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Well-traveled Cirelli making impact with Syracuse Crunch

The 19-year-old center is starring in the Calder Cup Finals after playing on four different teams this season

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

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  • 03:16 •

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Forgive Anthony Cirelli if he has trouble getting comfortable in one place.

Consider: Cirelli, a 19-year-old center drafted 72nd overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015 NHL Draft, played for four separate teams during 2016-17. He started the season with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, where he played three seasons, the last two as team captain, and scored the game-winning overtime goal in the Memorial Cup during his inaugural year with the junior team.

Midway through 2016-17, Cirelli was traded to Erie and led the Otters to the Robertson Cup by - stop me if you've heard this before - scoring the game-winning overtime goal in the OHL championship. Cirelli made a return trip to the final of the Memorial Cup with Erie, the Otters falling by a goal to Windsor and finishing as the runner up.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the OHL season, Cirelli joined Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, where he averaged a point a game with three goals and four assists in seven contests to help Canada win a silver medal.

Now, his junior season completed, Cirelli stepped right into the Calder Cup Finals with the Syracuse Crunch, playing in all three Cup Final games so far despite joining a veteran team with plenty of more experienced options at forward.

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One year, four teams, thousands of frequent flyer miles logged.

Cirelli's travel agent has certainly been earning their paycheck this season.

"It's a lot different from my past years of hockey playing on so many different teams," Cirelli said during an off day for the Crunch between Games 3 and 4 of the Calder Cup Final. "All the guys that I've been fortunate enough to play with have been great to me and welcomed me with open arms on every team. They made the adjustments a lot easier."

In May of 2016, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Cirelli to a three-year, entry-level contract. The Lightning like Cirelli's speed and playmaking ability. He has a championship pedigree with two junior league championships, a Memorial Cup, a World Juniors medal and now, potentially, a Calder Cup on his resume.

They're also quite fond of his adaptability, which has certainly been on display during a whirlwind 2016-17 season.

"We brought him in for a number of games here in Syracuse when his junior season was over (last season), and he did really well," Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois said. "He was on the ice. He wasn't intimidated by the circumstances. He was out there trying to make a difference, and he did. And it was the same thing when he went with Team Canada to the World Junior Championship this winter. He just keep finding a way to work up the depth chart because he can adapt and he shows the coaches that he can do more. And it's the same thing right here (with Syracuse). We knew he was a player that would be able to come in and help us. And we've seen it over the past three games, every game, his role on the team keeps growing because he keeps showing us he can do more, he can handle more.

"Whatever challenge we present him with, he's able to master and then he's ready to move on to the next challenge. It bodes really well for his career going forward. He's a bright young player with a bright future, and we expect eventually he's going to be a Tampa Bay Lightning player."

That three game trial with Syracuse at the end of Cirelli's 2015-16 season was critical in his development. He learned how much stronger and faster the players are at the AHL level. He identified areas of his game he needed to work on to adjust and was able to take those lessons into the current season.

When his junior season was over this year, Cirelli was able to join the Crunch and make an immediate impact as a result. He's yet to record a point in three games as Syracuse's fourth line center but he' earned the coaching staff's trust in relatively short order while expanding his role with each game.

"When I came here I really didn't know what to expect, if I was going to play or just kind of practice," Cirelli said. "Coach gave me an opportunity, and I'm very thankful for that. He gave me a game in there, and I just stuck with it, worked on every shift, took it one shift at a time, doing the little things right, just playing a smart game and trying to be reliable out there so I don't turn over the puck or don't get scored on. I'm just going out there and taking it shift by shift."

BriseBois said those three games Cirelli played with the Crunch at the end of the 2015-16 season were just as important from management's perspective as they were for Cirelli's development.

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"I think it was key for us, management and coaches, to see that so we know what he could do at this level against this caliber of play," BriseBois said. "And it was easier for us to have the comfort level of throwing him into games right now. For him, it was probably a confidence thing. He had seen it a little bit. He had been able to perform well, so he knew he could."

Cirelli put up career highs in goals (25), assists (39) and points (64) between Oshawa and Erie this season. To continue his growth, he said he needs to get stronger this offseason to have more of an impact at the AHL level.

"There are a lot of big guys up here, so you can't be getting knocked off the puck so easily," Got to get stronger, harder shot, just a little bit of everything. You've got to prove a little bit of everything to play with these guys."

Wherever he's played, Cirelli's proven he belongs. Eventually, the hope is he'll do so at the NHL level too.

And then maybe his frazzled travel agent can catch their breath.

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