Mihalik Earns Starting Role in Opener

Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times reports that behemoth Bolts prospect defenseman Vladimir Mihalik has not only earned a roster with the Tampa Bay Lightning but is assured of playing in the team's 2008-09 season opener against the New York Rangers on October 4th in Prague. At 6.08 and 241 lbs, the young Slovakian blueliner has drawn comparisons to Boston's Zdeno Chara.

Coming into training camp, BoltProspects had tagged Mihalik as a darkhorse candidate to win a roster spot, but with Matt Smaby and newcomers like Janne Niskala, Andrew Hutchinson, and Ty Wishart slotted ahead of him in the depth chart, chances were slim that he would be starting the season in Bolts sweater.

But a slow recovery involving Paul Ranger's surgically repaired shoulder over the summer temporarily opened up a slot in Tampa's Top 6 defensive pairings, and Mihalik seems to have out-dueled Wishart, Smaby, and Hutchinson for an opportunity to get his first NHL start on Saturday.

"He's been great," Lighting head coach Barry Melrose said of Mihalik. "He's smart, and he moves the puck well. He played in four (preseason) games and I can't think of a play where a guy toasted him or he made a horrendous play. He's got that gigantic reach. He's good with the puck. I've been happy with him."

Mihalik was Tampa's first draft pick after the lockout that resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. He was selected in the 1st round, #30 overall, of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.