TAMPA — When coach Guy Boucher ran into fans before Saturday's game, newly acquired defenseman Eric Brewer was "all they could talk about."
But the buzz over Brewer, 31, wasn't just in the stands. Players and coaches alike are excited about bringing him into the fold. The Lightning on Friday traded a third-round pick and defense prospect Brock Beukeboom for the former Blues captain, giving Boucher the No. 1 item on his "wish list," a frontline defenseman who can match up with opposing teams' top line and help on the penalty kill.
"If Santa Claus had sent a defenseman, that would be the right guy," Boucher said. "I couldn't be more happy."
Brewer's impact comes in several ways. First, with Mike Lundin out indefinitely with an abdominal injury, Brewer fills the void on the top defensive pairing with veteran Mattias Ohlund. Brewer logged 17 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time and was plus-1 in his debut Saturday.
"I was very excited to get here and get started," Brewer said. "There was a nice buzz in the building."
His presence has a domino effect on the rest of the blue line with Randy Jones moving back with regular partner Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark and Victor Hedman staying together. In addition, Marc-Andre Bergeron, with his great shot, can focus on one of his primary roles, sparking the power play.
"It's like the forwards. When everyone is in their chair, it relieves some pressure off some guys to do what they do best," Boucher said. "It gives us an opportunity to get some chemistry back on defense."
And it gives the rest of the team a morale boost.
"It's not only a new face, but new enthusiasm, which brings other guys up around you," said veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson, another in-season acquisition. "But at the same time, he's thinking the same thing. He's being rejuvenated."
Boucher said that while Brewer is a big guy, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, he's "a lot more mobile than people think."
"Marty St. Louis (and Steven Stamkos were) telling me that he was surprising them with how quick he was for a big guy; always being in the way of them trying to rush through," Boucher said. "And he's a big guy that can move the puck, play a consistent game. And I think that's exactly what we needed back there."
The Lightning leads the Southeast Division and is second in the Eastern Conference behind the Flyers. Boucher said he has been impressed with how general manager Steve Yzerman has improved the team, bringing in Bergeron, Roloson and now Brewer.
"If you want to build a house and you are given the right tools, it certainly helps," Boucher said. "It's still hard to build a house, but you have the right tools to do it. Everybody really on our team, and I think the staff knew exactly what we needed.
"So by hearing that word (Friday) night, it was fun to hear, and I think it's uplifting for everybody. And hopefully, he feels he's right at home with the guys here.''
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]