Erik Condra is the newest member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, signed to a three-year contract with an AAV of $1.25 million. Described as a smart, two-way winger who plays a sound defensive game, drives play, and kills penalties, I dove into some tape to try and spot his tendencies and traits as a hockey player to see what we can expect from him in a Lightning sweater.
Originally, I had planned to cull from a few games spread throughout the season where he played some of his highest ice-time of the year to maximize viewing of his performance in a small sample, but the first game I looked at ended up giving me just about everything I wanted.
Ironically, that game was in November against the Lightning on night two of a back-to-back situation for the Sens, who lost 3-2 to the Florida Panthers the night before in Sunrise. Watching all 22 of his shifts closely, he made a handful of plays that are emblematic of the type of play he offers on a nightly basis; little things that help his teammates control the pace of play and keep the puck out of their end, even though he doesn't offer much in the way of offensive production himself.
Condra started the game from the opening faceoff with Chris Neil and David Legwand and spent most of the night with them; he was almost always the first forward in on the forecheck forcing the Lightning defense into passes up the boards whenever possible. In the defensive zone, he spends most of his time high up covering the point, but regularly shifts down into the slot area to cover the back door when necessary. Positionally, I didn't spot any egregious (or non-egregious) mistakes; he is consistently in the right place to defend his man, support the defense, or receive a breakout pass.
Here you can see his head on a swivel to watch potential passing options for Valtteri Filppula coming around the boards, as well as using his stick to break up a play and start an Ottawa rush the other way:
Throughout the game, with Chris Neil pretty much glued to the right side, Condra took a lot of shifts on the left side, including off of defensive-zone faceoffs, so if you had any fears about him not fitting in purely as a Brenden Morrow replacement those can be assuaged.
Whenever Ottawa took a penalty, he was on the ice with the first penalty killing unit along with David Legwand. While he's not a very physical forward, he's smart with his reads and uses his stick well to eliminate dangerous passes:
A double minor to Clarke MacArthur in the third period explains Condra's high ice time in this one, as he did a fair bit of penalty killing, one area he will definitely help the Lightning.
One element to his game that has been lauded the most is his ability to drive play; by just about any puck possession metric we have available, Condra comes out looking like a solid player. Like the Anton Stralman acquisition, this ability to positively impact his team and linemates' ability to possess the puck suggests it is something the Lightning are specifically targeting.
Most of these vines are of fairly mundane plays; Condra is not going to wow you with dynamic displays of offensive creativity. What he is going to do is be in the right place at the right time to keep the puck out of trouble and in the offensive third:
Again, not a particularly flashy play, but one Condra makes on a consistent basis. Over time, these plays stack up and end with his club gaining or maintaining possession of the puck.
There is some legitimate concern with his lack of finishing ability (career 7.3% shooter), of course. He displayed that, as well, in this match-up with Tampa:
But he's not a total lug offensively, either. When he has numbers, he'll look to make a play through the neutral zone rather than always resorting to a low percentage dump-and-chase strategy that immediately puts his team on the defensive. He'll dump it in plenty, when the situation calls for it, but he's not afraid to try and put pressure on a defenseman that backs off at the blue line and try to make something happen:
That's one Victor Hedman that Condra turns inside out on a drive to the front of the net. The Sens don't capitalize, but there's some latent offensive ability there. Condra is definitely better with the puck on his stick than his career goal-scoring numbers would suggest.
All in all, it's hard not to come away from this thinking the Tampa Bay Lightning made another shrewd move in free agency by locking up Condra to a bargain three-year deal on July 1. He gives the Bolts exactly what they needed in a Brenden Morrow replacement: a responsible, positionally-sound, two-way winger that can kill penalties and push play forward by consistently doing the little things right.