The Slovak Sniper: Juraj Kolnik
BackgroundIn the 1999 Entry Draft, when the Isles took Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt, Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc in the first round, nobody seemed to notice when the Isles called Juraj Kolnik’s name in the fourth round. That’s just fine because the Isles believe they drafted a diamond in the rough.In 1997-1998, as a 17 year old, Juraj started playing for Nitra in the Czech Elite League. It was evident over a 28 game span that he was out of his element. After scoring only 4 points, Juraj went to the Nitra Junior team. He rampaged with 44 points in 26 games, 28 of those points being goals.In 1998-1999, Juraj traveled to North America and joined the Quebec Remparts. He played only 12 games with them, scoring 11 points, before he was traded to Rimouski. Over the next 97 games (2 seasons) with the Oceanic, Juraj would terrorize the opposition to the tune of 179 points
(89 goals and 90 assists). He was second in scoring on Rimouski to 2001 NHL All-Rookie Team member and Calder Trophy Finalist, Tampa Bay Lightning center Brad Richards. The Isles knew they had landed a winner.The Isles assigned Juraj to the Lowell Lock Monsters in 2000-2001. He played 25 games and scored 8 points. Dismayed with the lack of quality ice time for Juraj and the rest of the Isles prospects, Mike Milbury ended the Isles affiliation with the Lock Monsters. Kolnik and
the rest of the prospects moved to the Springfield Falcons. Finally given proper ice time on a top line and power play unit, Juraj again went on a tear, scoring 35 points in 29 games. The Isles had seen enough; it was time to bring the kid sniper up.The author had the pleasure of seeing Juraj’s NHL debut in an Islander victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 29th, 2000. Although he did not figure in the scoring, Juraj showed good agility and a willingness to drive to the net. In Feburary, he scored his first goal against the Oilers and six days later, he tallied twice against the
Flyers. Overall, Juraj finished with 7 points in 29 games (4 goals and 3 assists).
TalentKolnik is a shooter, pure and simple. He has a rocket of a slapshot. His wristshot is pinpoint accurate and deceptively hard. Juraj has excellent puck skills. He stickhandles well in traffic and is hard to knock off the puck. He is a deadly scorer around the crease and
excels at “picking up loose change”, as they say.The biggest knock on Juraj is his size and skating. Although small at 5’10 185 lbs, Kolnik is tough on his skates and hard to knock down. He is shifty and this allows him to avoid checks. When the Isles drafted him, he was not a very good skater. He has consistently worked on that aspect of his game. He is a much better skater now than when he was drafted. He works hard and if he can improve any part of his game, he’ll do whatever is necessary. Juraj has been working out on Long Island with the Isles informal rookie development camp this summer. He has shown the dedication that is needed to be an excellent NHLer.
What the Future HoldsWhen it comes to scoring, after Czerkawski and Parrish, the Isles are very thin on the right side. The Isles liked what they saw from Juraj, during his 29 game audition last year. There is an excellent chance Juraj could be on Long Island this year. If he makes the Isles, he’ll probably be on the third line, centered by Dave Scatchard with Raffi Torres, Mats Lindgren or Claude Lapointe on the left.Personally, I believe the Isles need Kolnik’s scoring ability. I also believe he will be on Long Island and not in Bridgeport. He has already proven the ability to score at the AHL level, so there is no other reason for him to be there unless it’s to polish up his defensive game (he was a minus 8 in the 29 games with the Isles). That is a possibility, but in the authors mind, a highly unlikely one. In addition, due to Isles depth, if he plays on the third line, he’ll be playing with predominately defensive players (Scatch, Lindgren,
Lapointe, etc.)Kolnik has always been a slow starting player, who turns it up later on. Last year was his baptism of fire; this year he’ll be much better prepared for the NHL. He knows what to expect now and the talent level around him is much higher. So Islander fans, look for #25 to be
bending the twine for the Isles this year.
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