Dynamic offense leads Tampa Bay AHL affiliate

By John Henry Schroeder
Photo: Talented forward Carter Ashton had a dynamic start to his first AHL season, managing 13 points over the month of October. (Photo courtesy of Chapin Landvogt/HF)

Head Coach Jon Cooper has the Admirals primed for a return trip to the playoffs in his second season with the team. At 21-12-1-2, the Norfolk Admirals are in second place in the East Division and fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They once again sport a dynamic offense, currently second in the AHL in goals-per-game.

The club is lead by a very deep corps of forwards, including several talented rookies, and a pair of up and coming young defensemen.


AHL

Carter Ashton, RW, 20

The big, talented Ashton got off to a very quick start in Norfolk, finding instant chemistry with Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson. Ashton exploded in his first month of professional hockey with a nine goals, 13 points October. Ashton has cooled off since then, but still has 15 goals and 12 assists while playing in all 36 of Norfolk’s games to this point.

Typically adroit with the man advantage, Ashton has not scored a powerplay goal since October, and has seen his once productive line broken up. The Norfolk coaching staff has experimented with Ashton in a variety of roles, including spending some time in a checking line role. The breadth of experience he is receiving in Norfolk should benefit him well in the long-run.

Mark Barberio, D, 21

A nice surprise for Norfolk in 2010-11, Mark Barberio has blossomed in his second season of AHL hockey. The de facto puck-moving option amongst Norfolk blueliners, Barberio has piled up four goals and 28 assists in 34 games. Barberio came to the NHL as a stereotypical powerplay quarterback, but has seen significant growth over his time in Norfolk. This season, Coach Cooper has begun working Barberio into the penalty-killing rotation more and more. The promising youngster also leads the team in ice-time.

The 21-year-old Montreal native is best known for his slick passing, but perhaps his best attribute is his work ethic and positive attitude. Barberio has credited a lot of his improvement this season to time spent working with the Lightning’s power-skating instructor. His combination of talent and attitude has put him on the right track to be in the NHL sooner rather than later.

Radko Gudas, D, 21

As good as Barberio has been offensively, fellow 21-year-old defender Radko Gudas has been equally impressive physically. Well built at six feet tall, Gudas loves open-ice hitting, as well as dropping the gloves. A native of the Czech Republic, this is not your typical European. Gudas recorded 16 fighting majors last season, and has logged six fights this season in 34 games.

Coming into the season, Gudas make a concerted effort to become more aware in the offensive zone. To this point, it has paid off, as Gudas has already matched last season’s goal total of four. The youngster has also chipped in six assists while playing 34 games. While Gudas will never be someone that puts up staggering offensive numbers, his improved awareness has made the team better around him.

Jaroslav Janus, 22, G

After a 2010-11 that saw Janus spend time both in the ECHL and the AHL, Cedrick Desjardins departure for the Avalanche opened up a full-time spot for Janus with the Admirals. Despite relatively pedestrian numbers in the first-half of the season, Janus has made improvements on his game and maintained a winning record at 7-5-2. In addition to a 3.04 goals-against-average, the Slovak upheld a.893 save-percentage.

While he has lost time to the consistency of fellow prospect Dustin Tokarski, Janus is the bigger, more athletic goalie of the two. Janus also prefers to play more stand-up than Tokarski and makes more flashy saves. While Tokarski has managed far superior numbers at the AHL level, Janus continues to show a pocket of untapped potential.

Tyler Johnson, C, 21

Many scouts wondered what to make of Tyler Johnson, the diminutive scoring dynamo out of the WHL. Johnson has been good, if not impressive in his first season as a professional. Like his former linemate Carter Ashton, Johnson got off to a fast start to the season, but after a slow November rekindled his goal scoring touch playing with a variety of linemates in December. Johnson had seven goals in December, and 13 on the season to go nine assists in 35 games.

