After Thursday's loss to the New York Islanders, the Lightning reassigned towering defenseman Andrej Sustr to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League (AHL). Sustr began this year's campaign with Tampa Bay and it may have come as a bit of a surprise, but with players returning from injury and the upcoming Olympic break it started to make much more sense.
"The one thing about Sustr is he's not only about today, but part of our future," Cooper said. "Sometimes a decision needs to be made if you want a player in and out of the lineup or if you want him to play 20-25 minutes a game for a bit of a stretch."
The road to the National Hockey League has been a little different for the former University of Nebraska-Omaha Maverick who has only played in eight AHL games compared to 40 in the NHL.
"If you look at the defensemen on our team – the Barberio's, the Gudas', the J.P. Cote's – they've learned their pro craft in the AHL," Cooper said. "Sustr has had to learn his in the NHL and he's done a heck of a job doing it, but that's usually not how it works. We just need to get him some games in and see what happens."
Already scratching one defenseman a game, Keith Aulie (broken hand) is expected to return to the lineup soon, meaning the Lightning may have to put another member of their blue line in the press box on a consistent basis.
Sustr has already become a player who has seen less and less time in the lineup, with Aulie returning the possibility of being a healthy scratch only grows. In Syracuse, Sustr would immediately become one of the Crunch's top defensive pairings.
"Sustr doesn't get to see the power play and he sees minimal time on the penalty kill," Cooper said. "When he goes to Syracuse for however long it is he gets to play in all those situations. To me and everyone in the organization that's progress and we're going to see Sustr again soon."
If he remains in Syracuse during the Winter Olympics Sustr will also get the opportunity to play instead of taking nearly two weeks off in the NHL.
"It's a benefit for him and our organization and that's why it's being done," Cooper said.
OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS
Hosting an optional skate at Brandon Ice Sports Forum, Steven Stamkos was again skating with teammates in a red, no-contact jersey along with Aulie, who has been donning a regular practice jersey.
Martin St. Louis is currently riding a six-game point streak (four goals, three assists) after scoring the lone tally in Thursday's loss to the New York Islanders.