SUNRISE — Halfway through his third season with the Florida Panthers, Radko Gudas has left his mark on the franchise.
The 32-year-old defenseman broke the Panthers’ franchise record for hits with 772 in 173 games but also has left an indelible mark on the team with his personality and leadership abilities.
“Everybody has got their role in the room and Radko has a unique personality,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
“When he is wired into the game, it just brings everyone else into the game. There aren’t a lot of bumps in his game, there’s not a lot of light contact. It’s usually noticed by the bench and it fires them up.”
Gudas once had the reputation of a cheapshot artist after racking up four suspensions in a three-year span but has since cleaned up his act.
He has now gone four years without getting suspended while still keeping his role as a heavy hitter.
“It is always part of the game out there,” Gudas said.
“If I can spot the guys out there with regular hits and make the opponent uncomfortable in our zone and make them know when I’m on the ice is something I look forward to doing over and over again. I hope the guys can feed off that.”
Gudas now picks his spots when it comes to hitting the opposition while playing a much cleaner defensive zone game.
Gudas’ game has been cleaned up enough so that he really jumped out to his first-year head coach when the two started working together.
“Radko was the big surprise when I got here in terms of quality of play,” Maurice said.
“From a technical point of view and a systems point of view, he just does not make a lot of mistakes. I think he is perceived as a runner, that he will run out of position to make hits. He will line a guy up every one in a while but he’s usually timed that right to the feel of the game.”
His physical, yet defensively cautious style of play fits right in on a Florida team that employs a speed and offense heavy back end.
“We have three really strong skating defenseman who can be physical but are not overly physical,” Maurice said.
“We need some guys that can finish checks to keep the forwards’ eyes off the puck sometimes and look for the hit coming. Gudas provides that physicality to balance out our back end.”
Gudas’ complementary style of play has helped the Panthers develop multiple swifty, two-way defensemen on his left side — namely Gus Forsling last season — but his greatest feat yet has been his role in Josh Mahura’s development.
The 24-year-old was waived by the Anaheim Ducks days before the start of the season and quickly developed into a quietly sound, two-way defenseman next to Gudas.
Maurice gives Gudas a lot of the credit in getting Mahura to where he is now.
“The guy couldn’t find his footing in the NHL and has come in and found the right partner to play with because he’s so consistent with it,” Maurice said.
“His game is so easy to read off. Radko as a player has been good for us but what he has done was he added another defenseman we got off waivers and now he’s in our top six.”
Gudas has turned himself into the defensively-reliable stablizer that allows his partner to play that high-tempo two-way role.
And he takes great pride in doing so.
“I like the trust from the coaches and the way they have been playing me,” Gudas said.
“I am always trying to be the defensive guy that makes sure that everyone around him knows that I am always going to be there for them and that they are never going to give up too many odd-man rushes when I’m on the ice.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tampa Bay leads 2-0): Lightning 3, @Panthers 2 OT (Oct. 22); Lightning 4, Panthers 1 (Dec. 10)
- Last season: Split four regular season games; Tampa won second-round playoff series 4-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 73-50-19, 10 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. San Jose Sharks, 7 p.m.