The Syracuse Crunch have mirrored their NHL counterparts to some degree, fielding a squad with some very talented pieces, but with little consistency and cohesion. Putting together a full 60 minutes of sound effort has been challenging for Syracuse. Defensively, they have been neither sound nor nasty, lacking both effectiveness and enthusiasm at times. The power play has been the saving grace of the club, although power-play coach Brad Lauer has been promoted to Anaheim. In net, Iiro Tarkki has emerged as a solid option in their tandem of more experienced goalies. Like their opposite numbers in the big leagues, the Crunch could stand to play more at once a bit more aggressively and much more evenly over three periods.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, 20
Palmieri has built off a very strong finish to his last campaign, not only producing at a higher rate than last season but also persevering more easily through obstacles this season. Among the prospective Ducks sent back to Syracuse, he was the forward who got the hardest look in Anaheim during the preseason. Palmieri played with top-six players like the ageless Teemu Selanne and got power-play time during both the preseason and a cup of coffee with the big club, his second recall in as many years.
Now a second-year AHLer, Palmieri had no trouble easing back in after the call-up and took very little time to recover from an injury earlier in the season. Benefitting now from a bit more stable lineup around him and a more experienced roster, Palmieri has improved in areas where he had excelled and in others where he had not. His per-game production is up from last season and his play in his own zone has improved after being a point of emphasis for Palmieri and the Crunch coaching staff.
Patrick Maroon, LW, 23
Maroon has continued to provide unique contributions to the Crunch as a physical player with skill to boot. He can generate offense from the high slot at times but spends most of his time in the grimy areas of the ice, battling in front of the net and winning pucks along the boards. He’s stayed above a point per game (37 points through 33 games), skated in the black (plus-nine) and racked up 68 penalty minutes, including six fighting majors.
The 23-year-old forward earned some quality ice time in the preseason but his call-up to the main club was ephemeral. For now, he remains a pillar of stability on a sometimes wobbly Crunch squad that has made a big impact since his arrival last season. Given their limited depth on the main roster, Maroon could see some more time in Anaheim this year, although chances are he will play out most of the campaign in Syracuse.
Nick Bonino, C, 23
Bonino has become an AHL/NHL "tweener," as his game has seemed advanced for the AHL but not quite ready for the NHL. Last year nagging injuries and uncertain standing seemed to affect his play considerably. This year he has also dealt with minor injuries but displayed stronger confidence and consistency.
A one-time favorite of outgoing Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle, Bonino will now need to become stronger on the puck and be a bit quicker on the rush to gain the favor of new coach Bruce Boudreau. In Syracuse, he has remained the team’s most gifted playmaker and continued to be a staple of both their top power-play and even-strength units.
Peter Holland, C, 21
Holland was another player that got quality ice time and a long preseason stay in Anaheim. He later had a stint with the club that ended when the Ducks claimed veteran Niklas Hagman off waivers. Holland is a balanced offensive threat, capable of setting up teammates but perhaps a bit more comfortable as a finisher. Rediscovering his shoot-first mentality was key to him getting out of his slow start to the season and establishing himself as one of the top forwards on the team.
He spent the summer training rigorously, improving both his physique and conditioning. Carlyle spoke highly of Holland’s skill set in the preseason and played him accordingly. The coaching change likely has little impact on Holland’s standing in the organization. Instead it will simply be a matter of his physical, mental, and emotional maturity striking the right balance before he becomes a full-time NHLer. At 21 years old, Holland remains a promising prospect whose NHL arrival is on the not-so-distant horizon.
Maxime Macenauer, C, 23
Macenauer has spent the overwhelming majority of this season with the big club, playing in only two contests for the Crunch. In Anaheim, he has earned a good deal of defensive responsibility. Outgoing coach Randy Carlyle heaped praise on Macenauer’s competitiveness, motor and defensive instincts. Since Bruce Boudreau’s arrival, Macenauer has continued to be a regular in the Ducks’ bottom six and penalty kill. He has also received the odd power-play opportunity as part of a broader move to experiment with personnel and in the absence of Devante Smith-Pelly, who was loaned to Team Canada for the World Juniors.
The downside is that Macenauer has yet to produce and the Ducks bottom-six forwards and penalty kill have been the weakest areas of their roster. The inexperience of Macenauer and other forwards in that mix has contributed to their inconsistency and ineffectiveness thus far. Macenauer was recently returned to the AHL, though he should expect to see another NHL call-up in the near future.
Mathieu Carle, D, 24
Carle was added for his experience and puck-moving ability after a respectable tenure with Montreal’s affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Thus far, he has been a fixture on the power play who has jockeyed with the even more experienced Bryan Rodney for the team lead in scoring for a defenseman. He has also helped push the tempo up ice with strong breakout passes.
