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Tampa Bay Lightning Defender Can Push for Full-Time Roster Spot

Lightning Defence

A deep blue line is vital to success in the National Hockey League. Luckily for the Lightning defence, the team has eight potential roster options on the back end under contract for the 2024-25 season. Plus, they have two candidates who are pending unrestricted free agents. However, one right-handed defender stands out in the log jam on the blue line for next season. The 24-year-old native of Calgary played solid in a 13-game sample size during the 2023-24 season and even appeared in three playoff games. Here’s why Maxwell Crozier can compete for a full-time role with the Lightning next season.

Maxwell Crozier Offers Versatility and Youth For 2024-25 Season

The Ryan McDonagh trade solidified the top-four defence for the Lightning next season. Reunited with Erik Cernak, McDonagh will continue to be a defensive force despite his old age. Plus, Mikhail Sergachev is fully healthy for next season. With that in mind, Victor Hedman will have a much more manageable workload next season. He posted poor defensive metrics due to overusage and a shallow Tampa back end. Yet, the bottom pair isn’t as wide open as one may suspect. Darren Raddysh, Nicklaus Perbix, and Emil Martinsen Lilleberg come to mind, but Crozier belongs in the conversation for this spot.

Maxwell Crozier Scouting Report and Bio

With two assists in his first 13 games, Crozier showed flashes of promise with his 6’2″ frame. The blue liner is mobile with solid puck-moving skills. Crozier was selected by the Lightning in the fourth round, 120th overall at the 2019 NHL entry draft. Once the Captain of Providence College, Crozier didn’t even play a complete season in the American Hockey League before appearing in his first NHL contest. Head Coach Jon Cooper had to rely on the depth of his farm system following numerous injuries to his main roster. Through all this, Crozier proved he could be a bottom pairing option next season for the Lightning in a short sample size.

Solid Play with Victor Hedman and Others

Expected goals percentage (xGF%) frequently appears in Lightning hockey articles here at Last Word. This metric is the percentage of expected goals that a specific player is on the ice for out of the total generated by both teams. Crozier’s two most frequent partners were Hedman and Lilleberg in his NHL stint last season. In roughly 51 minutes alongside the all-star Hedman, the pair posted an expected goals percentage of 63.2% (63.2 xGF%), dominating the on-ice play. Furthermore, in about 96 minutes with Lilleberg, the duo recorded an expected goals percentage of 54.2% (54.2 xGF%). When Crozier had consistent minutes with a partner, he controlled the pace of play on-ice for the Lightning. His calming two-way presence makes him a fit for nearly any pairing or partner next season.

The Lightning Can Gain Assets by Playing Crozier

With the 2024 NHL entry draft about two weeks away, the Lightning must add draft capital back to their organization. The club doesn’t hold a pick in the first three rounds this year. Moreover, the Lightning don’t have a pick in the first two rounds until 2026. Playing Crozier in the NHL allows the Lightning to trade other NHL-worthy defenders for assets and draft capital. For example, Perbix or Cernak are names the Lightning might try to move on from if Crozier is ready for a full-time NHL role. This scenario is something Cooper and the rest of his coaching staff must keep in mind this off-season.

Potential Role Next Season on the Lightnings Defence

With all that, where does Crozier fit in the grand scheme? The 24-year-old can slot perfectly on the third pairing next season. A dream scenario consists of Hedman on the first pairing with one of Raddysh or Sergachev, leaving McDonagh and Cernak for a shutdown second pairing. Then, a rotation between Lilleberg and Crozier on the third pair would work. The ideal trade is to send Perbix to another roster for draft capital and future assets. However, if the Lightning decide to move on from Cernak, the team should be confident with Crozier and Lilleberg on the third pairing. In the end, Crozier deserves serious consideration for a roster spot next season, more than he is given credit for.

Main Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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