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Tampa Bay Lightning signs free agent defenseman Matt Gilroy

Matt Gilroy, the top U.S. college player in 2009, spent the past two seasons with the Rangers, for whom he played 127 games.

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Matt Gilroy, the top U.S. college player in 2009, spent the past two seasons with the Rangers, for whom he played 127 games.

The way Matt Gilroy sees it, playing forward in high school in North Bellmore, N.Y., made him a better defenseman.

"I really like to join in the rush whenever I can, create some offense back there and make plays down low," Gilroy said. "I know where to go, unlike other defenseman, who get confused."

There is no confusion for Gilroy about the opportunity he has after the free agent signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Lightning on Saturday.

"They play a skating game, and my game is built around my skating," he said. "I should fit nicely."

Gilroy, 26, is a great underdog story. A walk-on at Boston University, he switched to defense because that was the team's only opening, and in 2009 he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top collegiate player.

In two seasons and 127 games with the Rangers, the 6-foot-1, 201-pounder had seven goals, 26 points and 37 penalty minutes, and was plus-5.

"We like his skating ability and his ability to transition the puck up the ice," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're hoping he can be a real good contributor."

The signing gives Tampa Bay eight defensemen, which, for now, is how Yzerman said he expects to enter the season.

"We did it last year, and we needed it," he said. "By playoff time we were down to our eighth defenseman."

ADDITION: The Lightning added organizational depth by signing D Richard Petiot to a one-year, two-way deal.

Petiot, 29, had 15 assists last season in 66 games for AHL Oklahoma City. He had three assists and was plus-5 in 11 games for Tampa Bay in 2008-09, when the team used an NHL-record 22 players on the blue line.

SHOOTOUT STRATEGY: A bonus in Tampa Bay's acquisition of G Mathieu Garon on Friday is his shootout record: 19-10 — including 10-0 with the Oilers in 2007-08 — and a .747 save percentage.

"I think he's the best shootout goalie there is," said Craig MacTavish, who coached Garon in Edmonton.

Garon bemoaned his 3-6 record the past two seasons with the Blue Jackets. But Columbus doesn't score a lot and Garon played hurt last season, when he was 1-3. It doesn't change that Garon relishes the one-on-one challenge.

"I like being aggressive and coming out of my crease and waiting for the other team to make the first move," Garon said. "Some nights it's going to work, and some nights it's not. I remember last year losing a game to Tampa that way."

ROOKIE CAMP: A rookie development camp is Wednesday through July 13 at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. Four players taken in the June draft will attend: forwards Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat and Matthew Peca, and G Adam Wilcox.

To view a list of all participants, go to tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.

FINAL WORDS: G Mike Smith, who took a two-year, $4 million deal with the Coyotes on Friday, had only good to say about his two-plus years with Tampa Bay.

"It was the hardest decision I ever had to make in pro hockey," he said of leaving. "I'm going to miss the guys here. But there comes a point in your career that you have to move on and take a leap of faith. This is the best opportunity for me to do that."

Tampa Bay Lightning signs free agent defenseman Matt Gilroy 07/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 11:56pm]
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