When Ondrej Palat was first drafted as a 19-year-old, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren't sure if he could immediately challenge for a spot in the American Hockey League.
The Czech winger, taken in the seventh round in 2011, didn't waste time showing he was ready to make the jump to professional hockey, earning a contract less than a month into the 2011-12 season.
Now, after posting 39 points in his initial AHL campaign with the Norfolk Admirals and winning a Calder Cup, Palat is settling into his role on one of the Syracuse Crunch's top lines.
At 22 years old, Tyler Johnson already has a tough time picking out the biggest accomplishment of his young career.
Success seems to follow the Syracuse Crunch center, who won the Memorial Cup in his first junior season, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and hoisted the Calder Cup last year in his rookie professional season.
"Each specific trophy has great memories, and holds a different piece of my heart," Johnson said.
For many of the Syracuse Crunch players, the beginning of the new hockey season comes with high expectations.
A previous season that included a record-breaking 28-game win streak and was capped with a sweep of the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup finals will tend to do that. But the 15 former Norfolk Admirals moving to Syracuse with the Tampa Bay Lightning affiliation welcome the pressure.
North American Juniors Preview
For the second year in a row, the Lightning won’t have any drafted prospects in the Western Hockey League. This is odd, considering the physical WHL is regarded as one of, if not the best junior league for developing NHL talent. While Guy Boucher may favor the QMJHL and Steve Yzerman the OHL, the Lightning’s Head Scout, Al Murray, is based in Saskatchewan – WHL territory. Also, for the first time in a while, the club doesn't have a prospect in the United States Hockey League.
The Bolts have seven prospects in Canadian juniors this season:
The Syracuse Crunch will open training camp on September 28 with more talent than they originally expected. The NHL lockout forced the postponement of the Lightning’s training camp and subsequently meant all prospects and young NHLers expected to start the year in Tampa will now start the year in the AHL.
While that’s bad news for the Tampa Bay media and fans, it’s good news for the Syracuse fan base, who at this point is like a kid with a birthday the day after Christmas. Not only does a championship team show up at their arena’s front door, now they get a significant upgrade in talent to a team that was already expected to compete for a championship.
This is also good news for the Florida Everblades – another team coming off a championship – as they’ll get the players pushed down from Syracuse.
The question is who?
Here’s a look at the latest minor pro organizational roster of the Tampa Bay Lightning and some notes and predictions for each player, broken down by position.