TAMPA — It is tough to say how many minutes Radko Gudas, in his first full NHL season, will play for the Lightning.
Even coach Jon Cooper hedged, though he said knowingly, "I don't think Radko Gudas is going to be a five-minute-a-game guy. He's going to play."
Gudas' minutes might be one of the most important elements for a defensive unit that must be more consistent if Tampa Bay is to have success. That is because the minutes Gudas eats will reduce the minutes of his fellow defensemen, and not only the quantity but quality.
The result should be fresher legs for everyone, which is invaluable over a full season.
"Radko eats up hard minutes because he plays against big, strong, tougher guys," Cooper said. "You get that kind of balance in your D, maybe guys aren't seeing the No. 1 line every shift. It's not as taxing on them."
"I'm ready for every situation," Gudas said before Saturday night's 5-4 shootout win over the Panthers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "I'm ready to take some responsibility for more minutes as the season goes on."
Gudas, 23, was a revelation last season after his promotion from AHL Syracuse in March.
In 22 games, the 6-foot, 206-pounder had two goals and five points, and was plus-3 with an average 16:59 of ice time. His 87 hits — in less than half of the lockout-shortened 48-game season — were third on the team.
Imagine that number over an 82-game season with, say, an average 20 minutes of ice time.
Gudas isn't subtle, either. His hits are board-rattlers, his hip checks vintage.
"You have to make sure you keep your head up when he's on the ice," Syracuse teammate P.C. Labrie said. "He'll just bury you."
"Not only does he stick a little fear into the opposition," Cooper said, "he can play, and that makes him a valuable asset."
That said, Gudas knows his style means referees keep an extra eye on him. And every time an opponent flips over his back after a hip check, he knows someone will want to retaliate.
He also has to be careful not to let his emotions overtake him, as they did Saturday when he mugged Scott Gomez with 35.1 seconds left in overtime.
Gudas threw punches but got lucky; he and Gomez both got roughing penalties. The timing was bad, Gudas said. But he said Gomez punched him first: "I don't like to be pushed around. It's not the smartest thing to do, but it happened."
"Probably not the best," Cooper said of the timing but added, "I don't want to pull back what makes him what he is. He plays the game hard."
Gudas, who had 13 fights and 207 penalty minutes last season for Syracuse, always has played with an edge, same as his father, Leo, a bruising defenseman who at the '92 Olympics won bronze playing for Czechoslovakia.
He and Leo text message or talk by phone after every game, mostly about what Gudas did wrong, the player said, laughing. When he talks to his mom, though, it is likely to get a new recipe. Gudas loves to cook goulash, fondue and svickova, a dish of beef tenderloin, dumplings, celery, carrots and gravy.
"He has some really great soups, too," Labrie said.
Mostly, though, Gudas has a single-minded purpose to play in the NHL. "That would be living the dream for me," he said.
Minute by minute.