UKRAINIAN PRO HOCKEY UPDATE
by Ihor Stelmach
46 players of Ukrainian descent on 2002 training camp rosters
There's a bit of a chill in the morning air these days. Well manicured lawns have faded in color as they get covered with fallen leaves. The days get shorter, while the nights grow longer. Time to put on the favorite sweater or official team sweatshirt. Of course this also means it's time for yet another hockey season. Thirty National Hockey League clubs are well into the 2002-2003 regular season. Ukrainian representation has never been greater.
Twenty-two of the above 30 NHL squads boasted at least one player of Ukrainian descent in their September pre-season workouts. Carolina and Tampa Bay tied for most rostered Ukes with five each. St. Louis and Washington each listed four, while Florida and New Jersey chipped in with three apiece. By position there were four Ukrainian goaltenders, a whopping 17 defensemen, 13 left-wingers, five centermen and seven right-wingers. Some 20 of the 46 were assured of skating on their teams' opening day lineups, with most of the rest being assigned to top minor league affiliates for more seasoning.
Here is a brief scouting report or lowdown on every team with an emphasis on Ukrainian hockey players plus their final 2001-2002 stats. If the pre-season parade to the penalty box continues unabated because of stricter obstruction enforcement, the next Stanley Cup should be won by a speedy club that plays four lines and can rely on three defensive pairs - someone like the Colorado Avalanche.
Below, the teams are listed from best to worst, as proposed by this columnist.
COLORADO AVALANCHE - A healthy Peter Forsberg makes everybody better. Patrick Roy with something to prove. Talent galore. JORDAN KRESTANOVICH (68-12-22-34-18) and EVGENY LAZAREV (50-11-11-22-56) playing in Hershey (AHL).
DETROIT RED WINGS - Watch youngsters Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg shine. Nicklas Lidstrom leads a strong blueline in front of new goalie Curtis Joseph. Skill on power play just plain scary.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS - Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau outstanding down the middle. Good size and strength; will excel with new coach Ken Hitchcock. TODD FEDORUK (55-3-4-7-141) is muscle on the left side. Draftee JEFF WOYWITKA (72-14-23-37-109 in Western juniors) is a top-four future defenseman.
DALLAS STARS - Another team with center ice force in Mike Modano, Pierre Turgeon and Jason Arnott. Sergei Zubov, Scott Young and Bill Guerin fortify power play. Veteran RICHARD MATVICHUK (82-9-12-21-52) still paired with captain Derian Hatcher on top defense duo.
SAN JOSE SHARKS - If super goalie Evgeni Nabakov signs a new contract, all will be well; if not, there could be trouble. Owen Nolan needs to bag 35+ goals. Sharks have increased their point total last seven consecutive years. SEAMUS KOTYK (24-981-6-3.73-893 in AHL) honing his skills on the farm.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS - Defense features excellent mobility and grit. Newcomer OLEG TVERDOVSKY (73-6-26-32-31) will fluorish here. Expected to be paired with fellow Uke KEN DANEYKO (67-0-6-6-60). New coach Pat Burns will have these Devils contending. STANISLAV GRON (76-13-15-28-34 in AHL) is back in Albany.
OTTAWA SENATORS - Young, dynamic and can't quite get over a post-season hump. No apparent weaknesses on offense or defense. Patrick Lalime up-and-comer in net. CURTIS LESCHYSHYN (79-1-9-10-44) a stalwart with Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips on back line.
LOS ANGELES KINGS - Stacked with forwards who can create and finish. Aaron Miller's injury and Philippe Boucher's departure hurt in front of net. Must keep up with other Western strongboys.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS - Todd Bertuzzi/Markus Naslund provide dazzling one-two punch. Ed Jovanoski becoming more dominant on blueline. Very few changes made on young team that overpowered down the stretch last season. ZENITH KOMARNISKI (77-5-20-25-153 in Manitoba) was one of last cuts out of training camp when switched to wing from defense. RENE VYDARENY (61-3-11-14-15) a defense prospect.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS - Rookie NHL coach Bruce Cassidy has talented players, but can he get them playing as a cohesive unit? Addition of Robert Lang should spark Jaromir Jagr. Olaf Kolzig must bounce back in goal. Ukrainian contingent here very key: PETER BONDRA (77-39-31-70-80) one of league's top snipers; STEVE KONOWALCHUK (28-2-12-14-23) fully recovered from shoulder woes is heart and soul of club; GLEN METROPOLIT (35-1-16-17-6) will tally power play points with Adam Oates gone; ANDREI NIKOLISHIN (80-13-23-36-40) still unsigned, yet fills multi-purpose forward role.
ST. LOUIS BLUES - Probably too many obstacles to overcome at start: best player Chris Pronger out first several months; heat is on goaltender Brent Johnson to prove he's No. 1; Doug Weight must get back on track. KEITH TKACHUK (73-38-37-75-117) had monster year for which he received a generous contract extension for reclaiming one of top power forward nominations in league. SERGEI VARLAMOV (52-5-7-12-26) has to start showing he belongs - didn't make the cut in camp. CODY RUDKOWSKY (33-1817-11-2.53-.911) and DANIEL TKACZUK (75-10-27-37-37) still highly thought of as potential future Blues.
CAROLINA HURRICANES - Surprise Stanley Cup finalists return intact, ready to prove last year was no fluke. Will be lucky to go half as far this season. Ukrainian reinforcements plentiful in Lowell (AHL), getting valuable playing time: goaltender RANDY PETRUK (51-3087-27-2.72-.912), defenseman GREG KUZNIK (58-3-8-11-40), centers BRETT LYSAK (69-8-15-23-16 in AHL and ECHL) and DAMIAN SURMA (55-28-27-55-68 in Ontario juniors), plus college star RYAN BAYDA (37-19-28-47-52), a left-winger in his first pro campaign.
