As we get ready for the the 2014-15 season, it may be time to get yourself reacquainted with your team’s minor league affiliates and what could be in store for your team should they need a call-up or two. I’ll go through them team by team in hopes that this enlightens some people to their affiliate teams. Today, the Tampa Bay Lightning are up with their affiliates in Syracuse, New York; Estero, Florida; and Brampton, Ontario.
Affiliate Since: 2012-13
Distance From Parent Team (Arena to Arena): 1,269 miles
Last Season: 31-32-4-9, 5th in East Division, 12th in Eastern Conference
A year removed from losing in the Calder Cup, the Crunch were unable to capitalize on that success and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. Not only that, but this was the first season in Crunch franchise history that they didn’t score at least 200 goals on the season.
Despite a dip from last year, Brett Connolly still lead the team and along with rookie Cedric Paquette, were the only players with 20 or more goals on the Crunch. Vladislav Namestnikov lead the team with seven power play goals. The scoring may have been a little more amped up if Nikita Kucherov didn’t have an explosive start and get called up to Tampa. Kucherov had 13 goals and 24 points in only 17 games in Syracuse.
When Kristers Gudlevskis was able to get a chance late in the season, the goaltending was steady, as he put up a 7-3-2 record after his performance in the Winter Olympics for Latvia. Other than that, Cedrick Desjardins was unable to handle the workload with only nine wins in 35 appearances, losing out when Gudlevskis was able to comeback full-time to Syracuse from his National team commitments and being called up from the ECHL.
With 23 assists, Dmitry Korobov lead the way for the defensemen, but didn’t hold down the fort on his own end. Only when Jean-Philippe Cote returned from his time in Tampa was there any kind of sturdy defense. Rookie Luke Witkowski was able to provide a stay-at-home aspect to the defense, while another rookie Nikita Nesterov added a little bit of defense, while also trying to push the offense ahead.
Leading Scorers: Brett Connolly (21g, 36a), Vladislav Namestnikov (19g, 29a), Cedric Paquette (20g, 24a)
Possible Frequent Flyers: Along with Namestnikov, Jonathan Marchessault could be another guy up the middle to actually get time from Syracuse to Tampa. Winger Yanni Gourde could also see some shuttle time from Syracuse to Tampa on the left side. The dark horse could be Mike Blunden, who could very well be down the depth chart, but play his way into a big position for himself.
Outlook: With a full season of Gudlevskis in net, the Crunch could very well be solid in net. However, the main point is to get some offense, considering that Connolly will probably be up in Tampa for most of the season and will take away a lot of the offense the Crunch had. It will be a huge time for Namestnikov and Marchessault to provide the offense and hopefully they’ll be able to have their game opened up for the season.
FLORIDA EVERBLADES (Split with Carolina)
Affiliate Since: 2010-11
Distance From Parent Team (Arena to Arena): 144 miles
Last Season: 37-27-3-5, 4th in the South Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference
The Everblades started off quick and picked up some help in the middle of the season by acquiring Philip-Michael Devos, Rob Kwiet, and Evan Bloodoff, all of whom provided a solid punch for the offensive stats side of things. Kwiet especially helped a defensive corp which was a little non-offensive with Jordan Henry going up and down from the AHL and Florida.
Rising goalie prospect Kristers Gudlevskis started off quick for the Everblades and then shot up through the ranks all the way to the Olympics and then the Tampa Bay Lightning’s roster. That void forced the Everblades to go through a lot of goalies, Trevor Cann getting a lot of the starts with Mac Carruth getting some starts down the stretch
The veteran squad only had two rookies who played the majority of the season, with Kyle Bonis provided a punch on the offensive side and Austin Levi having a consistent year on the blue line, while adding some physical play as well in his own end.
Leading Scorers: Brandon MacLean (22g, 41a), Mathieu Roy (26g, 40a), Kyle Bonis (25g, 20a)
Possible Frequent Flyers: Leading the team in scoring, Jordan Henry and even Mitch Wahl could be AHL candidates as well, but both will have to make sure to make a quick impression in 2014-15 rather than assume that they’ll get a call on their credentials alone.
Outlook: Unlike most split affiliations, the Everblades have been able to co-exist with having the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning around in their organization. However, the big thing is that Jordan Henry is the only returning player who has been with the team before the 2014 calendar year. With both MacLean and Roy moving on from the Everblades, they are sure to bring in some journeymen and have some trickle down from Syracuse and the Charlotte Checkers in order to fill out the rest and to actually bring some variety to the team.
Affiliate Since: 2013-14
Distance From Parent Team (Arena to Arena): 1,335 miles
Last Season: 33-26-7, 6th in Central Hockey League
For the first year team for the first Canadian CHL team, the Beast were able to put up a solid performance despite being so far away from everyone else. With three 20-goal scorers in Jason Pitton, Andrew Fournier, and Scott Howes; the scoring was there for the Beast, especially with defenseman Jamie VanderVeeken puttiing up 17 power play points, 15 of those assists.
Outside of VanderVeeken, it was a revolving door for defensemen with Steve Makway, Steve Ward, and Dan Milan doing spot work for the Beast throughout the season. While Kristofer Westblom got the majority of the starts, Grant Rollheiser was able to put up a better save percentage and more shutouts for the Beast overall.
Leading Scorers: Jason Pitton (27g, 28a), Matt Caruana (17g, 34a), Andrew Fournier (29g, 19a)
Possible Frequent Flyers: There could be a lot of looks for Jason Pitton, but the fact is that there’s not much of a leeway for the players in the CHL, as the ECHL usually gets guys suspended from their team. Even so, Pitton will be on the AHL watch with his offensive talent. Brayden Rose is a newcomer and should get a lot of looks if he’s able to get off to a good start in the CHL.
Outlook: With the league in disarray, the Beast could be on their last legs and will be willing to make a big impression in order to catch on with maybe another league should the time call for it. With Rollheiser coming back and most likely getting a lot of the starts next season, they should be solid defensively, which means Pitton and Caruana will have to train their younger players in order to get some more scoring for that team to help out their back line.