TAMPA — Entering this season, rookie forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh were unknown commodities to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
Both players got to experience last season’s playoff run with the team, brought strong resumes from AHL Syracuse and impressed coaches with their blue-collar play during training camp and the preseason.
But until they actually played in regular season games, there was no way to know how they would adapt to the NHL game.
Six weeks into the season, both have already shown growth as they’ve been introduced on the Lightning’s fourth line, playing a heavy game that has earned increased ice time and expanded special-teams duties.
“It just takes a little bit of time, especially when you don’t know the players, because I’ve not coached them,” Cooper said. “But it’s baby steps to begin with, and you can see what they can handle. Plus, they get more confidence with more ice time. You just can’t throw them a ton at one time. But they’ve got pretty good instincts killing penalties, and they’re really getting much more involved physically, which has helped them.”
Both players are starting to get more time on the Lightning’s penalty-killing unit, especially when some of the team’s top defensive forwards are in the box. Raddysh and Katchouk played together on the PK in Monday’s win over the Islanders, as they did throughout the preseason.
Raddysh, who has shown an ability to generate scoring chances (he has 13, including eight high-danger scoring chances, in his first 13 games), also received his first extended time on the power play in the game, logging 1:34 in man-advantage situations.
“It’s huge,” Katchouk said. “The confidence that we’re building each and every game together is massive, and it plays a big part to Coop. We’re just trying to show him we’re responsible in our D-zone and have a really good 200-foot game, that we’re progressing.”
As Katchouk returned from injury two games ago, Cooper paired him with Raddysh and center Ross Colton in place of Alex Barre-Boulet. The latest line-shuffling appears to be paying off in the short term, as Cooper complimented the line’s play after both games.
Even though the three didn’t often play on the same line in Syracuse, they were teammates and good friends off the ice. They’ve worked well together, doing all the things expected of a bottom line by getting the puck deep, winning battles and playing a strong forechecking game.
“I think we had chemistry right from the outset,” Katchouk said. “We played in Syracuse together, so it wasn’t really hard to adapt to each other. We already know who each other are the way we play, so it’s pretty easy.”
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Their growth is good news for the Lightning, whose depth was depleted by offseason departures. They need Katchouk and Raddysh to grow as the season progresses, which is part of the reason they were brought up to the NHL level.
The players developed a reputation of keeping their heads down, working hard and getting better each season as minor-leaguers, something veteran teammates have noticed they’ve brought to the Lightning. They also break down video after every game, Katchouk said, to help them slow the game down for themselves.
“It’s good to see those kids just develop and become who they are, working hard every single day, working hard in practice,” veteran forward Pat Maroon said. “And they’re just really good kids. They’re willing to learn every single day, and they’re learning, too.
“I remember when I first came into the league, you just learn to kind of follow the veterans, you kind of look up to those guys, you ask questions. They’re doing the right thing, working hard and having fun at the same time. So it’s been fun to watch.”
The next step is getting goals, and the Lightning need more supplemental scoring from their bottom lines. Both Raddysh and Katchouk picked up their first NHL points in recent days, and Cooper is confident more will come.
“I think just goals now are the next thing to follow,” he said. “So, hopefully we start putting some pucks in the net. But you know, that young group, they get a lot of energy, and it’s really helped us.”
• • •
The Tampa Bay Times has commemorated the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Order now.
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.