Lightning prospect Jimmy Mullin waited almost a month through the semester break for the second half of his freshman season to begin and wasted no time making an impact.
Mullin swooped around the net, took a pass from Austin Czarnik and zipped a shot past Michigan State goalie Drew Palmisano at 1:24 of overtime to give Miami a 2-1 victory on Jan. 6.
Not only was it a huge victory for Mullin and the RedHawks, Lightning Executive Vice President and GM Steve Yzerman was in the house in East Lansing, Mich.
“I didn’t have a particularly good game overall, but getting the winner really boosted my confidence,” Mullin said. “I felt like, hey, I deserve to be on the top line. Ever since then, my expectations went higher and higher.
“From the beginning of the year, I wanted to be on the top line. I had to change, do what they wanted to do defensively and buy into the system. After I did that my game came a little easier.”
Mullin had three goals and two assists in his first 17 games for Miami last fall, chipped in three points in the final two contests before the break, then scored 18 points (seven goals) in his final 18 games.
Czarnik, who participated at Lightning Development Camp earlier this month, and Reilly Smith were his line mates during Mullin’s surge. Smith later signed with the Dallas Stars and played three NHL games at the end of the season.
“Reilly and I played together the whole first half of the year and we just couldn’t find that third guy,” said Czarnik, who had 37 points and helped Smith net 30 goals. “When coach put Jimmy with us he just added to that chemistry. He was the person we needed to set us up and he could score, too.
“He’s a really speedy kid and he can get to open spots. In the corners, he’s relentless. He hates losing battles, so he just gives you everything he’s got.”
The 5 foot 11, 163-pound Mullin scored 138 goals (62 in 2008-09) in 130 games at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota before playing for Fargo in the U.S. Hockey League, where he put up 60 points in 52 games.
The Lightning selected Mullin, 20, in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he just attended his third Development Camp in the Tampa area.
“It’s definitely helped me with my skating and fundamentals,” Mullin said. “It’s made me more comfortable on the ice and I’ve picked up things every year that I could use during the season.”
I’ve picked up things every year that I could use during the season. - James Mullin
Lightning Development Coordinator Steve Thomas said college was the right choice for Mullin and he’s seen a difference in him this summer.
“He’s an offensive guy with great wheels and good hands,” Thomas said. “He has to work on his strength more than anything. Playing in college at Miami with coach [Enrico] Blasi, they really stress the fitness side of things and he’s benefitted. Last year, if he turned sideways you had a hard time seeing him. Now he’s got some girth, muscle mass.”
Mullin admits the first part of the season was a struggle, not getting the minutes or the role he thought he would get. Then, Mullin said, he decided to fix the things he needed to fix.
“He started to figure it out a little bit,” Thomas said. “He took it as a challenge to get himself more minutes.”
Once he battled his way to the top line, Mullin and the RedHawks took off. Miami was 9-9-2 before the semester break and 15-6 afterward, reaching the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for Mullin, the RedHawks lost in the first round to UMass-Lowell 4-3 in overtime – two wins from the Frozen Four in Tampa.
Mullin and Czarnik will be back, but Miami loses a lot of other players from that team. A strong recruiting class should help.
“It’s not a rebuilding year,” Mullin said. “It’ll be a reload.”
Mullin’s goal is to build off a 26-point, freshman season.
“I just want to continue to get bigger and stronger, shoot the puck more and make more plays,” Mullin said. “Coming off a decent season, I know I can do a lot more for my team and myself.”