 2012+ drafts not wearing 27 or 88 right now … Polarizing prospect for BP … DeAngelo for Hajek good or bad? … Point vs TJ … Bishop to Calgary still possible?)

Vermin Motivated By First Taste of NHL Action


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Joel Vermin’s first taste of the NHL only made him hungrier for more.

The forward earned a short stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, and was one of the team’s final cuts from training camp this fall. Sent to Syracuse, Vermin has recorded three points in four games for the Crunch.

Vermin is now working toward getting another call-up and a permanent spot with the Lightning.

“It’s a big motivation, to be honest,” Vermin said of his time with the Lightning last year. “Once I saw how it is, the NHL, it’s like a drug. You want more of it. You use that as motivation if you’re struggling or things aren’t going the way you want them to. It keeps you motivated.”

Peca Off to Fast Start in Second Pro Season


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Matthew Peca’s second goal looked like a replay of his first.

The center darted toward the crease and fired off a quick snap shot on a feed from behind the net to give Syracuse the lead late in the first period and added the eventual game-winner on a similar play midway through the second. Peca finished with three points on the weekend, as Syracuse swept a home-and-home series against Rochester to open the season.

Off to a fast start, Peca is looking to become more of an offensive threat in his second professional season.

“I think that’s the key in any situation,” Peca said. “You want to get the puck on and off your stick. We all work on that in practice. It’s good to see the first two go in. They were good plays — nice passes from (Cory) Conacher — and just one-touches.”

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