Being one of the relatively new members to the Raw Charge family, and learning about a new franchise completely different from what I was used to coming from New Jersey, I had a chance this season to read up more about my new home from an awesome group of writers.
So...why not volunteer to take on the Secret Santa project?
And today, we’re going to focus on Matt Esteves. Matt is one of the keys to our team. He’s our credentialed reporter and brought us great coverage this season.
It actually was an easy choice as to what selection to focus my Secret Santa post on. Out of all the Charged Up podcasts and Lightning game recaps over the course of the season I had to choose from, I had to go with this season’s Superlatives for the Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Regular Season.
Just after the close of the regular season, Matt gave his unbiased opinion on several categories, some the usual, others...pretty hilarious.
Let’s begin with Matt’s choice for Rookie of the Year and the case for Yanni Gourde:
Gourde has blasted onto the scene with 25 goals, 39 assists, and 64 points for the season, the most points for a rookie in franchise history and tied for most goals. He has a positive shot share at 52% while starting only 44% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This illustrates that Gourde is used a little more defensively than others on the team and he still pushes play the other direction.
There was an argument for Mikhail Sergachev, but I did agree with giving Gourde the nod.
Matt did nominate Gourde for Surprise Contributor, but would give the award to J.T. Miller. (Side note: I never knew Vladislav Namestnikov was called Russian Bieber.)
Since arriving in Tampa Bay, Miller has 18 points in 19 games (10 goals, 8 assists) marking a career high in points (58) and tying his career high in goals (23). He’s been a lock on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, thus pushing other players like Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat deeper into Tampa Bay’s forward corps. This allows Jon Cooper plenty of matching options on three different lines to wreak havoc on opponents.
For the team Unsung Hero...let’s all give praise to one Brayden Point. And Matt backs it up with some pretty good numbers.
He plays in every situation possible, forechecks/backchecks like a madman, has scored 31 goals and 65 points, and is the de facto shutdown center of the Lightning—at 22 years old.
For the coveted Most Valuable Player, three deserving nominees in Stamkos, Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Most may have chosen Kucherov, but Matt went a different direction...the case for Vasy as MVP:
This team wouldn’t be where they are without the play of Vasilevskiy. When Tampa Bay was at their peak during the first half of the season it was due to Vasilevskiy portraying the Great Wall of China on the ice.
Moving on to Honorable Mentions...
Dan Girardi was bestowed the honor of The Player Everyone Thought Was Not Great, But Who Ended Up Being Not Bad At All.
Coming from a fanbase where Girardi was a constant running joke as being “elite” on a daily basis while with the Rangers, it took me some time to get used to the other side of the argument. Matt noted:
Conversely, he has been a welcome addition to the locker room and is another piece of the “former Rangers” crew of snowbirds that now inhabit the Lightning roster. It’s always difficult to quantify “intangibles” in a player, but many in the hockey world hold it in very high regard. There are examples that display both the error of this mentality and the success of it as well. Girardi has repeatedly proven many of us wrong as the season has progressed.
Finally, the Biggest Crush. Considering the latest off season rumblings, it’s near perfect.
Additionally, anytime you can combine the SpongeBob theme song with Erik Karlsson in any way, it must be acknowledged.
OHHHHHHHHH, WHO LOOKS SO DASHING WITH VICTOR HEDMAN?
HE PLAYS THE RIGHT SIDE AND IS A NORRIS DEFENSEMAN?
You get the idea. It’s not a bad sales pitch if you think about it.
Out of the NHL posts this site has produced this season, Matt’s superlatives was definitely one of my favorites!