TAMPA -- On Oct. 4, 2008, the Tampa Bay Lightning opened their season against the New York Rangers in the Czech Republic. Mike Smith was in the net for the Lightning, Barry Melrose was behind the bench, and up in the stands, 18-year-old Radko Gudas was watching his first National Hockey League game.
The Czech defenseman, known for his hard checks, is winning praise for his composure with the puck and passing ability, earning plenty of ice time in his initial NHL games for Tampa Bay. (Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI)
Much has changed for the Lightning over four-plus years, and much has changed for Gudas, too -- he's not sitting in the stands anymore, he's sitting in the Lightning locker room, preparing to play his fourth game as an NHL defenseman Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers
(7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"It was amazing," Gudas said of watching that first game in Prague. "It was pretty exciting. I never dreamed about playing here at the time, but then I got drafted by Tampa Bay [third round in 2010] and it was a nice surprise."
Gudas has proven to be a nice surprise for the Lightning, too. Always known for his hard checks, he is winning praise for his composure with the puck and passing ability, too. He's also winning ice time, skating 20:03 Saturday in the Lightning's defeat of the Carolina Hurricanes
"Everybody loves the way he handles the puck and passes, but that's not what he is -- he's a Kasparaitis." Lightning coach Guy Boucher
said, comparing Gudas to retired defenseman Darius Kasparaitis
. "He's one of those guys that hits you clean, but extremely hard.
"He hits so hard and his timing is right on. I didn't want him to go out there and extend himself trying to hit guys just to impress us. We wanted him to play a simple game and he's been doing that. He's doing it all right now."