CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. --
There are many different paths a prospect may journey to begin a career in the National Hockey League, but Radko Gudas
, taken in the third round (No. 66) by the Tampa Bay Lightning
in the 2010 Entry Draft, is taking the road less travelled -- he plans to punch his way there.
Gudas, a 21-year-old defenseman, currently is participating in the Florida Rookie Tournament that kicked off Sunday with a game between the Lightning rookies and the Florida Panthers
prospects. At 6-foot and 201 pounds, he has been compared to an anvil -- and the native of Prague certainly is not hesitant about throwing his iron around.
In 2009-10, his first season of Canadian junior hockey, he led the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League with 151 penalty minutes, accumulated during 65 games. He forged a reputation for bone-rattling hits and quickly made a strong impression around the league.
"No one liked playing against him," recalled forward James Wright
, who played against Gudas in the WHL and currently is a teammate at the rookie tournament. "He's a very physical player who finishes his checks."
"There's nobody you’re going to put on the ice that will be more competitive or tougher than Gudas. His hits are not dirty. He just knows how to line a guy up. Teams don’t come across the middle that often when he’s on the ice. He’s a throwback. He is all meat and potatoes and he hits like a truck." -- Norfolk coach Jon Cooper
Gudas completed his season at Everett with 7 goals, 30 assists and a plus-45 rating.
After participating in the Lightning's 2010 Development Camp, general manager Steve Yzerman
signed Gudas to a three-year, entry-level contract and sent him to the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, where he made an immediate impression on coach Jon Cooper.
"There's nobody you're going to put on the ice that will be more competitive or tougher than Gudas," Cooper said. "His hits are not dirty. He just knows how to line a guy up. Teams don't come across the middle that often when he's on the ice.
"He's a throwback. He is all meat and potatoes and he hits like a truck."
In part due to a penchant for the big hit, Gudas accumulated an extensive fight card last season in Norfolk, dropping the gloves 16 times, including a classic with Penguins prospect Eric Tangradi
. Gudas finished with a hefty 165 penalty minutes while appearing in 76 games.
But securing a roster spot strictly as an enforcer is a rarity in the NHL today, and Gudas has worked hard to mix in some offensive skills with his proclivity for hitting.
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That effort is paying dividends, as last season he had 4 goals and 13 assists.
In Sunday's game, Gudas made his presence felt with several jarring hits, including a first-period leveling of Panthers forward Quinton Howden
. He also collected two penalties and unleashed a blistering slap shot from 15 feet that Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom
"We drafted Gudas because he's a real character kid," said Lightning Coach Guy Boucher
, who was an interested spectator as Cooper coached the prospects. "He's fearless on the ice."
The player also comes by his hockey sense honorably. His father, Leo Gudas
, played 20 seasons of pro hockey in Europe and won a bronze medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics as a defenseman for Team Czechoslovakia.
Radko also began his career in the Czech Republic, but despite representing his country at the 2009 and 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships, he was not finding much success.
"They were telling me I'm more of a North American-style hockey player," he said.
So Gudas listened and moved to North America, and the improvement in his game followed close behind.
Currently, Gudas is stuck behind a blue-line log jam in Tampa Bay, as the team currently has nine defensemen on the roster with NHL experience and one-way contracts.
Still, Gudas is looking forward to training camp and the opportunity -- no matter how thin -- to sneak onto the opening-night roster.
"I will do everything I can to get a shot at the NHL," Gudas said. "I'm going to work hard and be the best I can to help the team."