Who Is Your 2013-14 Bolts “Breakout” Player?
We asked our staff, “What Lightning player is poised to have a breakout season?” In other words, “Which Bolts player will emerge and become an impact contributor?”
Here’s our choices:
WB Philp – Radko Gudas will be the impact player on the Bolts blue line in 2013-14. Along with his always solid defense, “The Beard” will provide a huge physical presence, a coveted right handed shot and an uncanny ability to patiently move the puck out of the zone. He will log big minutes on the third pairing and eventually may work his way up to a second pair defenseman.
All you need to know about Gudas comes straight from the mouth of an NHL scout at a Lightning game last season, “Simply put, he’s a prick to play against.”
As the Lightning faltered last season, Gudas shined brightly. While averaging over 16 minutes per game, he accumulated two goals and five points in 22 games, accompanied by a startling 87 hits and 28 blocked shots. He wasn’t shy about shooting as he got off 31 shots.
Gudas is not big by NHL defensemen standards, but his 6’0”, 205 lbs. body packs a wallop. He constantly gets into forwards chests and moves them around more like a 230 pounder. The Czech Republic native is a beast along the boards and in the corners, providing the much needed physicality and tenacity the Bolts have been lacking along the blue line.
To be sure, all opposing forwards will make it their responsibility to know when Gudas is on the ice. Besides his bone jarring hits, he can handle himself very well when the gloves are dropped. He has a heavy slap shot and may eventually see some time on the Bolts power play, just as he did under coach Jon Cooper in the AHL.
Although Gudas will never be a point scoring juggernaut, his stick skills have improved dramatically over the past few seasons enough for him to contribute a little more offensively than is expected.
Look for Gudas to cement himself into the Bolts lineup as a dependable, hard working defenseman in the 2013-14 season.
Alexis Boucher – Victor Hedman - The Tampa Bay Lightning’s defense has been much maligned in recent years. It’s been too old, too young, or just not good enough to match up against the NHL elite. Tampa is predominantly known for a prolific offense, but times are changing due to surprising organizational depth among defensemen. The player poised to have a break out season isn’t a new name, but one who has shown considerable growth at his position in the last four seasons. Victor Hedman is on the cusp of a monster year, no matter what the naysayers say. There’s a few very big reasons why Hedman is ready to make his mark.
Defensemen often take longer to mature into the nuances of their position. He may not have made giant leaps forward, but marked improvement can be seen in the details of his play. During the 2013 season he recorded four goals, 16 assists and had an average of 21:44 time on ice. In 44 games he finished with a +1 rating. Plus/minus can be viewed as an overrated statistic, but not when it comes to a blueliner who is logging over 20 minutes a game.
During the lockout, Hedman wisely used the additional time and space on European ice to work on his craft. He saw a lot of time on the power play and gained confidence in handling the puck. The work paid off and he saw a career high in power-play time last year with 1:44 per game. If the big Swede continues to see time with the man advantage, the 2013-14 season should be a big leap forward in terms of offensive production.
Many Lightning fans seem to have a hard time being patient when it comes to defensive development. Hedman has grown considerably since he came into the league as an 18 year old. He is already part of the top defensive pairing and still has a tremendous upside. He will continue to improve and this will be the year when everyone starts to notice.
Jason Haas – Tom Pyatt - On gut feeling and intuition alone, my pick for breakout player this season was Keith Aulie. The young blueliner earned a one-way contract this off-season and has a chance to firmly establish himself on the Lightning’s bottom defense pair with a relative lack of competition. However, it’s very difficult to quantify a stay-at-home defenseman’s development.
After closer examination of the Lightning roster, Tom Pyatt really stood out as a player that was ready to establish himself. He scored 35 points in 41 games for AHL Hamilton in 2009-10, but only netted 5 points in 40 games for Montreal that season.
He’s been in the NHL since then, posting points-per-game ratios of: 0.11 (7 in 61, MTL, 2010-11), 0.26 (19 in 74, TB, 2011-12) and 0.37 (16 in 43, TB, 2012-13)
Though Pyatt is entering his prime years (26 years old, will turn 27 in February), one shouldn’t expect as dramatic of a points-per-game increase in the 2013-14 season. The 82 game schedule will normalize things, a 0.40 points-per-game ratio and a total of around 30 points during the coming season is the expectation.
Pyatt is not a top six player, but his versatility allows him to be slotted there from time to time and this will greatly benefit his numbers. If Pyatt’s development continues, he’ll surely be earning more than the $600,000 he is making this season in 2014-15.
Pyatt will cement himself as a dependable source of depth scoring. The Lightning cannot rely on players like Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis every night and the ingredients are there for Pyatt to step up.
Okay Bolts Nation, who is your breakout player?
(Gudas/Hedman/Pyatt photos/Susan Ferlita)
(Feature box photo/Bridgetds)
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