Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman called up 2010 third round draft pick Radko Gudas  from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch today.
Gudas, a right-handed, people-moving defenseman, has been knocking at the NHL’s door for the past year, but especially in the last two months. While Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled, Gudas has been playing big, effective minutes in all game situations in Syracuse - just like Yzerman wanted.
It was only a matter of time before Yzerman couldn’t afford to leave Gudas in the AHL any longer.
Per the Lightning’s announcement, Gudas, 22, has skated in 57 games this season with the Crunch, notching four goals and 20 points. He is tied for second behind Mark Barberio  among Crunch defensemen for goals, assists, and points. Gudas leads the AHL with a plus/minus rating of plus-32. Gudas has also compiled a team-best and the fourth-most penalty minutes in the AHL with 207. Gudas’ 136 shots on goal rank fifth among Crunch skaters.
The Prague, Czech Republic, native has played in 228 career AHL games with the Norfolk Admirals and the Crunch, registering 15 goals, 57 points and 567 penalty minutes. In the 2011-12 season, Gudas led the Admirals in penalty minutes with 195.
What to expect:
The best description of Radko Gudas is a fire hydrant with a bad attitude on skates. He is not big (6-0), but is as solid as they come in stature. His lack of size combined with his frame and strength actually work to his advantage in many situations as he’s able to get his shoulder into players’ chests for big hits or to establish leverage against a forward for a 50/50 puck. He’s only listed at 205 pounds, but he plays like 245.
Gudas styles his game after his father, Leo, who represented Czechoslovakia in multiple world hockey championships and won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics.
"I learned how he played, and that's how I play," Gudas told Bolt Prospects earlier this season . "He was a really hard hitter, he had a good shot – a really good defenseman."
He also mimics former Devils defenseman Scott Stevens, who delivered a few (thousand) big hits in his day.
"The other team knows that when I'm on the ice; they keep their heads up," Gudas said.
Crunch Coach Jon Cooper agrees.
"When he steps over the boards, everybody on the other team knows he's on the ice," Cooper told Bolt Prospects in November. "That's a unique trait to have because for most players, those are the guys who are big scorers or big point guys. It's more rare when it's a guy with a physical presence like Gudas."
While known more for his hits and physical play, Gudas is responsible defensively and plays well positionally – something Tampa Bay’s Guy Boucher will demand. Gudas is effective along the wall because he is strong and never stops moving his feet.
A coveted right-handed shot, Gudas received regular power play time for Cooper’s club, often manning the Stamkos Circle to the goalie’s right. He has a heavy shot that he’s not shy about using, though it’s not a goal-scorer’s laser.
Cooper said Gudas’ shot has improved, and it’s part of the skill package that will make Gudas successful in the NHL.
"The part that eventually is going to get him to the NHL is his stick skills," Cooper said. "His shot has gotten better, his stickhandling and his ability to make plays is getting better all the time. When he starts taking that to the next level, he's going to be a ‘can't-miss.’"
Gudas’ arrival in Tampa couldn’t have come at a better time. Stay-at-homer Eric Brewer  has struggled lately, giving more ice time to Gudas’ former Crunch teammate, Keith Aulie , who is better suited for the third pair. The team has frequent bouts of stale play, and with few Lightning players delivering hits, Gudas can spark some energy in that area. Usually when one player starts hitting, others follow.
He may not play on the power play now – or ever – though he’s a capable fill in, especially as a right-handed shot. He’s not the ideal point in the Lightning's power play diamond as he doesn’t think the game as well offensively as others who think offense first for a living.
Quite simply, Radko Gudas is a player who can shape a team’s identity.
On the surface, he projects as a shutdown, 4/5 defenseman who can log solid minutes and provide needed physicality, energy, and responsible play. He can move the puck out of his zone effectively, which could move him up to a solid second pair/top-4 defenseman in the next few years.
Beyond his depth chart position and key characteristics, Gudas is a heart-and-soul player who is a natural leader through his actions. While this may not be apparent right away, in the future when fans of other teams think of the Lightning – especially in the playoffs – they will think of Radko Gudas.
If he were a stock, Jim Cramer would keep news of it to himself. Gudas can handle is own when the gloves are dropped, and combined with his penchant for momentum-changing hits, is the type of player who will sell a lot of jerseys.
He is also a perennial candidate for best playoff beard. Or any-time beard.
Though fans may love his beard, hip checks, and upper cuts above anything else, Gudas is a gift for a desperate coaching staff in need of an impact player on defense.