LOS ANGELES, Calif. — When Lukas Radil is at his most effective, he’s using his length.
However, we haven’t seen the 6-foot-4 forward in an NHL game for almost a month.
Indeed, it’s almost unfair to spotlight his return performance during the San Jose Sharks’ 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, pressed into last-minute action as he was because of Logan Couture’s flu-like symptoms.
But since the controversial acquisition of Micheal Haley, Radil has been seen as the regular scratch most deserving of Haley’s line-up spot. So with an eye toward the positive — again, it was his first appearance since Feb. 24 — let’s look at what Radil brings to San Jose and what he might need to improve.
Radil (52) combines a quick first step and a long reach to be an effective forechecker.
He closed on a possibly surprised Alex Iafallo (19). Iafallo, no slowpoke himself, probably thought he was in good position with his feet moving and on his forehand.
This was against Anton Stralman (6) in January.
Haley (18) failed to get it in deep. A trailing Tyler Toffoli (73) was about to regain possession. But then Radil swooped in, delivering a long, powerful chop on Toffoli’s stick, giving Haley another chance.
With those quick feet, Radil is effective at retrieving loose pucks. But that’s not all he’s strong at down low.
The wiry strong Czech shook Alec Martinez (27) to fetch a loose puck for Brent Burns (88) at the point. Then he sprinkled some shake and bake on Iafallo, before finding Burns again.
Sean Walker (61) chased, but he couldn’t prevent Radil from going to his forehand. Later, Radil cleverly timed a push of Walker just as Burns was about to shoot. This gave Radil carte blanche in front of Jonathan Quick as Burns’s blast arrived.
Where Radil got in trouble last night was when he tried to do too much with the puck. It’s not that he doesn’t have skill:
Settling the puck down, Radil rainbowed a stretch pass into Melker Karlsson’s (68) feet. While not stick to stick, it was still a pass showing off some touch. He also showcased some patience by not rushing the hail mary with the forechecker Toffoli sniffing around.
However, this underrated skill might, just might, have given Radil too much confidence at times last night:
Especially given his fourth-line role and his lack of puck skills relative to the likes of Joe Pavelski and Couture, there’s an onus on Radil to play a simple, direct game.
Get it in deep, go to work. But no matter what, don’t turn it over, especially in the neutral zone.
Anze Kopitar (11) tracking down Radil breaking out proved consequential. Later, on the same shift, Kopitar netted the game-winner.
Peter DeBoer took notice of Radil’s turnovers: “He had some good shifts. Then some other moments where he turned pucks over when he shouldn’t have.”
On one hand, you want your players to try to make plays. On the other hand, a pass you try in the AHL isn’t always a pass you try in the NHL. An extra second that you have in the AHL won’t always be there in the NHL.
More of an awareness of what’s happening on the ice will help Radil on the defensive end too.
Radil started the game alongside Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi, an opportunity to impress with more skilled linemates.
He was demoted shortly after this shift.
As Justin Braun (61) rotated on an advancing Adrian Kempe (9), Radil was slow to switch onto Carl Grundstrom (38).
Granted, this has the look of a first-game-back mistake.
But it was reminiscent of a gaffe against Alexander Ovechkin in January:
“I thought he was alright,” said DeBoer of Radil’s game. “Considering we stuck him in the last minute, I thought he gave us some good stuff.”
While this wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for Radil’s continued presence in the line-up, it’s a fair assessment.