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2018-19 Season Review: Lukas Radil is a fantastic defensive forward

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The Czech forward was one of the best defensive forwards in San Jose.

Mar 28, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Lukas Radil (52) warms up before the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center at San Jose.  Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When San Jose signed free agents Lukas Radil and Antti Suomela, it was widely expected that one of them would spend time in the AHL, while the other would plug a hole in the forward corps created by Chris Tierney’s departure to the Ottawa Senators. But just about nobody expected that Suomela would be the former while Lukas Radil would be the latter.

Coming from the KHL’s Spartak Moscow, Radil’s solid offensive numbers and responsible defensive play meant that he was given a role on Logan Couture’s wing along with Tomas Hertl, where he was more than able to hold his own. The Czech got off to a fantastic start, with nine points in his first 18 games, and was quickly signed to a one-year extension by the Sharks, who appeared to have found a forward who was everything that Pete DeBoer hoped Melker Karlsson would be.

Lukas Radil player card Getty Images | Fear the Fin illustration by JD Young

Unfortunately, Radil soon hit a wall offensively and found himself relegated to the press box more often than not, a situation only exacerbated by the arrival of Gustav Nyquist. While his play-driving ability remained strong, his points dried up, with only two points in his last 18 games, and he was a frequent victim of Pete DeBoer’s line blender as the year went on, taking shifts anywhere from the first to the fourth lines. Radil only played in eight more games after his February demotion and even did time in the AHL, despite being a better defensive forward than just about anyone in the team’s bottom six (including Micheal Haley, who became a staple on the fourth line).

Against all odds, Radil found himself in the Sharks’ lineup during the postseason, as injuries proceeded to decimate the once-powerful forward corps, playing two games against Vegas and four against Colorado. While he continued to move the possession needle in the right direction, he failed to put up any points in the six games he played and was benched for the entirety of the series against St. Louis, where San Jose saw their season end.

Career Summary (via HockeyViz)

Radil got off to a flying start in his first season in North America, but Pete DeBoer’s lack of trust in the forward after an offensively mediocre stretch saw him relegated to the bench, where his struggles only compounded.

RAPM Chart (via Evolving Hockey)

Although his offense leaves something to be desired, Radil is quite clearly an excellent defensive forward, with his outsized impact on goal prevention and shot suppression. At approximately 1.5 standard deviations above the mean, Radil’s defensive numbers in terms of limiting expected goals against and shots against are stellar and more than compensate for his offensive deficiencies. Look for DeBoer to begin relying on Radil in crunch defensive situations, especially with Melker Karlsson a potential cap casualty of the Erik Karlsson extension.

Highlight

Radil’s first NHL goal was also a critical one for San Jose, serving as the game-winning goal in a 4-3 December victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Radil (52) collected Vlasic’s (44) shot off the boards, corralled the puck behind the net and slipped in front of the net unguarded before roofing a lethal backhander over the shoulder of a helpless Adin Hill (31).

What comes next?

Having had a full year to experience the NHL and get accustomed to the North American style of play, the Sharks will be expecting Radil to improve on his level of play and establish himself as an NHL regular next year. Given his team-friendly cap hit (signed for one more year at $700,000) and the extreme cap crunch this squad faces, it looks extremely likely that Radil will be on the opening night roster’s bottom six next year out of sheer necessity.

This would not be the worst thing in the world. Radil clearly merits a place in the lineup on his defensive ability alone, and if he can improve his offensive output, there’s no reason to believe he can’t become a mainstay in the San Jose lineup for a few seasons to come.