Though he’s only played three NHL contests, Tampa Bay rookie defenseman Radko Gudas has already made a big impression on his head coach, Guy Boucher.
“He’s a head hunter,” Boucher told the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s one of those guys that hits you clean but extremely hard.”
Gudas, 22, was taken by Tampa in the third round (66th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s spent the last three seasons with AHL Norfolk/Syracuse and, this season, made his NHL debut in a 3-2 win over Florida — during which he did this to Panthers forward Kris Versteeg:
The hit knocked Versteeg out of the contest and led to season-ending knee surgery, but both Gudas and Boucher insisted the hit was clean.
“It’s the type of my game. I play the body,” Gudas told the St. Petersburg Times. “I wasn’t going to hurt him or anything. I went for the puck and turned my back to him and he kind of tried to jump around me.
“It’s something that happens in hockey. I obviously didn’t want him to get hurt or anything.”
Boucher said the hit “wasn’t cheap” and “wasn’t anything, just bad luck for Versteeg.”
Boucher also said he’s quickly gaining trust in Gudas, who he compares to former hard-hitting defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.
Gudas is doing all he can to reprise the role. He has 14 hits and seven blocked shots through three games and played a career-high 20:03 in a 4-1 win over Carolina on Saturday.
“He’s been terrific,” Boucher said. “We knew he was good. We knew he was probably ready. We just needed to put him on the ice and see how close he is. And he’s not just close, he was probably our best defenseman (Thursday in a loss to the Islanders) and almost our best defenseman in his first game in the NHL.
“He’s been doing it all right now.”