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The Lightning's Evgeny Artyukhin is building up his game to match his size. // St. Petersburg Times
Lightning left wing Mark Recchi considered the package that is teammate Evgeny Artyukhin - 6 feet 5, 254 pounds of straight-ahead aggression - and gave an oral shudder.
"I don't want him coming at me," Recchi said. "I'm glad he was away for a couple of years."
The timing has been perfect for Recchi, whose first season with Tampa Bay coincides with Artyukhin's return after two years playing in his native Russia.
It was perfect for Artyukhin as well, as the Lightning, in desperate need of big, physical bodies, settled a two-year contract dispute and gave the right wing an opportunity to succeed.
He was a differencemaker in Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Senators at the St. Pete Times Forum with a game-high eight shots and six hits, and the winning goal in the eighth round of the shootout.
"He's getting more confident," coach Barry Melrose said after Tampa Bay's third straight win. "I think he's starting to realize what we want out of him, and he's getting rewarded with ice time for the way he's playing."
Artyukhin, 25, who during the summer signed a two-year, $1.9-million deal, is a rough-edged work in progress.
He loves carrying the puck but tends to lose control, though not as much as earlier in the season.
He is not afraid to battle for pucks and get to the net. As he improves his puck control, which will translate into more shots, it would seem a matter of time before he starts putting some in the net.
Most notable, though, is Artyukhin's speed and fluidity as a skater.
It doesn't take long, despite a seemingly effortless stride, for him to build up a head of steam. That is when heads need to be up because Artyukhin will hit you with full board-rattling force.
"I'll tell you," Melrose said, "when Arty goes over the boards, guys on the other team know. You can see them elbowing each other. They don't want to play against that guy, and that's good."
Artyukhin, with zero goals, one assist and four penalty minutes while averaging 11:19 of ice time on a line with Recchi and Jussi Jokinen, said he wants to be a complete player.
Converting his first NHL shootout opportunity was another step.
"I score it and goals will come, so it was real important for me," said Artyukhin, who had four goals, 17 points and 90 penalty minutes in 72 games for Tampa Bay in 2005-06.
"In my mind, I feel like I can be a better player, score and help the team win games, play physical. I feel like right now I'm picking up my game because the coach is giving our line more ice time."
Artyukhin played 16:02 against Ottawa and made the most of it. His rink-long rushes jazzed the fans, but even Artyukhin admitted they too often ended with the puck rolling off his stick.
Even so, "He's getting more confident with the puck," Recchi said. "And he's starting to understand the concept of stops and starts. He's so big and strong, when he stops and starts, he's going to be much more effective."