Depth, depth, depth. All teams want want it. Teams lament it when they don’t have it. At the trade deadline, more deals are made for depth than for superstars. Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steve Yzerman has spent his entire reign as general manager trying to find build a team known for it. Luckily for the organization he’s been successful.
No player defines depth better than Yanni Gourde. Over the month of January, Gourde recorded six goals and and two assists. For that production he has earned the honor of Raw Charge’s Bolt of the Month for January.
Gourde’s story has been told before – undrafted, played in the ECHL, signed by Mr. Yzerman to little fanfare before last season and has now become an integral part of the 2017-18 Lightning. For the season he has 35 points in 51 games despite averaging only 16 minutes a game, which is only seventh-best among Lightning forwards. His versatility has been very important to the Lightning as he kills penalties and is a fixture on the second power-play unit. His numbers reflect his play as he has six power play points and two shorthanded points.
With the top line of Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos struggling to find the back of the net a bit (6 goals combined) the Lightning needed someone to step up and find a way to put the puck in the net. Enter Yanni Gourde. Not only did he score six times, three of those goals were game-winners. Not bad for a team that won six times in January.
One of those game-winners was in overtime against Nashville.
The hard work came before the goal, where Gourde lifts the stick of the Nashville defenseman to keep the puck in the offensive zone and then slides into a spot where Namestnikov can get the puck to him.
Not only can he score, he isn’t afraid to mix it up. Early in the month he recorded his first Gourd-ie Howe Hat Trick by netting a goal, an assist and ragdolling Anthony Mantha around a bit.
That’s 6’4” Anthony Mantha that Gourde is throwing hands with. The 5’8” Lightning forward plays with zero fear and is constantly in the middle of any scrum on the ice. It’s not only fighting where he plays bigger than his frame. Five of his six goals this month were either rebounds or a tip-ins. The combined distance of those five goals probably equals the distance that he beat Jeff Glass from in Chicago.
If he continues to play the way he has, Brad Richard’s franchise record of 65 points for a rookie is in Gourde’s sights. Tyler Johnson’s record of 24 goals could also fall to Gourde who goes into Saturday’s game against Vancouver with 17 in his first year. With the way he plays, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Gourde is a rookie who had only played 22 NHL games prior to this season.
Rookie or not, he is the prime example of why general managers search so hard for organizational depth. Depth is how successful teams overcome rough stretches. When one player scuffles a bit, another one picks them up. January wasn’t the best month for the Lightning as they went 6-5-1, but the important fact is that they are still on top of the standings, and they wouldn’t be there without Yanni Gourde.