The Sharks' lines changed a lot in the first 30 or so games of the season. The fourth line took plenty of different forms, as various rookies were called up from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda to try out their hand at the top professional level.
Rookie winger Lukas Radil played in a handful of games, and has stood out.
He made an impression again Saturday night in Arizona, and got to play the hero as he notched his first NHL goal late in the contest to help give the Sharks a much-needed win.
“It’s everybody’s dream to play in the NHL, and for him to get his first goal and the way he got his first goal too,” Sharks winger Evander Kane said of Radil after the game. “Every time he’s in the lineup, he always brings something positive to the group. He’s a big, strong kid. Wins a lot of battles, and has some underrated skill too.”
Indeed, the Czech forward isn’t your run-of-the-mill NHL rookie. For one, he's 28 years old. He also spent the last three seasons with Moscow Spartak in the KHL.
The result is a rookie who brings a different level of physicality to the Sharks' bottom six, as he’s a big skater who knows how to use his size to his advantage.
“He’s not your typical first-year player,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after a practice on Dec. 5. “He’s got the experience of playing in the KHL. He’s a man. Plays a heavy game, he moves around well for a big guy. He’s smart, he’s conscientious. You can put him on the ice and there’s a comfort level, which isn’t common with first-year players.”
That much was clear Saturday. Even before Radil netted a sweet back-handed goal in the third frame, he was working to get on the scoresheet. He did a great job eluding defenders throughout the contest, and getting in front of the net. It added a different look to the line including Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.
“He’s great to play with,” Goodrow said after Saturday’s win. “He holds onto pucks. He’s really good down low and fending off their guys once he gets the puck.”
All that work paid off late in the third period when Radil wrapped the puck around Arizona’s net, and then back-handed it top shelf. The cameras caught the rookie’s expression of sheer elation as he gave the Sharks a late-game lead.
“[He’s] worked hard to get here to this level,” DeBoer said after the win. “For that to be your first NHL goal, that’s pretty rewarding.”
Of course, even with that first goal under his belt, Radil isn’t just a player who can score goals. He’s also giving the fourth line a new identity.
“Our identity should be: Getting pucks in deep, getting momentum for our team, chipping in offense here and there,” Goodrow summarized.
Clearly, the atypical rookie is able to do all those things.