TAMPA, Fla. - Lightning center Carter Verhaeghe's road to the NHL has been well-traveled. He spent the last eight years in Juniors and the minors trying to make to the NHL. At 24, he was the only rookie to make the opening night roster and admittedly he was a little star-struck walking into the Lightning's dressing room.
"Oh, yeah,” Verhaeghe recalled. "Grew up watching a lot of these guys on this team, so it was pretty crazy. Now I just realized they're normal people, good guys and normal human beings. So it's pretty cool."
Verhaeghe has in a majority of the games, but it took him some time to prove that he belonged. His first goal didn't come until 17 games into the season, in December.
"It was a tough stretch for him at the beginning,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. "He was in and out of the lineup. He wasn't getting quality minutes. He was a guy that was getting plugged in and out. So it's tough to stick with it, but he's done that."
"I'm a big believer in puck battles,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "When you are winning your 50-50 puck battles, you probably have a spot in this league. He's gone from not winning too many of them to starting to win them."
It was a month into the season before Verhaeghe knew he was here to stay. Upon the team’s return from the Global Series in Sweden, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois delivered a 'rite of passage,' telling Verhaeghe it was time to move out of the hotel and into an apartment.
"At that point, I was just trying to kind of go day by day,” said Verhaeghe. “I had no idea. I mean, I knew I could be at the hotel all year. It's just nice not having to go out for dinner every night and being able to cook at your own place.
Verhaeghe is settling in. He's been accepted as one of the guys, known in the dressing room as Swaggy.
"They call me Swaggy,” laughed Verhaeghe. "I think he kinda grew from Verhaeghe to Swaggy, something like that."
The Lightning has a history of developing unknown talent and Swaggy is on his way to being the Lightning's next rising star.