Rookie defenseman Jake Dotchin said getting his first career NHL point Tuesday night was a thrill.
"It was something, for sure," he said.
But what meant more to Dotchin, 23, was when he did.
With the Lightning in a must-win game, trailing the Bruins by two goals, Dotchin was on the ice in the final minutes in a 6-on-5 situation. Dotchin picked up the secondary assist on Brayden Point's goal in the 4-3 loss.
"Just to know the coaches have the confidence in me now is a nice thing," Dotchin said.
Dotchin has earned the Lightning's coaches' trust quickly. His playing time has steadily grown from 11:47 Jan. 21 in Arizona to logging 20:25 Tuesday, just Dotchin's fourth NHL game. He's getting some tough matchups while playing alongside All-Star Victor Hedman, who no doubt has helped the former sixth-round pick.
"It's a meritocracy," coach Jon Cooper said. "And he's earned the right to be here. When we bring these young guys up, if you bring them up, you've got to give them a fair look, and I feel like we're doing that. And he's earned his right to play. If he keeps doing this, he's going to play about as much and maybe more."
Now Dotchin is not the answer to the Lightning's need for another top-four defenseman. But Cooper admits the fact Dotchin is a right shot is a "good asset to have." Dotchin's development could be intriguing as the Lightning will soon have to look towards next season. Fellow right-shot defensemen Luke Witkowski and Andrej Sustr will be a restricted free agents this summer.
Dotchin, who boasts size at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, plays a simple game, but has shown confidence with his play in both zones.
"He's showing no fear and that's big," Cooper said of Dotchin. "He's not sitting there playing not to make a mistake. And that's what you like in a guy. He can get a shot off from the point. He's got good instincts all over the ice. You're waiting to see when a new guy comes up when he's going to take that dip because it always happens. But he's played a couple games so far, and it hasn't happened."
(For more on Dotchin, check out Thursday's Tampa Bay Times."