Letter from Adam Erne's Guardian Angel
You don’t know me, but I know you. This is your guardian angel writing to you. I am not sure if you have seen It’s a Wonderful Life, but I am your version of Clarence. So while I am assigned to you and know your backstory, I am blessed (get it?) to be able to see the forest for the trees. And like Clarence with George Bailey, I come to help steer you toward your best future! But alas, my words are just counsel. You have complete agency.
I don’t mean to be preachy! Hope your summer break has been going great. I don’t remember if you golf, but if you do, I imagine you must be a scratch golfer by now with all the extra tee time. Too soon? Where I come from levity is a lost art form.
I still watch playoff hockey fanatically, but my vantage point is different with the Lightning eliminated. I watch through the lens of how this affects you. I come with good news: you could play bottom-six forward for a Cup winner. Regardless of how your restricted free agency plays out, you belong in this league. You have the skill, speed, and physicality. Allow me to highlight your talents and make a few suggestions.
Shot release while playing off the puck
The first round was rough for everyone, and the one 5v5 Scoring Chance you accumulated in three games is indicative of how you struggled to influence the game. But part of that is because you are such a strong off-the-puck forward, and the Lightning (and your linemates) had the puck so little.
But your ability to grip it and rip it matters a lot. One of the most common falsehoods is that power trumps release. Even Alexander Ovechkin, who can power the puck with the best of them, depends on his release. The puck explodes off his stick. And for you, there is no settling the puck. You bid the puck adieu with alacrity.
Your teammates love to puck-handle and pass the puck to and fro, but your game is simpler. Your game is creeping toward the space inside the dots. And if they find you in a quiet spot, you can smack the puck into a corner. Look at how you beat Montreal’s Antti Niemi glove side in late December!
Sure, there is power. But the key is how quickly you part with the puck and take the shot. There is no hesitation. The selflessness of your teammates can border on self-deprivation. Fellow Lightning players take heed!
This is true on the rush too. Check out this clip of you and Mathieu. You are never given enough credit for your speed, but here you accelerate and keep a healthy distance from the Jets’ Tyler Myers. And when Joseph finds the passing lane, you quickly slap the puck toward the near post.
Or what about this give-and-go you work with Yanni? Where is the credit for the pass?
You slithered past Robert Hagg, whose stick position you cleverly exploited. What about your ability to catch and release before Hagg could recover?
The Lightning struggled to find the shooting lanes against the Blue Jackets, and they refused to take shots from the off-slot. Even though there were flashes in the regular season where you powered the puck up the ice and showed speed, your utility in the NHL will be derived from your ability to make plays without dominating the puck. That means cutting and retreating so that you can open up scoring chances for yourself. If the Lightning have too many playmakers and distributors, they need more unapologetic shooters. But there is one thing you need to be able to incorporate: implacable retrieval ability.
Pragmatism to counterbalance the Lightning’s romanticism
The Lightning’s mentality all season was that they didn’t want to be slaves to the rules. That meant oodles of unnecessary penalties because there were no constraints on passion. Wins were strung together like an adolescent’s Puka shell necklace. This led to unchecked idealism. The Lightning believed they could coast through the postseason without being able to forecheck with any consistency (despite the inevitability that an opponent would clog up the neutral zone and force them to dump and chase).
The Lightning viewed the playoffs as a continuation of the regular season. They could dominate on special teams, roll four lines, and play transition defense when they wanted to. Chances would come because they could skate and pass through the opposition with impunity. But the imprimatur of the postseason is how well a team marshals its forwards and defensemen around the puck when there is no room to be found. It is through structure, discipline, accountability, and yes, pragmatism that coherence can be found in the gridlock. You have the skillset to fill that void in their bottom-six, Adam.
What is so recognizable watching the depth lines for the Bruins and Blues is how well they forecheck and retrieve. These are areas of your game that could use improvement. But if developed, your value soars. Take Sean Kuraly for the Bruins. He is a depth forward who has become a catalyst for the Bruins, and has earned the trust of coach Bruce Cassidy.
As you develop the physical portion of your game, practice keeping your stick down in the process so as not to draw a penalty. Study Anthony Cirelli and the angles he takes on his retrievals and the forecheck. If you can’t take away the defenseman’s hands, you have the body type that can punish the defenseman into making a bad pass. Just don’t be reckless and drive his head into the glass.
One thing that was evident in the first round against the Blue Jackets was how easy it was for them to box out the Lightning forwards. But Adam, you have the strength and skill to make plays around the crease. You picked up a deflection goal against Vancouver in December. You tapped a backhand past Niemi against Montreal that same month. If you manage to batter the defenseman and force turnovers, hem the opponent deep, and fire the puck on net from all angles, the future is yours.
(Your Guardian Angel)