Syracuse Crunch 2011-12 season preview

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: OHL standout Devante Smith-Pelly will be making the rare transition from Canadian Major Junior directly to the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

After last season’s 35-38-3-4 finish, the Syracuse Crunch return with more depth, talent and experience for the 2011-2012 season. Syracuse has designs on a playoff berth thanks to the addition of young, dynamic talent like center Peter Holland, the maturation of AHL rookies such as fowards Kyle Palmieri and Nicolas Deschamps, and the addition of several veterans including defenseman Mathieu Carle and goalie Jeff Deslauiers.

Forwards

Kyle Palmieri had a strong finish his 2010-2011 campaign, as did center Nick Bonino. They both return to Syracuse along with a more seasoned Nicolas Deschamps and some promising new additions. Palmieri shouldered plenty of responsibility in camp but ultimately there did not seem to be a great fit for him in Anaheim immediately.

Peter Holland will arrive from the OHL’s Guelph Storm and NCAA free-agent signing Rick Schofield will also offer a potential top-six forward to round out the Crunch lineup. Both players enjoyed productive, promising cups of coffee with the Crunch in 2010-2011. Holland found himself in a crowded group of centers and the Ducks seemed intent on giving him loads of ice time in a scoring role at the AHL level instead of limited minutes in a bottom-six role with the big club.

Veteran Dan Sexton will start the year in Syracuse, giving the Crunch a versatile, experienced forward. Patrick Maroon, whose addition was a boost for the Crunch last year, will also begin the season in Syracuse. Sexton brings speed while Maroon gives the Crunch a big body with soft hands. Mark Bell and Josh Green give the Crunch a pair of veterans to further stabilize their forward corps.

Last season, Maxime Macenauer was one of the last forwards sent to Syracuse from Anaheim training camp. Although he showed mixed form for much of last year, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has used Macenauer liberally on the penalty kill and also at even strength this year. Impressed with his positioning, instincts and work ethics, it appears now that Macenauer will start the year with the big club and may not return to Syracuse.

Up front, the Crunch should have more and better options on the power play. Maroon, Green, and Palmieri all excelled a man up and Holland, if not Schofield and an improved Deschamps, round out two potentially solid units.

Their penalty kill may miss Macenauer but they have several forwards with both experience and potential as gritty, strong penalty killers.

Defensemen

Matt Clark showed signs of recovery from a dismal start and should see plenty of minutes this season. Veteran Matheiu Carle has proven a reliable puck-mover with solid conditioning, and despite his defensive deficiencies, is an upgrade on the Syracuse blue line.

California product Jake Newton returns to the Syracuse lineup, adding to the list of 2010-2011 rookies who will be called upon to make a greater impact this season. Sean Zimmerman will also be back for his first full season in Syracuse. The 27-year-old veteran Bryan Rodney should figure into the Crunch’s defensive corps this year as well.

Anaheim’s most promising defensive prospects will spend the season in the NCAA or Europe this season, but the Crunch should have stronger depth to work with on the back end anyway. Carle should assume the largely vacant quarterback position on the top power play unit and see plenty of time with the man advantage. Among their forwards, Holland got a bit of experience playing the point with the OHL’s Guelph Storm last season.

If they can get more reliable play from their blue line on the penalty kill and at even strength, any offensive emergence will be a nice bonus.


Goaltending

The Crunch have three goalies to choose from right off the bat. The returning Timo Pielmeier and Finnish free-agent signing Irko Tarkki will likely battle for a backup job behind former Edmonton Oilers Jeff Deslauriers. Deslauriers had a solid preseason, as Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said he felt as though Deslauriers could have given them a 1A/1B situation with current backup Dan Ellis had Jonas Hiller sustained any further setbacks in his recovery from vertigo.


Coaching

Mark Holick returns for his second season as the head coach of the Syracuse Crunch. In his first season as coach, Holick led the Crunch to a 35-38-3-4 record and finished outside of the playoffs.


Prospects

Holland did not manage to crack the Ducks roster but another player who spent last year in the OHL made the cut. Mississauga’s Devante Smith-Pelly will start his campaign in Anaheim after a strong preseason in which he provided simple but effective offense, sound defense and consistent intensity. Both his physical and mental maturity impressed the Ducks staff. Carlyle has said that Smith-Pelly will be reevaluated following a nine-game stint. At that point, he may be returned to Mississauga or remain with the Ducks all season, as he is not eligible to play in the AHL this season.