Erik Cernak is here to stay, at least as it is now in Tampa Bay. Young defenseman was not even expected to play this season but he already played in 16 NHL games this year.
Coach Jon Cooper talked about him last weekend and expressed his surprise about the young Slovakian d-man’s rise. Cooper said, that based on the training camp, he did not expect Cernak to get NHL anytime soon. Yet he has played 20 games on a very high level.
Cernak was more than a solid substitute of right-handed veteran defenseman Anton Strålman. Strålman is an excellent defenseman with plenty of experience with the age of 32. Cernak played solid, collecting +8 rating and 5 assists.
If there is any injury doubt in the remainder of the season, Erik Cernak should be Tampa’s first choice replacement. But looking further than this year, Cernak might be a very reasonable solution for the Lightning.
Young defenseman a healthy solution
Coming next July, the Lightning will have approximately 12 million in their salary cap space to sign so many key weapons. Most importantly Brayden Point, but also trio of experienced veteran defencemen – Braydon Coburn, Anton Strålman and Dan Girardi.
You cannot resign all of these guys if you are the Bolts. And now you will have just three available defencemen signed – McDonagh, Hedman and Sergachev. And… Erik Cernak, still being under his entry-level contract.
I assume that the Lightning will give up on at least one of the three mentioned UFA-to be defencemen. If Tampa Bay needs one of those replaced immediately, here is 21-years old Slovakian D-man to play.
If Cernak is ready to play a full 82-game season for the Lightning, there should be no problem at all and he can be both effective and nice solution for the salary cap hell, which is coming to Tampa Bay starting next July.