On the outside of the AHL playoff picture as of mid-January, things do not look like they will get any easier for the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Thanks in large part to Steven Stamkos' broken leg, among other injuries, a number of Crunch players have been summoned for short term replacement.
Armed with one of the top prospect pools in all of the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to reap the rewards of good drafting, particularly in the mid-rounds. In the past few years they have added high-ceiling players like Jonathan Drouin and Andrey Vasilevskiy in the first round, whom have been complemented nicely with former mid-round selections like Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, and Alex Killorn.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has done his due diligence through the NHL Draft over the past few years. Many of his first round picks, players such as Brett Connolly, Andrey Vasilevskiy, and Jonathan Drouin, all figure to be big components to the Lightning's success in the future. But it is his later-round picks and shrewd free agent signings that could make a more immediate impact for Tampa Bay.
With the compliance buyout of long time captain Vincent Lecavalier this off-season, the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to send a message to everyone that the rebuild was in full swing. The Lightning went into training camp with around five to six spots up for grabs for young players, and many on the Top-20 came away with spots for the opening night roster.