A multi-talented player, Johnson has been used throughout his career as a top defensive-forward so it’s somewhat disappointing for him to be minus one on the season. Johnson is the only player with more than 15 games played that is minus for Norfolk.


Charles Landry, D, 20

Brought in to bring some much needed support to the Lightning’s organizational blue line depth, the 20-year-old Landry had to overcome a preseason injury before getting on the ice for the Admirals. After struggling to get his feet under him in November, Landry was set down to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL to help him regain his confidence.

In 20 AHL games, Landry recorded six assists, while he had three assists in his five games with the Everblades. Early on in his professional career, Landry has been prone to bad turnovers, but, still a young defenseman, Landry can learn to grow on a deep Norfolk team.

Evan Oberg, D, 23

The former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog came to the Admirals after a mid-season trade between the Lightning and the Florida Panthers. Oberg has a couple of NHL games under his belt after coming up through the Vancouver system, but has worked back slowly from a neck injury suffered last year playing for the Rochester Americans.

A smaller, puck-moving defenseman, Oberg has three assists in nine games for Norfolk since his trade. Oberg has been a staple on the powerplay in his limited time, pairing nicely with stud puck-mover Mark Barberio. December was a tumultuous month for Oberg who was recalled several times as an emergency seventh defenseman for the banged up Tampa Bay blue line.


Ondrej Palat, LW, 20

The offensively-gifted AHL rookie, Palat, has struggled to get consistent ice time amongst the deep Norfolk forward corps. He seemed to strike a measure of chemistry on a line with Richard Panik and James Wright late in November, but Wright’s trade to the Florida Panthers shook things up again for Palat.

Through 23 games, Palat has only managed two goals and four assists. Somewhat more under the radar than his fellow prospects getting a taste of AHL hockey for the first time, Palat has fought an uphill battle to earn minutes in Norfolk. If he can continue to carve out a larger role in the Admiral’s plans, he could see an uptick in production for the high-scoring Admirals squad.

Richard Panik, 20, RW

As gifted a player as anyone on the Norfolk roster, Slovakian Richard Panik continues to madden fans with his inconsistent play. Through 24 games, Panik has only six goals and four assists while playing limited minutes, mostly with Palat. Following his release from training camp this fall, many expected the higher competition level of the AHL would bring more out of Panik than he showed in an up and down OHL junior career.

The trade of James Wright has opened up more room in the lineup, although it hasn’t necessarily opened up more minutes for Panik. His play has been better of late for the Admirals, which, given his young age, is encouraging for the future.


Dustin Tokarski, 22, G

Despite battling an abdominal injury in camp this year, Tokarski has been very steady in goal over the first three months of the season. The Humboldt, Saskatchewan native was particularly impressive in November, posting a 1.90 goals-against-average and a .924 save-percentage. On the season, Tokarski has a 14-8 record to build off a 2.45 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

Now in his third season in Norfolk, Tokarski’s continued success has begun to raise questions of an impending promotion. With 42 year-old Dwayne Roloson languishing for the big club, there may be an opening for Tokarski sooner rather than later. Tokarski, a fierce competitor, has plenty of big game experience to succeed at the next level. Throughout his time in Norfolk, he has become a much quieter goalie, as better positioning as made his job look routine.


ECHL

Pat Nagle, 24, G

After significant statistical improvements through each of his four years at Ferris State, Pat Nagle struggled mightily in the early going for the Florida Everblades. After a disastrous October, Nagle calmed down and resurrected his season with a 2.51 goals-against-average in November and December, while sporting a .902 save percentage on the season. Nagle has won his last six starts for the Everblades.

One of the biggest goalies in the Lightning system, Nagle relies on superior positioning and great rebound control. While his October struggles are somewhat discomfiting, Nagle has settled down nicely for Florida, hitting his stride in his first professional season. As a more technically sound goaltender comfort level, and trust in his teammates, are both very important to his performance on the ice. With potential changes on the horizon in Tampa Bay, Nagle could be changing his address soon, moving up the ranks of the Tampa Bay system.