For a team that’s struggled defensively in recent years, the Tampa Bay Lightning certainly took a step forward Thursday, re-signing Keith Aulie to a one-year, one-way contract.
Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs back in Feb. 2012, Aulie recorded two goals, seven points and a plus-1 rating last season. That plus-minus rating tied him with veterans Victor Hedman and Matt Carle for third among Lightning blue-liners, only behind Sami Salo (plus-5) and Eric Brewer (plus-3).
Known as a bruiser, Aulie’s not afraid to lay big hits or drop the gloves when needed either. His career-high 60 penalty minutes, and epic late-April battle with Boston Bruins‘ forward Milan Lucic (which earned him the nickname “Maulie”), are proof of that.
Aulie’s also young, something this Lightning organization loves. Led by GM Steve Yzerman, they’ve had no trouble finding gems through trade or free agency. Remember Cory Conacher? An undersized forward, he burst onto the scene, nearly cracking Tampa Bay’s 2011 opening day roster before ultimately landing (and putting up outstanding numbers) with the eventual Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals.
Or how about Tyler Johnson? Also undrafted due to size, the reigning AHL MVP signed an entry-level deal with the Lightning back in 2011. He then proceeded to lead Tampa Bay’s new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, to their second consecutive Calder Cup finals appearance. Even though they lost in six games to the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings), it’s likely he’ll crack 2014′s opening day roster.
While it’s true Aulie’s offensive numbers aren’t exactly flashy, he’s got the ability to become a steady presence on the Lightning’s back end. New contract in hand, I expect nothing less.