Crunch Looking to Fill Void on Top Line

By Jeremy Houghtaling

With JT Brown called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Syracuse Crunch started the process of finding a fill-in on the top line.

Cedric Paquette was the first to audition for the spot at practice Tuesday. The Lightning's fourth-round pick in 2012 certainly fits the mold - a gritty, defensively-responsible forward able to play on the left side.

"I like him because he goes in and he's a little bit dirty, as far as going into corners, getting pucks and digging out pucks," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.

But Zettler didn't rule out trying out other players before a pair of home games this weekend.

"I just experimented with it today," he said. "I'll think about that over the next 24 hours."
Paquette was excited for a chance play with two of the league's top scorers.

Nikita Kucherov, the reigning American Hockey League rookie of the month, has registered a 22 points in his first 13 games. Vladislav Namestnikov is riding a league-leading 12-game point streak, in which he has recorded 19 points.

"I just try to play my game - go to the net, get space for them, and just give them the puck," Paquette said.

Although the pair's chemistry with Brown was growing each game, Namestnikov and Kucherov are confident they can continue their torrid start with someone else.

"There's a lot of good players on the team that can step up," Namestnikov said.

Neither Namestnikov or Kucherov were upset that they weren't the ones getting the call to join the Lightning. Both players are focused on improving their game in Syracuse, and stayed on the ice after practice to work with development coach Stacy Roest.

"You can never be too good," Namestnikov said. "You have to improve every day. That's what we're trying to do."

"If you want to be in the NHL, you have to prove yourself every day," Kucherov said. "You need to work more than anyone else."

For Zettler and the Crunch, call-ups are a part of the business. Instead of worrying how the top line could be affected, they are just dealing with it.

"It is what it is, it's a part of being where we are," Zettler said. "This stuff happens. I feel like those two (Namestnikov and Kucherov) are good players, and I feel like whoever I put them with it's going to be good, whether it's Paquette or someone else."

Pictured: Crunch forward Cedric Paquette takes a shot on net during practice at the Onondaga County War Memorial Tuesday.