The Syracuse Crunch’s season recently got underway in October. They are off to a solid start with a 4-2-1-0 record and currently sit 4th in the North Division as of the end of the month.
Last season’s scoring leaders, Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, have graduated to the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, former Crunch captain Gabriel Dumont is back and a forward group with quite a few new faces look to keep things rolling for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate.
Season Scoring Leaders
- Jimmy Huntington (F) – 7GP, 6G, 1A, 7Pts, Even
- Charles Hudon (F) – 6GP, 3G, 3A, 6Pts, -2
- Sean Day (D) – 7GP, 1G, 5A, 6Pts, -1
- Gabriel Dumont (F) – 7GP, 3G, 2A, 5Pts, -1
- Gabriel Fortier (F) – 7GP, 1G, 4A, 5Pts, +4
- Antoine Morand (F) – 7GP, 1G, 4A, 5Pts, +1
- Gage Goncalves (F) – 7GP, 3G, 0A, 3Pts, -4
- Cole Koepke (F) – 5GP, 1A, 2A, 3Pts, -3
- Simon Ryfors (F) – 7GP, 1G, 2A, 3Pts, -6
- Alex Green (D) – 7GP, 0G, 3A, 3Pts, Even
Storylines we are following:
Jimmy Huntington’s Strong Start
Have you heard the stories of undrafted players flourishing in the Lightning system? Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Marchessault, Yanni Gourde, and Alex Barre-Boulet to name a few.
It is probably too soon to compare Jimmy Huntington to the likes of them, but he is undoubtedly off to a hot start in his third season with the Crunch. Huntington started the season as the 4th line center but ended the month starting as the Crunch’s 1st line center.
Huntington’s accolades for the month include: his first career AHL hat trick, being named AHL Player of the Week, and being the first Crunch player since Nikita Kucherov to score 5 goals in the Crunch’s first 5 games of the season.
Injuries have affected the Crunch’s forward and defensive depth to begin the season. Veterans Remi Elie and Gemel Smith were injured during the Lightning’s preseason. Elie returned for the final 2 games in October, but Smith figures to miss more time with his injury being more severe.
Otto Somppi remains out after being stretchered off the ice in the season opener. Somppi is the only returnee from the dominant Katchouk-Somppi-Raddysh line from last season and was expected to play a big role with the team this season.
Daniel Walcott has been out with an injury since the season opener.
Odeen Tufto continues to miss time after offseason surgery. Tufto, a gifted playmaker, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Quinnipiac University’s hockey program last season. He spent 4 seasons with the Bobcats’ putting up consistent point-per-game numbers.
Defenseman Darren Raddysh – Taylor Raddysh’s older brother – missed the final 2 games of the month after blocking a shot up high.
Additionally, Injuries in Tampa have meant opportunities for some Crunch defensemen that has further depleted the Crunch’s depth. Andrej Sustr is yet to play for the Crunch this year after being called-up to Tampa to fill in for Cal Foote and Zach Bogosian. Fredrik Claesson only played limited games before being called-up to the Lightning for a short time. Foote had been in Syracuse on a conditioning loan but has since been recalled to Tampa.
Alnefelt & Miftakhov Thrust Into Action
Entering the season veteran netminder Maxime Legace was supposed to carry most of the load in Syracuse after the Lightning signed their first 2 goalie prospects to Entry Level deals since Connor Ingram in 2017.
Hugo Alnefelt was lined up to be the #2 option in Syracuse with Amir Miftakhov spending the season in Orlando with the Solar Bears. Those plans quickly went awry as Legace went down with an apparent noncontact knee injury in the season opener. Miftakhov was recalled from Orlando in the days following the incident.
Alnefelt has looked strong and struggled at times in the 4 starts he has received and Miftakhov has looked good in his 2 starts. The Crunch will need their rookie goaltenders to keep games under control as Legace is sidelined for an extended period.
Rookies Finding Roles
The Crunch’s rookie class, consisting mostly of forwards, have been given opportunities early in the season with Cole Koepke and Maxim Cajkovic both receiving playing time on the top line at times. Cajkovic started the season strong with a goal and an assist in the season opener but has been held off the scoresheet since. He was a scratch in the final 2 games of the month.
Gage Goncalves leads the rookie class in scoring with 3 goals. He has spent most of his time in the Middle 6 of the lineup playing on the wings. His play in front of the net has been particularly strong, but he also possess a good shot and one-timer that he will look to start scoring with as the season progresses.
Shawn Element has been one of the most impressive Crunch players that is signed to an AHL contract. While not officially a Lightning prospect, he was invited to the Lightning’s prospect tournament and preseason camp. He was part of the gritty prospect tournament line that included Lightning prospects Cam MacDonald and Declan McDonnell – both whom remain with their respective CHL teams. Element has played every game thus far and has been an effective depth player chipping in on 2 assists and spending time on the penalty kill.
Captaincy Remains Unfilled
The Crunch’s captaincy has been left unfilled since Luke Witkowski’s departure for the Detroit Red Wings organization in the offseason. Witkowski held the title for the previous 2 seasons.
There are a couple strong veteran player candidates for the captaincy including: former 2018-2019 Crunch captain Gabriel Dumont and 7-year Crunch veteran Daniel Walcott.
One younger player of note wearing an “A” several times thus far has been Gabriel Fortier. A strong vote of confidence by the coaching staff in a player only in his second season of pro hockey.
Whether head coach Ben Groulx intends to name a captain this season remains to be seen, but my current guess would be that Dumont will reclaim his former title.