Last month, the Bolts assigned 18 players to the AHL, including Brett Connolly, JT Brown, Cory Conacher and Alex Killorn, all of whom may have been expected to compete for a roster spot out of training camp.
Despite each of those players suiting up for the Syracuse Crunch to start the season, the assignments are perceived to be equally beneficial to both the players themselves as well as the Lightning’s top affiliate.
“The AHL will be an even stronger and an even more competitive league than ever before,” Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois added. “Some of our prospects who we feel are NHL-ready are going to play down there and be asked to take on bigger roles than they would have in Tampa Bay, so I don’t see this as a delay in their development at all. It will give a lot of our top guys a chance to play an impact role on a really good team. If anything, [the AHL assignments] are probably better for them.”
The idea is that since this year’s AHL is expected to be so competitive as a result of many NHL-caliber players appearing in games this season, the Lightning prospects will be exposed to good talent, which will push them to develop faster and improve as hockey players.
To help them along, the Crunch added both player development coach Steve Thomas, as well as former NHLer Rob Zettler to the coaching staff.
Thomas, a veteran of 20 NHL seasons, will provide guidance, mentoring and support to players in the Tampa Bay system to better prepare them for hockey at the NHL level, in addition to also helping out the Lightning. Zettler, meanwhile, will assist head coach Jon Cooper on a daily basis in addition to taking a primary focus on the Crunch defense.
“For those guys who are going to start in Syracuse this year, I truly believe this will help them,” BriseBois said. “With the additions to the coaching staff, they’re going to get the chance to improve their game, experience what it’s like to be part of a winner, and prove that they can help the organization succeed at the NHL level. The competition level at the AHL this year will be at an all-time high and it will be the closest thing there is to NHL hockey anywhere in the world.”