Dustin Tokarski  finished with 1.97 goals-against average, and won a career-high of 34 games during his last junior season.The question will be if he can acclimate to the NHL, despite his 5-foot-11 frame.
Becoming a forward didnâ€™t keep Norfolk Admirals rookie Dustin Tokarski's interest.
Working the blue line?
How about between the pipes?
For Tokarski, the net became a natural fit, especially during his junior career. Tokarski finished with 1.97 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage, and won a career-high of 34 games with the Spokane Chiefs (2008-2009).
During that span, he sandwiched a gold medal in the World Juniors with Team Canada and added another gold accolade with Spokane for the 2008 Memorial Cup. In three seasons with Spokane, he finished with an overall record of 77-39-7.
With the introductions out of the way, Tokarski will face his biggest challenge yet - proving he can be the No. 1 goalie in AHL Norfolk and show NHL Tampa Bay heâ€™s worth it.
Heâ€™s not alone in that endeavor, Tokarski platoons with second-year pro Riku Helenius  (5-6).
Tokarski wasnâ€™t overly concerned about Helenius, in fact he didnâ€™t mention the competition directly - his mind is on adapting to the AHL.
â€œItâ€™s been an adjustment playing in this league. The game is faster and the players have a lot more talent,â€ Tokarski, who was drafted in round five of the 2008 NHL draft, said. â€œIâ€™m confident that I can help this team win. I need to prove myself if I want to play more.â€
As of Dec. 13, Tokarski (8-8-1) had clocked in 959 minutes, compared to Helenius (660 minutes). In 16 games with Norfolk, Tokarski has a 2.44 goals-against average with a save percentage of .913 percent. He's stopped a total of 407 shots.
Norfolk head coach Darren Rumble said both goalies will split time until one starts dominating, or the Admirals reach the postseason.
â€œWeâ€™re not going with Riku or Dustin. There have been inconsistencies with both of them,â€ Rumble said. â€œIf it comes down to the wire, weâ€™ll go with the hot-hand for must-win games.â€
Tampa Bay remains neutral about Tokarskiâ€™s playing time.
â€œThe Lightning said to dress whoever we decided to dress. We havenâ€™t had any pressure to play one more than the other right now,â€ Rumble said.
Tokarski, who hails from Watson, Saskatchewan, a population of less than 800 people, has learned a big league lesson - patience.
â€œSimply, I need to be patient about the first pass as well as the back door-pass,â€ Tokarski said. â€œIâ€™m adjusting to the speed. Iâ€™m happy about how things are going here. Iâ€™m focused.â€
One of Tokarskiâ€™s tools is his focus, another the ability to stay square against his opponents. An additional weapon, vital to any goalieâ€™s success, is keeping cool against adversity.
â€œDustin is calm under pressure, and responds well to rebounds and reading plays. Heâ€™s a collective blocker. He will find ways to let the puck hit him,â€ Rumble said. â€œBut he needs to work on coming out quicker and getting to the puck quicker. That will come with experience.â€
Tokarski stands at 5-foot-11 and there are concerns about his future as an NHLer, where taller goalies can cover more space from the butterfly position.
â€œHeâ€™s not huge, but heâ€™s not small,â€ Rumble said. â€œHe comes out of the crease and can cut down the angle, which could be very deceiving to a skater. Heâ€™ll do well in the NHL, with more experience.â€
â€œI would give the team 110 percent,â€ Tokarski said. â€œI'd do everything I could to help win. Iâ€™m confident that I can get the job done. I would tell them â€˜Iâ€™m the man for the job.â€™â€
Yes, confidence - an ingredient Tokarski has quite a supply of.
â€œIâ€™m not worried about him falling off the apple truck,â€ Rumble laughed. â€œSometimes players who are inconsistent lose their confidence. He doesnâ€™t need to rely on making a heroic or miraculous save to keep his confidence.â€
The Lightning gave Tokarski simple advice in camp.
â€œThey said to keep doing what I am doing,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m on the right track, and to keep my head on straight.â€
For Tokarski, the net was a natural choice.
â€œI wanted to become a goalie because I liked being in control, and I loved playing on the defensive side.â€
It's a choice the Lightning, Admirals, and each of his previous teams have greatly appreciated.
(Photo by J.D. Weakland)