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Bolt Prospect of the Week: April 23, 2014

With the end of the Lightning and Crunch seasons, we conclude our Bolt 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 Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 23, 2014 is … Luke Witkowski, D, Syracuse Crunch (AHL – USA).

Twenty-eight Bolt Prospect of the Week awards have been handed out this season, usually for offensive production or goaltending mastery. Not this week.

This week’s award goes to a rarely appreciated player type, a stay-at-home defenseman.

Luke Witkowski finished his rookie pro season last week, taking another step toward his dream of playing in the NHL. Not every prospect can step right into the NHL. Most have to be grown, groomed, and guided along the developmental path to the big show. Witkowski, who is now six seasons removed from his draft year, was named the Syracuse Crunch’s Most Improved Player for the year last week. To celebrate, he scored his second goal of the season on Sunday, though it didn’t make any highlight reels.

What's In Place for 2014-2015

Tampa Bay Lightning 50-man Organizational Roster for 2014-2015 (contract status via @capgeek):

Crunch Wrap-up: Syracuse’s Late Surge Can’t Overcome Midseason Spiral

By Jeremy Houghtaling

The Syracuse Crunch’s 2013-2014 season was defined by hills and valleys.

The proverbial wheels fell off after a fast start, and by the time the Crunch recovered it was too late for a playoff push, leaving lofty pre-season expectations unfulfilled.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2012 American Hockey League affiliate, Norfolk, hoisted the Calder Cup, and the Crunch won the Eastern Conference championship in 2013 but fell in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals last June.

“You have to keep the bar that high,” said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. “As soon as you lower the bar or lower the standard, everybody takes their foot off the gas. That standard has been set here the past couple years. But more than that is the process, the effort, and the commitment level that it took to get to those places – those are the standards you have to keep in place and the winning takes care of itself.”

Crunch Rookies Show Promise in Challenging Season

By Jeremy Houghtaling

This season’s crop of Syracuse Crunch rookies showed progress through adversity.

With injuries and call-ups thinning Syracuse’s depth, Crunch newcomers were asked to log important minutes, but coach Rob Zettler believes the experience they gained through the ups and downs will be good in the long run.

“There’s some good progress with our young guys,” Zettler said. “A lot of them ended up playing a lot more minutes than we anticipated because of call-ups and injuries, but at the end of the day, individually, it’s probably a good thing for them.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Crunch’s rookie class heading into the final week of the season:

Cedric Paquette: Although he wasn’t there to accept the plaques himself, on Saturday Paquette won the Crunch’s awards for Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player (shared with Vladdy Namestnikov).

Bolt Prospect of the Week: April 15, 2014

We continue our Bolt 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 Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 15, 2014 is … Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Salavat Yulaev (KHL - Russia).

If last week was Andrey Vasilevskiy’s final week playing in Russia, he left a lasting impression on his home country.

The teenage phenom was spectacular in net for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, nearly carrying the team through the Eastern Conference Finals to the Gagarin Cup series. While the official record books will show Mettalurg winning the series, 4-1, it was much, much closer than it appeared.

Last week Vasilevskiy allowed two goals in 10 periods of playoff hockey – and lost two games.

BP Mailbag: 4-12-14

The BP Mailbag is back after a little hiatus and there are lots of questions to get to.

Let’s get started:

@BoltProspects If you had the choice between Dan Boyle of Matt Niskanen to bring in during the offseason, who would you pick and why?

@BoltProspects is it just me or is Dan Boyle destined to go to Tampa? A perfect replacement for Salo as a RD playing with Hedman. But it's a short term solution.. You need a longterm partner for Victor. Do you think Sustr has the potential? ?#BPMailbag

Both Niskanen and Boyle are righty puckmovers, which the Lightning desperately need as part of their core. Gudas is a righty, but is a peoplemover more than a puckmover. As for Sustr, he has potential to be a fine 2-way defenseman. We have had some healthy discussions in the BP virtual staffroom about his offensive potential – over 30 points or under? I think under, Pete thinks over. I don’t see him as having the high end offensive IQ that other players like Hedman and Boyle have, and I think he settles in as a 4/5 in the future with limited power play time. Regardless, Sustr has a ways to go before he hits NHL maturity (250-300 games) and may or may not be an offensive catalyst as a player.

New Syracuse Forward Erne Focuses on Present, Future 

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Adam Erne knows his days with the Syracuse Crunch are numbered.

With six games left in the Crunch’s season, the 18-year-old is soaking in his first professional experience. Next year, if the 2013 second-round pick doesn’t make the Tampa Bay Lightning, he returns to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, who are hosting the 2015 Memorial Cup tournament.

“I guess it’s more preparation for camp this year in Tampa,” said Erne, who signed an entry level contract with the Lightning and an amateur tryout with the Crunch last week. “I know a lot of these guys are going to be there, and it’s going to be a lot of the same skill set. Obviously, there’s a jump to the NHL, but this is as close as it gets. It’s good preparation for camp.”

Bolt Prospect of the Week: April 9, 2014

We continue our Bolt 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 Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 9, 2014 is … Jonathan Marchessault, W, Syracuse Crunch (AHL - USA).

Jonathan Marchessault just experienced a year’s worth of miracles in the span of two days.

First, the scoring winger acquired from the Columbus organization in March scored twice – shorthanded – in a ridiculously improbable come-from-behind Crunch win over Utica on Saturday. Syracuse was down by three goals with less than 90 seconds on the clock when Vladdy Namestnikov scored to make the game somewhat interesting. Namestnikov’s goal was scored with Syracuse goalie Kristers Gudlevskis pulled for an extra attacker during four-on-four play.

Ikonen Gets Head Start with Syracuse

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After his first practice with the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday, Henri Ikonen spent some extra time on the ice working with fellow rookies.

Ikonen, who signed an entry level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday and will finish the season on an amateur tryout with Syracuse, liked the brisk, energetic pace at practice. The 2013 sixth-round draft pick admits he may not be the most skilled player, but prides himself on the effort he puts in.

“I’m a good skater, so I bring some speed,” the 5-11, 184-pound winger said. “I can battle in the corners, win battles and take the puck to the net, and hopefully score some goals from there.”

Marchessault Looks to Prove Himself With Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Jonathan Marchessault still believes he has to prove himself every day.

The Crunch forward already has a contract for next season, is a two-time American Hockey League All-Star, and after coming to the Tampa Bay organization in a deadline trade, leads Syracuse with 48 points. The Crunch may be a longshot to make the playoffs, but Marchessault has no plans to mail in the rest of the season.

“As a professional, you always have to be ready for any game,” the 23-year-old said. “Every game is important, so you’ve always got to be able to show what you have and what you've got.”

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