Martin Havlat is a true NHL veteran who has made a name for himself throughout his career as a great offensive player with defensive upside, that sometimes lets emotions get the best of him. He’s also been known to catch the injury bug pretty regularly, but in his first game with his newest team, the St. Louis Blues, he took a big step in the right direction.
A Brief History
Havlat broke in to the league back in 2000 just a year after he was drafted 26th overall by the Ottawa Senators, and quickly made his presence known. He had five straight seasons of growth with the Sens (point totals went 42, 42, 50, 59 and 68, respectively) before the 2004-05 NHL lockout, when things took a turn for the worst for the Czech winger. After missing substantial time due to a shoulder injury following the lockout, Havlat bounced around the league and ended up playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and the New Jersey Devils before landing in the Gateway to the West.
Over that span, well at least until he landed in sunny San Jose, he continued to be almost a point-per-game player (.86PPG before San Jose, .49PPG in San Jose and New Jersey) and was a key cog in each of his teams’ game plans over that time. Though some weird injuries kept him from playing full seasons (including a hamstring tear after his skate got caught on the boards in a line change during practice), and other frustrations mounted as his production dipped, Havlat weathered the storms and is a more mature version of himself now.
Why Havlat is Good for the Blues
Even though head coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t see eye-to-eye with Havlat during their 2003 playoff series (Ottawa beat Philadelphia, who Hitchcock coached at the time) they seem to have a great working relationship now. Havlat seems ready to seize any opportunities he’ll be awarded and also seems ready to be a depth role player on the Note. This means he’ll stay focused, and will help guide some of the shifty younger guys along the way, which should give the Blues some different dimensions to win tough games, especially if he’s still an active member come playoffs.
He’s had great success across the NHL, in both conferences, and in the pre- and post-lockout years, which shows he’s got great speed, work ethic and a high hockey IQ. He’ll fit in well with Scott Gomez, who he played with briefly in San Jose and New Jersey, and could even compliment fellow Czech winger, Dmitrij Jaskin, to help him break out of his shell this year. As was made evident in his first game with the Blues, Havlat still has his scoring touch and a knack for creating/finding space in the offensive zone. In addition, he’s also be able to add more competition to practices to keep his teammates on their toes, and to further develop their skill sets as the season rolls on. This could prove to be invaluable later in the year, where historically the Blues have gotten mentally complacent.
His Role Moving Forward
Though it will depend on team injuries and if he can keep a good scoring pace up, Havlat should be able to crack the lineup semi-regularly, which will provide Hitchcock with a great special teams player, and a dynamic force in both zones. He’ll likely see regular power-play time while he’s in the lineup, and will be a true utility player who can fill in on any line as needed. He could also possibly become a great mentor for Robby Fabbri, who was drafted in a similar position to Havlat and has similar talents, as well. If Havlat can teach Fabbri the true ins-and-outs of the NHL throughout this season, and Fabbri can be a sponge, fans could even see a Calder Trophy race on the Blues (between Fabbri and Parayko), something Havlat is also familiar with (he was a Calder finalist in 2000).
Though Havlat won’t be the prolific scorer he used to be, he should be able to add a much-needed creative depth dimension to the Blues’ game, which should lead to more highlight-reel goals, and more importantly, wins. His vast playoff experience will definitely help down the stretch if he stays active and healthy, and even if he’s sent to AHL Chicago, he’ll be a great mentor to many prospects. All of this should help the Note stay competitive for years to come, even if Havlat isn’t a part of it past this season.
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