SUNRISE For more than two seasons, the legend of Radko Gudas grew within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization nearly as quickly as his thick, lumberjack-like beard.
On Tuesday, Gudas will make his NHL debut as the Lightning faceoff against the Florida Panthers.
Drafted in the third round in 2010, the 6-foot, 205-pound defenseman steadily became one of the team’s top prospects. Known for his heavy, open-ice hits in the American Hockey League, Gudas became a complete player while appearing in 206 games with Tampa Bay’s minor league farm team.
He was recalled from Syracuse on Monday.
“He’s a kid that came in two years ago and he had a major upside as far as his physicality and will be … compared to (Darius) Kasparitis as a major menace and threat on the ice and will hit extremely hard at moments teams don’t expect,’’ Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “He’s a warrior, but what is great is over the past two years his game is a little calmer in the sense that he chooses those moments a lot better than he used to.
“And we really, really liked him at (training) camp and (he) was a lot closer to making the team than we thought. Now, he is just playing extremely steady with the physicality he has always had. And I like the fact that he plays very steady while making the simple plays and he deserves to be here.’’
Gudas leads the AHL with a plus-32 rating while picking up 207 penalty minutes with the Crunch this season. He was home relaxing with his roommates on Monday morning when he received a call on his cell from the 813 area code.
“I hadn’t had (Steve Yzerman’s) phone number, but I saw that it was somebody from Florida calling, so I had a little feeling but I wasn’t sure,’’ Gudas said. “But I was so excited.’’
Gudas called his father in Prague, Czech Republic, to share the news he was getting his first call up to the NHL. Though his parents were not able to arrange a flight to see his NHL debut, they are expected to arrive in Tampa on Wednesday and attend Gudas’ home debut on Thursday against the New York Islanders.
Lightning LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who was Gudas roommate for two years in the AHL, said opposing teams know to keep their head up when Gudas is on the ice.
“He’s got his own style and his style is rare,’’ Labrie said. “He comes low and fast and you better keep your head up when you come across the blue line because he’s coming. He’s hard to play against. …There are so many good things to say about that guy.’’
G Mathieu Garon, who missed three games with a lower body injury, was activated from injured reserve and will be the backup to Anders Lindback against Florida. The Lightning reassigned G Cedrick Desjardins to Syracuse.
Desjardins played in one game with Tampa Bay, Saturday’s 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens.
D Brendan Mikkelson had a hard time finding the ice with the Lightning this season, but likely will see plenty of opportunities after being reassigned to Syracuse on Monday. Frequently a healthy scratch, Mikkelson, 25, had one assist in four games for Tampa Bay.
“You want to be in the lineup every night and contributing to the team, but that’s not the way it worked out,’’ Mikkelson said. “It’s disappointing that I was not able to instill enough trust in the coaching staff to get in the lineup more often, but that’s on me.’’
Mikkelson, who signed a one-year, one-way contract with Tampa Bay over the summer, was appreciative of the chance to play 41 games with Tampa Bay last season. He will play in key situations with Syracuse, allowing him to work on his game.
“I’ll go down there and I’m fortunate to be joining a pretty good team,’’ he said. “It will be fun to be a part of that group and hopefully make another Calder Cup run.’’
Boucher expects to dress seven defenseman and 11 forwards for Tuesday night’s game, but did not fully commit to the decision. He did say D Brian Lee and RW Adam Hall would be healthy scratches and D expects Marc-Andre Bergeron to be in the lineup. …Florida G Jacob Markstrom and Lindback are from the same hometown – Gavle, Sweden – and split playing time with Byrnas in the Swedish Elite League during the 2008-09 season.