Lightning’s Cirelli credits time in AHL for strong two-way play

Anthony Cirelli has been the spark plug for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and has drawn compassions to the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby

Anthony Cirelli has made drastic improvements year-over-year since debuting with the Tampa Bay Lightning late in the 2017-18 season.

Prior to the 2019-20 NHL season being put on indefinite pause, Cirelli’s name was even being mentioned among the league’s top two-way forwards alongside Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Couturier and other Selke Trophy contenders.

“I don’t really focus too much on that stuff. I just try to focus on our team and our game, but it’s obviously a pretty cool feeling to be put up next to those guys,” Cirelli told Hockey Central on Friday. “It’s a huge honour, but I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go.”

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The 22-year-old centre finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting and 11th in Selke votes in 2018-19 and credits his time spent in the AHL as a huge part of his development.

“I thought my time in Syracuse was great,” said Cirelli, who was taken in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

He explained Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx helped him fine-tune his 200-foot game, which has translated to success with the Lightning.

“He’s hard on guys and wants you to be better and I think he was a huge mentor and helped me in getting to the NHL,” Cirelli said.

The Etobicoke, Ont., native contributed a career high 44 points through 68 games this season while averaging nearly four minutes of ice-time per game more than he did one season ago.

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