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Great preseason gets D Mihalik on roster for Lightning opener

The Lightning’s Vladimir Mihalik, standing left, and Mike Lundin watch teammate David Koci try a wheelchair before a floorball match against handicapped patients at a children’s hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, on Wednesday.

Associated Press

The Lightning’s Vladimir Mihalik, standing left, and Mike Lundin watch teammate David Koci try a wheelchair before a floorball match against handicapped patients at a children’s hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, on Wednesday.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Not many would have predicted Vladimir Mihalik would make the Lightning's opening roster.

"That's true," Mihalik said, though he added after a pause, "I kind of expected it."

Not only did Mihalik make it, coach Barry Melrose said the 21-year-old rookie defenseman cracked the top six and will play in Saturday's season opener against the Rangers at O2 Arena.

"He's been great," Melrose said Wednesday. "He's smart. He moves the puck well. He's played four (preseason) games, and I can't think of one play where a guy toasted him or he made a horrendous play."

Mihalik is 6 feet 7, 222 pounds, and has what Melrose called a gigantic reach. But he also understands the limits of his defense-first style and does not try to overextend.

He also was helped by the shoulder injury to Paul Ranger, which created a roster spot, and that Andrew Hutchinson has played so poorly.

Hutchinson, who also may have lost his power-play point position, was well off his stride Tuesday in the preseason finale against HC Slovan, and there is no guarantee he will suit up against New York.

Mihalik simply continued his steady play.

"It's going to be awesome," he said of his first NHL game.

"I was working so hard in the summer, I just wanted to show up and make some people know I'm here," he said. "I'm so happy I'm staying here. ... My first game and my first win. It's going to be great."

POWERLESS PLAY: Tampa Bay finished the preseason 3-for-33 on the power play, a ghastly performance considering the first unit includes Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Vinny Prospal and Andrej Meszaros.

Melrose said the fix is simple.

"We have to shoot the puck more," he said. "We're getting possession of it. We're entering the zone good. We're getting into places to shoot the puck, but we're not shooting it."

Part of it, he said, is convincing Lecavalier and St. Louis to fire away.

"(Wayne Gretzky) was the same way. He liked the pretty play," Melrose said. "With Vinny and Marty, I can tell that's going to be a yearlong battle. We'll get to them. Once they start shooting, that will open other stuff."

Hutchinson was supposed to provide a right-hand shot on the point, but he lost his spot against HC Slovan in favor of Fs Mark Recchi and Steven Stamkos.

Melrose said he generally does not like using forwards on the point because their offensive mind-set might overwhelm their defensive responsibilities; remember, at the blue line there's nothing behind them but the goaltender.

Even so, Melrose said he liked how Recchi played and didn't rule out going back to Stamkos or Radim Vrbata, right-hand shots.

Ultimately, though, "we have to put the puck on net more," Melrose said. "That's the thing we're going to stress, net presence, puck to the net."

MINOR TRADE: The Lightning acquired the rights to D Michal Sersen, a 2004 fifth-round pick of the Penguins, who is in his third season with HC Slovan and on Tuesday played against Tampa Bay.

"He's a player our scouts have liked, and we looked forward to seeing him," said executive vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton, who gave up a 2009 fifth-round pick. "I thought he played very well. We need defensemen in the organization, so we're going to talk to him to see if there's any sincere interest in coming to North America."

Sersen, 22 and 6-1, 200 pounds, had a goal and an assist and was minus-1 in his first nine games this season with HC Slovan. He had 10 goals, 23 points in his previous two seasons. In 2005-06, his last of three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after being drafted, he had 22 goals, 79 points in 63 games for Quebec.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning did not practice Wednesday. … Lawton said LW Ryan Malone, who sat out Tuesday with a sore shoulder, is "100 percent." … RW Michel Ouellet, who cleared waivers Tuesday, was assigned to AHL Norfolk. … Mihalik, LW David Koci, D Mike Lundin, C Ryan Craig and W Jason Ward visited a children's hospital.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Great preseason gets D Mihalik on roster for Lightning opener 10/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 3:41pm]

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