If the Lightning does call up a player from AHL Norfolk — something that seems more likely every time Blair Jones is a healthy scratch — it has an interesting choice.
Should it promote forward Carter Ashton, who with 12 goals, 19 points and 30 penalty minutes in 18 games entering Saturday is having a terrific start to his first full AHL season? Or Dana Tyrell, who played last season with Tampa Bay, understands how the team plays and would slide seamlessly into the lineup?
Ashton, 20, at 6 feet 3, 215 pounds, has a kind of rugged, Ryan Malone vibe. Tyrell, 22, is 5-11, 185, is fast, forechecks and is reliable defensively.
The splashier callup clearly would be Ashton, a 2009 first-round draft pick who many believe will eventually be a fine NHL player. But the smarter callup for the short and long term might be Tyrell.
Think about it. Tyrell knows he can play in the NHL, and he fills a specific Tampa Bay need: fourth-line speed, checking and defense. As Lightning coach Guy Boucher recently said, "He brought us relentless reliability. I would take that any time."
Ashton is a work in progress. Though his accomplishments for Norfolk are impressive, they are a very small snapshot, and therein lies a danger.
Ashton entered Saturday with 29 AHL games on his resume in two seasons. And honestly, he didn't wow anybody at training camp.
In other words, do you put Ashton in a situation for which he may not be ready and risk his failure and having to send him back to the minors with perhaps his confidence depleted?
"If you bring a guy up to keep him," Boucher said, speaking generally, "you'd better be sure."
Applied to Ashton, that might mean letting him play and develop in a situation where he can succeed.
Bottom line on Tyrell: The Lightning knows he can play in the NHL. He was sent to Norfolk as the last cut out of camp only because he did not need to clear waivers.
He doesn't need them to come back, either.