Radko Gudas, drafted in the 3rd round (66th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, broke into the NHL this year after playing a big role for the Calder Cup winning Norfolk Admirals a season ago.
Perhaps the best example of a talented prospect going through a measured, careful development process and coming out the other side a solid NHL player, Gudas may very well be the first of many so-called "Tampacuse" players to claim and hold a permanent spot in Tampa Bay.
Gudas played in 22 games with the Lightning in the lockout-shortened season, recording 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points, a +3 rating, and 38 penalty minutes in 16:59 of time on ice per game.
A heralded aspect of Gudas' game has always been his physicality, and he certainly didn't shy away from rough stuff against the tough competition in the NHL. While real time stats are often unreliable due to scorer bias, Gudas was credited with 87 hits in his 22 games, for a ludicrous 3.95 hits per game. The leading hitter in the entire NHL for 2013 — Matt Martin of the New York Islanders — averaged 4.875 per game.
Considering Gudas played defense, the hit tally is especially impressive, as he obviously has more own-zone responsibility than a bottom-6 banging winger like Martin, Chris Neil, or Steve Ott.
Even more impressive is that Gudas passed the eye-test with flying colors, rarely stepping up for a hit at a bad moment resulting in a scoring chance against.
While every rookie goes through some growing pains, Gudas' transition to the NHL actually went very smoothly. He uses all his tools well, including the devastating hip check along the boards that has made him a fan favorite, and makes smart decisions with the puck. There are a few moments here and there where a pinch or a pass was the wrong decision, but these aren't very often and he has the instincts and good positioning to make up for his own mistakes and those of his his defense partners.
The underlying numbers also support what was an unexpectedly strong rookie campaign:
As you can see from his player usage chart above (credit to Greg Sinclair for the chart) Gudas was sheltered pretty heavily in the NHL this year, which makes sense given that he is a rookie. He faced the easiest competition amongst regular Lightning defensemen and had the highest rate of offensive zone starts.
However, that shouldn't be read as a criticism of his game, but rather an intentional coaching tactic to slowly introduce him to the NHL pace and competition. The most important thing to note is that with this easy role, Gudas excelled territorially, with the highest CorsiOn and CorsiRel on the Lightning for all skaters who played at least ten games, which means more pucks were going towards the opposition's net than towards his own while Gudas was on the ice, a good sign moving forward.
Corsi isn't the only metric where Gudas excelled, however:
Tampa: Best = Gudas (explains his invite to Czech olympic team – but rookie so SSS), Hedman is also very very good, Worst = Keith Aulie…
— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) July 28, 2013
That's Steve Burtch of Pension Plan Puppets, the SB Nation blog covering the Toronto Maple Leafs, who has spent a commendable amount of time developing a shot-based metric that measures the defensive ability of defensemen, something that is traditionally very difficult to accurately quantify.
Using his formula, Gudas came out with the best SDI score on the Lightning, ahead of even Victor Hedman. The "SSS" that he warns about, however, is the small sample size, as Gudas did only appear in 22 games in 2012-2013, and so any conclusions drawn from the data we do have are not exactly 100% reliable.
That said, based on what he showed on the ice, Gudas is definitely ready for full-time NHL duty next season, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a three-year, all one-way contract extension in May.
Our expectation would be for Gudas to start the season in 2013-2014 on the bottom pairing with Keith Aulie (barring the acquisition, likely via trade, of another NHL defenseman) with the opportunity to seize a top-4 role as soon as training camp if he continues to progress at the rate he did last season.
For his body of work in 2013, we grade Radko Gudas at a B+.
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