The year-end player grades and review series continues with the second set of defensemen in alphabetical order that skated for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. Many of the defensemen in this second group saw time with the Lightning while also developing in the AHL. Be sure to catch up with the series so far: introduction, wingers part 1 and part 2, centers part 1 and part 2, and defensemen part 1.
Keith Aulie - Left Defense
What we thought would happen: Keith Aulie's time in Tampa Bay was split between the AHL (Admirals/Crunch) and Lightning after he was acquired in February 2012. Aulie appeared in almost every game for the Lightning in the 20
12-13 season, acquiring 7 points. This following season was expected for Aulie to be one of Tampa Bay's more physical skaters on the blue line. Although his previous experience was limited, Aulie entered the season with the potential to become a more stable NHLer.
What actually happened: Unfortunately, Aulie was virtually nonexistent this last season, primarily due to suffering multiple injuries. He only appeared in 15 games and registered a single point. With separate injuries impacting his upper body as well as breaking his hand, Aulie was unable to have the long, consistent season both him and Lightning fans would have hoped for.
What might happen next season: On July 1, after spending the last 2 years with the Lightning signed to 2 separate 1-year contracts, Aulie entered the free agency market and was inked to a 1-year, $800,000 contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
Mark Barberio - Left Defense
What we thought would happen: Barberio's affiliation with the team dates back to over 6 years ago at the 2008 draft when Steven Stamkos was also selected by the Lightning. His path to the NHL though was a much longer one. Barberio posted impressive stats in the AHL, particularly during his 2nd year in Norfolk (61 points). He also led Syracuse Crunch defensemen for most goals in his 3rd AHL season last year. His first taste of action with the Lightning only came in 2 games in the 20
12-13 season, so expectations were vague to anticipate, but Barberio's hardy style of play was a promising indication he could compete at the blue line.
What actually happened: Barberio did not have an awful showing, but he certainly did not put up as strong of a performance as he did in the QMJHL and AHL. His ideal placement was to be a go-to blueliner, but at times he had trouble adjusting to the fast pace of the league. Although it was only his first full season playing for the Bolts, Barberio should ideally be a two-way defenseman who can also be useful on the power play. Despite playing in less than 50 games last season, he still posted 5 goals.
What might happen next season: This offseason Barbero, whose 1-year contract from last offseason expired, was signed to another 1-year contract for the upcoming season. It would seem that GM Steve Yzerman is hopeful in Barberio and finds his services promising to keep with the club, but at the same time is starting to become more limited in the amount of chances he will give him. In point, Barberio's future with the team essentially comes down to the performance he puts up this upcoming season. He needs to prove himself more as a consistent blueliner for the Lightning.
J.P. Cote - Left Defense
What we thought would happen: In his time in the AHL since joining the Lightning organization, Cote has provided veteran leadership, especially to the Syracuse Crunch, over the last few seasons. His two-way defensive play built him a strong reputation in the AHL when he also played on the Hamilton Bulldogs. His previous NHL experience was minuscule, playing with the Montreal Canadiens for 8 games during the 2005-06 season, indicating his opportunity to make it back up had no real timetable.
What actually happened: Sure enough, Cote made his Lightning debut last December after being signed to a 2-year contract midway through the season. Coach Jon Cooper felt Cote provided a relentless style of play that would help the team compete with a more physical game. Although he only appeared in 19 games, Cote did just that, playing with a hard head as well as averaging over a penalty minute per game.
What might happen next year: Given the recent additions to the Lightning's defense this offseason, it is more than likely Cote will spend next season with the Syracuse Crunch, given the fact he is signed to a 2-way contract. If needed due to multiple unforeseen injures, then Cote could reappear for the Lightning at one point or another.
Michael Kostka - Right Defense
What we thought would happen: Kostka's story with the Lightning did not come until late into the season when he was claimed off waivers after previously playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. He was mostly established from playing in the AHL for the last 7 years. Like many other newcomers this last season, Kostka was anticipated to add more depth to the Lightning's defense as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the tail end of the season.
What actually happened: Kostka jumped right into play for the Lightning. In all but 2 out of his 19 games, his ice time saw well into the double digits. In addition to adding on the blue line, Kostka also contributed on offense scoring 2 goals in the regular season and racking up 2 assists in 3 playoff games. For a short fix, Kostka was certainly a helpful last minute addition.
What might happen next season: Although he had an impressive outing, Kostka's time with the Lightning ended up being shorter than expected. As a free agent this offseason, he elected to sign a 1-year contract with the New York Rangers.
Andrej Sustr - Right Defense
What we thought would happen: Like other young Bolts, Sustr's first appearance in the NHL was limited from only a few games in the 20
12-13 season and was spent developing in Syracuse. As an undrafted player, Sustr spent 3 years playing for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the NCAA Division 1. Although his professional experience was minimal after last season, Sustr's most promising feature is his 6'8" frame. Even though his experience was not as large as his body size, his height alone was expected to add a gritty element to the Lightning's defensive game.
What actually happened: Sustr spent his time between the Crunch and Lightning last season. In 49 NHL games and 12 AHL games he racked up 1 goal in each, respectively. At times, Sustr played with impressive puck control and hardly made minor mistakes rookies would typically make. His only downside came from not playing with as much physical edge as he is capable of utilizing. Spending time in Syracuse was beneficial for Sustr to still continue developing at the professional level. His time on ice was not too consistent throughout the season, but appearing in 3 of the first round playoff games gave the 23-year old experience that can build him up more in the long run.
What might happen next season: Sustr was re-signed this offseason to a 1-year contract by the Lightning. Like Barberio, this upcoming season will be another opportunity for Sustr to prove himself as a longterm fit for the Lightning's defensive group. Given the signings of players like Cody Kunyk and Matt Corrente, Sustr should be slated to spend his entire season in the NHL next year given his 1-way contract deal.