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Joseph looking to build off eye-opening rookie pro season

Mathieu Joseph worked hard to turn an early-season healthy scratch into a successful rookie campaign

by Bryan Burns /

The light bulb went off for Mathieu Joseph in an early season game at Rochester when Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx didn't put him in the lineup.

Joseph was playing his first year of pro hockey in the AHL after four standout junior seasons for Saint John of the QMJHL, where he posted 91 goals and 206 points in 201 career games and led the Sea Dogs to a league championship in 2017.

Early in his Syracuse career, Joseph was creating good scoring opportunities, but, like many of his first-year Crunch teammates, wasn't finishing according to Groulx.

"I think it was maybe game nine or 10 and it made me refocus on how to play the game and stuff," Joseph said of his brief benching. "Playing Laval (the next game) where I'm comfortable [Joseph grew up across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal and Laval in Chambly] and I had a good meeting with Ben about it and I think my season kind of started going there."

Did it ever.

Video: Mathieu Joseph on Rookie Camp

Joseph started converting those scoring chances he had been creating early in the season and became arguably the Crunch's best player in 2017-18 despite his rookie status. The winger scored 15 goals and led Syracuse for scoring (53 points) and assists (38) in the regular season and proved he's a big-game player too after averaging a point a game in the postseason with three goals and seven points in seven playoff games.

Now, there are whispers he has an opportunity to challenge for a spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster once training camp concludes, particularly with the loss of veteran forward Chris Kunitz to free agency and Ryan Callahan's upper-body injury that will keep him out of the lineup through October.

Joseph, however, is keeping everything in perspective.

"It's one season," he said. "It doesn't mean you're making the team next year because you have a good season (in Syracuse). You have to earn everything in hockey, especially spots. It's a good organization, good players here, so I'll have to work really hard to make that team.

"It's everyone's goal."

Before main camp next week, Joseph is competing at Lightning rookie camp, which started Thursday with off-ice sessions and continued Friday with the first day of on-ice activities at the Ice Sports Forum. As a second-year pro now, Joseph is looked at as one of the leaders, and the confidence of knowing what to expect has allowed him to play his game naturally rather than thinking about how to play the game.

"They've played in some exhibition games, they know what to expect," Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said of Joseph as well as other second-year pros in the organization like Mitchell Stephens, Alexander Volkov and Erik Cernak. "They know the guys. They know the system. They know the organization. It's just huge for them to be around here. And just when you go into that main camp, there's no uncertainties. You know what's going on, you know exactly how everything runs and you know Coach (Jon) Cooper and his systems. You just carry it right into camp and it just becomes a confidence thing and going out there and playing your game."
Joseph's main goal this offseason was to put on some weight and transform his admittedly skinny frame into one more suited for the pro game.

So he ate.

A lot.

"Seven times a day," he said.

He also wanted to get stronger, so he worked during the offseason with Lightning strength and conditioning coach Mark Lambert.

Tweet from @TBLightning: Some familiar names back in Brandon! 😄

"That was the first time I had 12, 13 weeks of working out," Joseph said. "I had other long seasons in the past that I couldn't really work out that much, six or seven weeks. I almost had double this year. That's a big advantage. You feel good coming into camp, you feel heavy, you feel strong."


Groulx certainly noticed on the ice Friday.

"He's bigger. He looks more solid," Groulx said. "Second-year pro so he knows what to expect. He looks good."

Combine his improved size and strength to go along with lightning-fast speed, skill and, according to Groulx, an incredibly deceptive shot, and Joseph is on the cusp of putting it all together.

Now, Tampa Bay's 2015 Fourth Round pick just needs to continue to show all of those attributes on a consistent, daily basis.

"I think for him it's a matter of coming back to Syracuse and have the attitude of, I've got to earn things. I've got to earn my ice time," Groulx said. "He had that last year. And I think that's an attitude you've got to have as a hockey player. You've got to start over again. Today was day one for rookie camp and those guys they've got to take one day at a time and they've got to make sure that when they go on the ice in this case, he's got to make sure that he's one of the best players out there every day."

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