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NHL Adam Erne just the latest Lightning prospect to make an impact

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By Roy Cummings

January 4, 2017

TAMPA BAY, Fla. – The first thing Lightning prospect Adam Erne did after he learned he was being promoted to the NHL last Sunday afternoon was run by the mall in Syracuse, New York to buy a suitcase.

Smart move. From the looks of things, Erne’s going to spend the next little while living out of that suitcase.

The ceaseless injury plague that has afflicted the Lightning this season claimed another victim over the weekend, this time taking down veteran center Dan Boyle with a lower body injury.

The closest thing the Lightning have to a power forward like Boyle in their system is the 21-year-old Erne, who did nothing to alter that line of thinking while making his NHL debut against the Jets on Tuesday.

In what proved to be a 6-4 Lightning loss, Erne spent the bulk of his 12 minutes of ice time pinning the Jets back in their own end of the ice and creating scoring chances for himself and his linemates.

“He worked hard,’’ Lighting coach Jon Cooper said of his team’s second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. “He used his body really well, used his speed well.’’

Erne’s deceptive speed showed up in the second period when the 6’1″, 214-pound New Haven, Ct. native drove in on the Jets goal for a quick wrist shot that tested the mettle of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

The better of the three scoring chances he created, though, were all byproducts of his ability to control the puck in traffic and create room for himself with skating skills usually reserved for smaller players. For instance, early in the second period, Erne carried the puck deep into the corner to Hellebuyck’s left and then toward the net before stopping and spinning away from defenseman Paul Postma.

It was off of that spin away from Postma that Erne set up his first scoring chance of the night, sending a puck immediately out to the front of the crease for Michael Bournival, who fumbled away the shot attempt.

The result was similar later in the period when Erne once again muscled himself free behind the net only to deliver a perfect centering pass that Vlad Namestnikov fanned on.

“For my first game I thought I did Ok,’’ said Erne, who was also credited with delivering four hits in the game. “I thought I did a decent job of creating some energy out there and making some plays.’’

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 03: Tampa Bay Lightning center Matthew Peca (63) takes a slap shot that found the back of the net for a goal in the second period of the NHL game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 03, 2017, at Amalie Arena in Tampa Florida. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 03: Tampa Bay Lightning center Matthew Peca (63) takes a shot that found the back of the net for a goal. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Erne wasn’t the only recent call-up making plays in this one. Matthew Peca, his linemate with the Crunch this season, made one of the biggest. With the Lightning down a goal, Peca skated in down the right wing and from the outside hash mark fired a quick wrist shot into the upper left-hand corner of the net for his first NHL goal.

“He was good again tonight,’’ Cooper said of Peca. “And again, that’s somebody making the most of his call-up, somebody who’s making it a lot tougher for us to send him down when we eventually get guys back.’’

You can pretty much say the same about all of the Lighting’s recent recalls from Syracuse. Though he didn’t necessarily do so on Tuesday, Bournival has made an impact as well in the short time he’s been in Tampa Bay.

So has Tanner Richard, who on Dec. 20 became the first of three Lightning prospects (Peca and Erne are the others) to make his NHL debut in a span of just three weeks.

Somewhat surprisingly, it has been during that three-week span that the Lightning have clawed their way back into contention in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Since Richard was recalled for a game against the Red Wings on Dec. 20 the Lightning have claimed nine of a possible 14 points in the standings to make a season of it again.

Despite their loss Tuesday, Tampa Bay now sits just two points behind third-place Boston and Ottawa in the Atlantic Division and just three points behind Philadelphia for the last wild card spot.

Cooper certainly doesn’t attribute the rise entirely to the contributions of prospects such as Bournival, Peca and Erne but he doesn’t deny that they’ve made an impact.

“Did I ever expect that we would need this many young guys this early for this long? Not a chance,’’ Cooper said. “But we have and they’ve done great for us.

“I mean, you’re trying to win games as an organization, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, but some of these guys are trying to push other guys out, and you know what, if there’s a little internal competition, well that’s a good thing, too.’’

 

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