Lightning's youth movement continues with callup of Adam Erne

Adam Erne continues a youth movement for the banged-up Lightning.
Adam Erne, a 6-1, 214-pound forward, could make his NHL debut with the Lightning in tonight's game against the Jets. He joins several former Syracuse Crunch teammates on the roster. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Adam Erne, a 6-1, 214-pound forward, could make his NHL debut with the Lightning in tonight's game against the Jets. He joins several former Syracuse Crunch teammates on the roster.DIRK SHADD | Times
Published January 2 2017
Updated January 2 2017

BRANDON —Adam Erne called his dad on the drive home from practice Sunday. Erik Erne did not answer. No big deal. He always calls back. And sure enough, moments later Erne's phone rang.

Erne answered like he normally does when his dad calls.

"Hey, what's up?"

Then he looked at the Bluetooth screen on his dashboard and realized the caller wasn't his dad.

It was Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman with news that Erne was headed Tampa to join the Lightning in the wake of the lower body injury suffered Saturday by Brian Boyle.


"I don't think (Yzerman) noticed. I would have answered differently if I knew it was him," Erne said. "You'd answer the phone differently if it's your dad or Steve Yzerman."

Coach Jon Cooper said there is a "good chance" Erne makes his NHL debut tonight. If he does, he joins the growing list of players from the Syracuse Crunch summoned to Tampa Bay to fill a gap created by injury.

If Erne does play against the Jets, he will be the third Lightning rookie in three weeks to make his NHL debut, joining Tanner Richard (Dec. 20 vs. the Red Wings) and Matthew Peca (Dec. 28 vs. the Canadiens).

"It's exciting. It happened pretty quickly," Erne, 21, said. "I'm just happy to be here, hopefully get in the game, but if not, just keep putting in the work."

At 6 feet 1, 214 pounds, Erne brings size along with his combination of speed and puck-handling skills. While not as big as Boyle, Erne can provide a physical presence in front of the net as a power forward because, Cooper said, he won't get pushed around.

"It's hard to find those guys who are big, strong, can skate and possess skill," Cooper added.

Boyle did not practice Monday, and Cooper said he is questionable for tonight's game. That Erne spent Monday skating on the line with Michael Bournival and J.T. Brown is an indication that Boyle needs more time to heal.

Also, Erne was called up in time for Monday's practice so he could lose some of the butterflies that accompany a kid making his NHL debut.

Erne said it helped to see so many of his former Crunch teammates. Not long after Erne called his dad with the big news, he called Peca, his former linemate with the Crunch.

"They can't separate us," Erne said.

He then drove to the mall to buy a suitcase.

Up next was a ride on the Syracuse shuttle, which is becoming the unsung hero of this season.

The Lightning has weathered the plague of injuries and remains afloat in the playoff race because the players called up from the Crunch have played well. Unfortunately, the opportunity to see its young players on the big stage was made necessary because of injuries.

"But these are the opportunities they get," Cooper said. "You're trying to win games as an organization, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the players, some of these guys are trying to push other guys out. If there's a little internal competition I think that's a good thing."

Erne has watched his Syracuse teammates head to Tampa Bay. He knows they've performed well. He sometimes wondered if he would get the call.

"Of course," he said. "I think it has to be earned, and I think everybody who's been called up this year has earned it. Lately I've been playing well. I'm happy to see my buddies get called up this year and play in games, and I'm happy it's my turn."

NOTES: Forward Ryan Callahan (hip) practiced again Monday. "He's definitely day to day now," Cooper said, "and that day to day could turn into playing (tonight)." … Center Steven Stamkos (knee) is walking without crutches. … Because of a conflict Sunday in Pittsburgh with the Steelers' playoff game, the start time for Lightning-Penguins was moved to 5 p.m.