PHOENIX COYOTES - Signing of free agent Tony Amonte and trade for No. 2 goaler Brian Boucher is managing partner WAYNE GRETZKY'S recipe for post-season success. Extra defenseman DRAKE BEREHOWSKY (57-2-6-8-60) on injured reserve in October; tough guy DARCY HORDICHUK (34-1-1-2-141) recalled to minors one game into new season.
NEW YORK RANGERS - Another off-season spending spree may have, this time, bought the right stuff: Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis. Each free agent adds tremendous crunch with their pugnacious play. Watch Pavel Bure click with Eric Lindros.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS - Offense has little to like after Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny. Lack of depth hurts defense. New netminder Ed Belfour could be on downside. Frustrating summer in free-agent market no cause for optimism. WADE BELAK (63-1-3-4-142) can fight, intimidate and fill in several positions. Ukrainian Olympian ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY (71-21-27-48-74 in AHL with two goals in eight Maple Leaf games) is on the verge of a full-time job with the big club.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS - Captain Michael Peca's knee injury (out until December) temporarily derails massive improvement shown in 2001-2002. After years of pratfalls, G.M. Mike Milbury has made lots of right moves.
EDMONTON OILERS - This is a young, hungry and defensive-minded club on the brink of making the playoffs. Set a team record last year by allowing only 182 goals - 30 better than previous standard. Six-foot-five, first-round draft choice in 2000, 17th overall pick ALEXEI MIKHNOV (25-2-1-3-2 in Russia) should start the next stage of his schooling in North America.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - A team in need of goals overrides the concerns about signing the volatile Theo Fleury. Must continue success on home ice. Draftee SCOTT BALAN (22-1-10-11-40 in Western juniors) should join fellow defenseman DMITRI TOLKUNOV (51-18-19-20) in Norfolk of the American Hockey League.
BOSTON BRUINS - Let's wait and see what happens to this Eastern Conference champion after losing their top scorer/leader (Bill Guerin) and No. 1 netminder (Byron Dafoe). Coach Robbie Ftorek won't allow work ethic and hustle play to disappear from this young bunch.
MONTREAL CANADIENS - Thanks to league MVP/top goalie Jose Theodore, the most storied franchise has much playoff potential once again. Is there a more inspirational captain than cancer-beating Saku Koivu anywhere in all of pro sports?
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS - Prognosis is simple: as goes owner/captain Mario Lemieux, so go the Pens. New obstruction rules will very much assist free-skating team of Alexei Kovalev, Aleksey Morozov and Martin Straka. Ex-Washington top draft choice ROSS LUPASCHUK (72-9-20-29-91 in AHL) is a blueline hopeful for next year.
MINNESOTA WILD - Patience is a virtue for a promising club playing in a hockey-mad state. Greybeard Cliff Ronning joins youngster Marian Gaborik on this offensively challenged club. Jacques Lemaire a superb coach - needs more talent.
ANAHEIM DUCKS - An organizational overhaul finally results in help for star wing Paul Kariya. Adam Oates and Petr Sykora will score. VITALY VISHNEVSKI (74-0-3-3-60) needs to rebound from an inconsistent last season.
CALGARY FLAMES - Obtaining Chris Drury in a trade prior to dropping the first puck means some help for 52-goal scorer Jarome Iginla. This young team has to learn to sustain its focus. Defenseman RICK MROZIK (55-2-5-7-27 at St. John) anchors the top farm club's blueline.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS - Undermanned organization will not see the post-season. Management slowly building a good product. Denis Arkhipov, Vladimir Orszgah and Martin Erat a fine young forward line.
FLORIDA PANTHERS - Talent-poor team is hurting even when it's healthy - which is not often. Top pick Jay Bouwmeester and goalie Curtis Luongo are foundation to build upon. IVAN NOVOSELTSEV (70-13-16-29-44) has to tap his vast potential. Ditto the oft-hurt DENIS SHVIDKI (8-1-2-3-2). Limited skilled, but big-hearted JOEY TETARENKO (38-1-0-1-123) will do anything to stay in NHL.
BUFFALO SABRES - The Expos of hockey face an uphill battle to fix their tarnished franchise after Adelphia Communications fiasco. Miroslav Satan and Martin Biron must lead the way. ALEXEI ZHITNIK (82-1-33-34-80) logs lots of minutes and mans the power play point.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS - Draft day trade with Florida netted No. 1 overall Rick Nash. Together with building blocks Rostislav Klesla and goalie prospect Pascal Leclaire, the foundation is set. If Leclaire falters, SHANE BENDERA (50-3027-24-2.43-.911 in Western Hockey League juniors) lies in wait.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING - Could be the season Vincent Lecavalier breaks out. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin hides teams' defensive deficiencies. DAVE ANDREYCHUK (82-21-17-38-109) re-signed for one more year. RUSLAN FEDOTENKO (78-17-9-26-43) came over in a draft-day deal with Philly. Brad Lukowich (66-1-6-7-40) acquired from Dallas to bolster blueline, NIKITA ALEXEEV (44-4-4-8-8) may end up back in minors. Prospect ANTON BUT (47-13-11-24-10 in Russia) several years away from NHL.
ATLANTA THRASHERS - Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk are studs, while most of rest of offense are duds. These two are a cornerstone to build upon for league's worst team. Veteran TONY HRKAC (80-18-26-44-12) earned two-year contract with under-rated contribution last season.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 1, 2002, No. 48, Vol. LXX
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