With the return of forward Tyler Motte from injured reserve during their current road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a roster move yesterday.
With little flexibility on their roster, the Lightning had to make room for Motte, and their choice was to assign rookie forward Waltteri Merela to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Odd man out
Merela, an international free-agent signee from Finland, was expected to initially start the season in Syracuse to acclimate to the smaller North American rinks and faster pace of play. However, he had a strong preseason performance that earned him a spot on the opening night roster.
Despite not recording a point in his first 10 NHL games, Merela was still solid on the forechecking and could win puck battles. He also showed steady play on the ice, with the Lightning recording ten more shot attempts than they allowed in 5-on-5 situations when he played.
One key factor in Merela’s assignment to the AHL was his status as the only waiver-exempt player on the roster. Players like Alex Barre-Boulet would have had to clear waivers to make it to Syracuse. More than likely, this means Motte is ready to be activated off injured reserve. He left opening night against Nashville after blocking a shot and has been out since.
General manager Julien BriseBois had limited options to create room for Motte. Barre-Boulet’s strong performance in a top-six role and defenseman Zach Bogosian’s role as a veteran bottom-pair defenseman, made them undesirable candidates for demotion. Merela’s assignment was a safer choice.
The hope for Tampa is that Merela can continue to develop while down in Syracuse as he adjusts to the North American style of play. At 25 years old, he is at an age where he might be ready sooner than some other prospects on the squad.