TAMPA — One thing Cody Kunyk did not want to do during Tuesday's Lightning practice was, as he said, "mess up the rhythm of practice for the other guys."
Oh, and one other thing: "I didn't want to make a fool of myself."
So in his first workout since signing Thursday out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Kunyk, a center, stepped lightly.
He listened carefully when drills were described and watched before giving them a try.
"I was pretty cautious," Kunyk said at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "For the next month and a half I've got a lot of learning to do."
Kunyk, 23, who last summer attended the Lightning's development camp, signed a one-year deal that pays a pro-rated portion of $925,000. There is no guarantee he plays and he can be a restricted free agent on July 1.
But Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said the experience of watching a focused team during a playoff push will be invaluable.
"You get the feel of the environment," Cooper said. "You know where to go in the rink, know the players. You're just that much more comfortable and knowledgeable about what's going on in camp next year."
"It means a lot," Kunyk said. "I'm going to learn more things by not playing."
Kunyk, the youngest of three, learned the game in Sherwood Park, Alberta, outside Edmonton. He grew up an Oilers fan idolizing Ales Hemsky and still bemoans the team's sad recent fortunes.
A rink rat during the winter, he played roller hockey in summer and never had the urge to follow in his father's footsteps.
And Gerald Kunyk, who from 1975-80 punted for Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League, never pushed.
"Football just never seemed to be something they were interested in," Gerald said of his two sons. "It never really mattered to me, as long as they were involved in something."
For Cody, that was hockey. "He worked his tail off," Gerald said. "He knew what he wanted to do."
Kunyk was a four-year player and alternate captain at Alaska-Fairbanks, where he is three courses short of a business degree. With 22 goals, 43 points in 37 games this season he was MVP of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
"His skating is probably his best attribute," Alaska-Fairbanks assistant coach Corbin Schmidt said. "It looks effortless. He probably skates better than he walks. He can shoot it from anywhere and he's got really good vision. And the thing about Cody is he can make those tough plays while playing at full speed."
The optional practice Tuesday wasn't quite that, which was fine with Kunyk as Tampa Bay worked on systems of which he had little knowledge.
Still, with Steven Stamkos not on the ice, Kunyk, 5 feet 11, 195 pounds, skated between wings Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn.
"He kept up," Killorn said. "It's tough when you're thrown into practice. You don't really know anything, coach is yelling 1-3-1. It's got to be tough. But it seems like he handled himself well."
"Basically, it's up to me to figure it out," Kunyk said, "watch it once and do it the right way."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]