Nevertheless, Carle’s play in his own end has never been his forte and despite his experience, he has done little to stabilize Syracuse’s defensive play. He is still prone to the occasional inert moment or avoidable penalty on defense. Carle’s acquisition seems to be more to help the Crunch immediately than it is to add a long-term piece to the Ducks organization. At 24, his career may soon reach an impasse between potential NHLer and career AHLer.
Matt Clark, D, 21
Clark has been perhaps the most improved member of the Crunch. After spending much of last season struggling with similarly pervasive deficiencies to the now departed Mark Mitera, Clark showed signs of life late season that he’s built upon in this campaign. Even at his worst, Clark continued to get solid ice time and played in every game of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons, a commitment by the coaching staff that has begun to pay dividends.
Entering 2011-2012, Clark’s conditioning and strength had both improved. During the year, he has become one of their three most reliable defensemen, consistently playing in key situations at even strength and the penalty kill. His offense has improved as well, to some degree in terms of scoring but more in less obvious areas like puck management, decision making, confidence and puck security. While his future remains as uncertain as most second-year AHLers, his career appears to be finding its way back on track.
Nicolas Deschamps, LW, 22
Like Clark, Deshcamps was an iron man for the Crunch since his arrival at the start of 2010-11, playing in every game to date. Similarly, he saw plenty of ice time in a variety of situations yet only showed fleeting glimpses of what made him an attractive scoring prospect out of the QMJHL. A fine skater with respectable hockey sense, he often blended into the background in Syracuse and his statistical output was been marginal.
On January 3rd, Deschamps was traded to Toronto for winger Luca Caputi, another winger who has struggled over the past two years.
Rick Schofield, C, 24
Schofield came out of his final season at Lake Superior State last season and offered a glimpse as his potential in the AHL with a productive stint in Syracuse at the close of the season. This year he has carried over little of the offensive prowess he showed in that stint and as a senior, but he has been a steady performer for the Crunch. A heady, effortful player, Schofield has logged plenty of minutes and been a reliable part of the Syracuse lineup.
At 24, Schofield may be a bit of a late bloomer. It seems doubtful that he will ever be an explosive scorer at the top level. Still, he has handled the transition to the AHL effectively and begun to carve a role for himself as a bottom-six forward prospect. The Ducks have had rather inconsistent performances from their bottom six this season, so they certainly have potential openings for players who can slide into that role and prove to be dependable options.
Matt Kennedy, RW, 22
Like Schofield and Deschamps, Kennedy has made a big transition as a player who has found himself in less prominent and less offensive-minded role this season. No longer a top-six scoring forward, Kennedy has taken to his role as a third-liner charged with bringing energy and grit to ice in Syracuse. A strong, quick player with a pro frame, Kennedy has established himself as a potential shutdown forward with enough sandpaper to his game to keep opponents honest with his teammates.
It seems quite likely than Kennedy will continue to sharpen his skills at the AHL level this season, but he may be a quietly promising player for the Ducks. With their need for steady, versatile performers to round out their forward corps as well as their recent reticence to spend money on veterans in those roles, Kennedy could have a pro future. He will have to continue to prove that he can match up with opposing top lines as well as provide toughness
Sean Zimmerman, D, 24
Zimmerman has now become a minor pro veteran who provides some reliable defense. He and the even more experienced Nate Guenin have been the steadiest rearguards for the Crunch this season. The caveat there for Zimmerman is that he has been effective when he has played, which has been more sparingly than anyone would like due to a series of injuries, most recently a knee problem.
He has made the most of opportunities to play and even contributed limited offense, although he will probably never earn a living putting up points. Zimmerman has had a bit of a bumpy road to this point he may one day become steady enough to be a depth defenseman at the next level.
Josh Brittain, LW, 22
Brittain has been a depth player for the Crunch this season, finding himself between fourth-line duty and healthy scratches. He has been more than willing to stand up for teammates but has not received all that many opportunities as a result of his limited ice time. He has provided some grit and energy to the Crunch, but not enough for him to crack the lineup full-time or earn key minutes.
Having just turned 22, Brittain has plenty of time to establish himself at the AHL, but there is little evidence to suggest he has a surefire NHL future at this point. His biggest asset is his size, he possesses a projectable 6’4 frame and a willingness to drop the gloves.
Marco Cousineau, G, 22
Cousineau made a lone start for the Elmira Jackals and has since been with the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League. It seems that a suddenly crowded goaltending rotation that now includes two more experienced goaltenders in Syracuse and a healthy Jonas Hiller in Anaheim has left Cousineau out in the cold. Already having cut ties with Jean Phillipe-Levasseur and Timo Pielmeier (NJ), there is likely little place left in the organization for Cousineau either.
Cousineau has performed well in his time with the Americans and is young enough that his professional career may not be a lost cause. Nevertheless, a move down from ECHL rather than up to the AHL had to be a disappointing setback to the young netminder.