Grading the Lightning rookies
Each week Bolts beat reporter Missy Zielinski is grading the Tampa Bay Lightning in the categories of offense, defense, goaltending, special teams and rookies based on their performance during the 2013-14 season. In our final week of grading, she is handing Lightning rookies their report card:
BOLTS ROOKIES (OVERALL) – A
Vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman finally got to see his plan of patience and faith in development from the farm unfold during the 2013-14 campaign. While the new class of rookies meshed well with the Bolts’ more seasoned talent, what was most remarkable was how successful they were in the face of adversity during the year.
Not only did netminder Ben Bishop help the Lightning tread water during costly injuries to Steven Stamkos and Valterri Filppula, as well as the loss of Martin St. Louis, but youngsters like Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Radko Gudas made a huge impact too.
Tampa Bay also led the NHL in rookie points with 201, had eight rookies appear in at least 41 games this season (the next closest had three) and two rookies be named finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie (Johnson, Palat).
After enduring the ups and downs the Lightning faced this year and the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs - albeit a small sample size - Bolts rookies proved to be up to the test, leaving high expectations for many in their sophomore campaign.
BOLTS ROOKIES (INDIVIDUAL)
Best in Class: Tyler Johnson
2013-14 regular season numbers: 82 GP, 24 G, 26 A, 50 PTS, +23, Calder Trophy finalist
2012-13 regular season numbers: 14 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 PTS, +3
Individual Grade: A+
Johnson’s success as the 2012-13 AHL MVP easily translated to the NHL, as he consistently contributed to the score sheet night-in and night-out. The 23-year-old set a new franchise record for rookie goals in a season with 24, surpassing Steven Stamkos’ mark of 23 set during the 2008-09 season, and netted his first career hat trick. Johnson’s speed also made him a big factor on both the power play and penalty kill, as he became just the second rookie in NHL history to record five power-play and five shorthanded goals in a single season.
Breakout Player: Ondrej Palat
2013-14 regular season numbers: 81 GP, 23 G, 36 A, 59 PTS, +32, Calder Trophy finalist
2012-13 regular season numbers 14 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, +5
Individual Grade: A+
Palat led the Lightning in points (59) and plus/minus (+32), Rookie of the Month twice (January/March), finishing within the Top-3 in the NHL for goals and points and a Calder Trophy finalist…need I say more? The only thing separating him from Johnson’s status of “Best in Class” is that 44 of Palat’s 59 points came during the second half of the season, while Johnson seemed to be a consistent force all season long.
Room to Grow: Richard Panik
2013-14 regular season numbers: 50 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 13 PTS, -9
2012-13 regular season numbers: 25 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS, -2
Individual Grade: C
Panik had his ups and downs during 2013-14 and was ultimately sent down to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, to get more playing time after becoming a healthy scratch. Panik’s opportunity to play at the international level with Slovakia at the Winter Olympics in February and the World Championship this Spring should also provide an extra boost of experience.
Up and Coming: Kristers Gudlevskis
2013-14 regular season numbers: 1 GP, 1 W, .947 SV%, 2.00 GAA
2012-13 regular season numbers: N/A
Individual Grade: B+
Making headlines for becoming the first goaltender in NHL history to compete at the ECHL, AHL, NHL and international level (Olympics) in his rookie season, the future is bright for Kristers Gudlevskis. The Latvia native posted a 2.68 goals-against average and .901 save percentage to go along with a 18-11-4 record in his first professional season with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, while appearing in three games (including playoffs) with Tampa Bay.
For last week’s grade given to the Bolts special teams, click here.