The Tampa Bay Lightning made news prior to tonight's home preseason game versus the Nashville Predators with the announcement they'd claimed forward Danick Martel off waivers from Philadelphia.
Martel, a 23-year old winger from Drummondville, Quebec, made his NHL debut with the Flyers last season and played in four NHL games total. He shined at the AHL level from the moment he joined Lehigh Valley, scoring at least 20 goals in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 25 goals in 2017-18.
"Most players that can put up those types of numbers their first year pro at the age of 20, 21, they usually end up being able to play at the NHL level," Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. "We knew he was a promising player from his first season at Lehigh Valley and kept an eye on him and when we saw he was on waivers yesterday, we had the roster spot, we had the room in terms of the 50 contracts, so it made sense for us to claim him."
Standing 5-foot-8, Martel is another in a long list of players overlooked and considered undersized by hockey standards the Lightning have been able to mold into quality players at the NHL level. Martel was undrafted despite putting up 48 goals and 102 points in 64 games during his last year at junior playing for Blainville-Boisbriand.
"He kind of fits our DNA in the sense that he's really fast, he's skilled and he's tenacious," BriseBois said. "There's something to work with there. He's only 23 years old. He still has some upside. We've had success with players that have that profile. We want our team to be able to play fast, and he should be able to do that for us."
Martel crossed paths with a pair of forwards in the Lightning organization, Cedric Paquette and Daniel Walcott, during his time with Blainville-Boisbriand. He's expected to arrive in Tampa today and could potentially get into preseason action Tuesday when the Lightning host the Florida Panthers at AMALIE Arena.
"We'll get to see him compete at the NHL level or at least preseason level next week," BriseBois said. "He's only played four career NHL games, all last season with the Flyers. We'll see how he adjusts to the level of competition, the pace and the strength of the players at this level and see where he goes from there. It's kind of a no-risk gamble for us. It costs us nothing. We get to claim him, work with him and see how good he can be."
Video: Boris Katchouk interview 9/22/18
KATCHOUK FILLING THE NET: At the start of Lightning training camp, not too many people were targeting Boris Katchouk as a player who could potentially make the Bolts' Opening Night roster.
That's certainly not a knock on Katchouk. The Lightning selected him in the Second Round (44th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft, and he's been one of the organization's top prospects ever since. Katchouk, however, just completed his final season in junior with Sault Ste. Marie last year and hasn't even made his pro debut at the AHL level.
But after turning some heads with his aggressive, two-way game during training camp and netting a pair of goals in Tampa Bay's preseason games at Carolina and Nashville, Katchouk is giving Lightning management plenty to think about as they go about deciding their roster.
"I'm super happy," Katchouk said about how training camp has gone for him so far. "It's one stepping stone to the right direction. I know there's a bunch more hard work to be done. I'm just looking forward to the next days."
During Friday night's game at Nashville, Katchouk capitalized on a rebound attempt in the first period, shooting past defending Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne to give the Lightning a 3-0 lead. Two nights earlier in Raleigh, Katchouk was the only Lightning player to light the lamp.
But beyond scoring goals, Katchouk has impressed with his tenacious play and his ability to be a factor defensively as well.
"Besides producing, I think it's the consistency of hard work, playing with players I don't usually play with," Katchouk said. "Once you keep that consistent hard work, hard pace, good things happen. It's been fun."
Katchouk will get another chance to make a good impression as he'll be in the lineup for Tampa Bay's fourth preseason game versus Nashville, Katchouk's third game in the last four days.
Video: Erik Cernak talks about practicing with the team
CERNAK STANDS OUT: At 6-foot-4, it's hard to miss defenseman Erik Cernak. The 21-year-old blueliner came into camp in impeccable physical shape and is an imposing figure on the ice.
Beyond his physique however, Cernak is standing out for his play. He's not so quietly having one of the best training camps of anybody in the organization and is going to make it tough for the coaches and staff to decide what to do with him once camp ends.
"I think so far I've had a really good camp," Cernak said following today's morning skate. "I'm working hard. I'm showing my game, what I can do, how I can help the team and try and make the team. You don't know what can happen. I'm working hard every day and every game, so we'll see what happens."
Tampa Bay's six starting defenseman appear set with the same group coming back from last season. Slater Koekkoek would figure to be the seventh defenseman and is making his own case to break into the top six and earn more playing time.
But Cernak is right there too and has a legitimate chance to make the roster for Opening Night.
"It will be hard, but I'm doing good so far," he said. "I'm working hard in practice and the games, so we'll see what happens. But I'm feeling really good this year."
Cernak got even bigger and stronger during the offseason but also worked a lot on his skating. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Cernak doesn't get enough credit for how good of a skater he is and said the hulking defenseman made a big step with the organization last season, when he played 71 games in his first pro season for AHL Syracuse and recorded five goals and 18 points.
Will it be enough to make the Lightning out of camp?
That remains to be seen, but he's certainly put himself in a good position to contribute at some point this season with his offseason work habits combined with his positive showing in camp.