The Tampa Bay Lightning have seen their hit numbers skyrocket this season as the team has 200 more hits than they did at this point last season and much of that credit can go to the play of rookie defenseman Erik Cernak. The 21-year-old already has 91 hits this season as his play has only made the Lightning even tougher on the ice.
“If there’s a surprise, it’s that he’s getting better,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “You sit and say, ‘OK, this kid is going to play in the NHL, it’s a matter of when. But there’s still some development to do.’ But he’s stepped right in, played with (Ryan McDonagh). … The one thing that he has done is he can handle the big boys. He can skate with the big boys. That’s the one thing that maybe we didn’t give him enough credit for until you see him do it.
Joe Smith of The Athletic (subscription required) writes that the Lightning may be coming close to a point where they intend to commit to the rookie as a permanent member of their top-six. Cernak has been amongst a group of defenseman who have taken turns sitting out in a rotation that includes Mikhail Sergachev, Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn and even Anton Stralman. Smith adds that over the next month or two, the team may want to settle on their top-six defenders before the playoffs to solidify their blueline chemistry. Cernak is making a case to being one of those top six.
- NHL.com’s Bryan Burns writes that Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson remains out with a lower-body injury that he suffered against Toronto Thursday. The scribe writes that Tampa Bay assistant coach Derek Lalonde said he expects Johnson to be back after the team returns from its bye week, which the team will start after their game tonight against San Jose.
- At the start of the season, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark was the team’s backup goaltender behind newly signed Carter Hutton, but Jon Vogl of The Athletic (subscription required) writes that things have changed in Buffalo now after Ullmark has appeared in four straight games recently. Now, they are considered co-starters as the 25-year-old has posted a 10-4-4 record this year, including a .914 save percentage, while Hutton has struggled since November. In his last 12 starts, Hutton has a 2.82 GAA and a .898 save percentage.
- Despite an impressive rookie campaign last year, Boston Bruins forward Danton Heinen has struggled considerably this season as the 23-year-old has just five goals and 12 points in 46 games. However, while the team has scratched many of their players recently such as David Backes, Ryan Donato and Noel Acciari, Heinen has avoided being a healthy scratch recently. NBC Sports’ Joe Haggerty writes that head coach Bruce Cassidy feels that while his offense is struggling, Heinen has other parts of his game that continue to help Boston win. “As long as he helps us win he’ll stay in and we’ll allow him to play through it. Unless we find a player that’s better or more suited, then we’ll always take a look at that,” said Cassidy. “That could be from within if a player grows his game and passed him. But right now he’s still a positive for us.”