Drafted by the Sharks with the 41st overall pick of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Finnish defenseman Tero Määttä still finds himself in Finland playing for the Espoo Blues. The 22-year-old started his fourth season in the SM-Liiga (Finnish Elite League) on the first defensive pairing for the Blues with veteran Sebastian Sulku, picking up three assists in the first four games. At the Karjala Cup break to begin November, Määttä had seven assists in 19 games, already surpassing his three assists in 50 SM-Liiga games in 2002-03.
After the Karjala Cup, Määttä was moved to the second defensive pairing with Rami Alanko then down to the third pairing with Janne Jalasvaara. In Espoo’s 15 games after the Karjala Cup break to the Baltica Cup/Christmas break, Määttä managed only one goal and one assist. In mid-December, three games before the Baltica Cup break, 19-year-old Tommi Pelkonen joined Määttä to create a young third pairing. Espoo’s most recent game, January 3rd versus HIFK, Määttä had two assists, but also picked up 25 penalty minutes in a post game scuffle with Jere Karalahti. Prior to the HIFK game, Määttä had only 10 penalty minutes for the season.
Now serving as Espoo’s fifth defenseman behind Sulku, former NHLer Drew Bannister, Arto Laatikainen and Rami Alanko, Määttä is seeing less power play time than he did earlier in the season, when Määttä was playing with confidence not previously seen from the young defenseman. Määttä’s production is up, with one goal and 10 assists in 37 games and is tied for the team lead in plus minus with former Shark forward Jan Caloun at +10.
Despite this, Määttä is one of the favorite whipping boys of Espoo fans, similar to Mike Rathje early in his NHL career with San Jose. With one of the highest payrolls in the SM-Liiga, the Blues have been disappointing in 2003-04, currently in ninth out of 13 teams, although still within striking distance of fifth place (HPK and Ilves both have 39 points in 35 games) with 36 points in 37 games.
Määttä (pronounced MAH-ta) will likely find himself with the AHL affiliate Cleveland Barons next season as a fifth or sixth defenseman, where the Sharks organization can take over his development. Despite his high draft position, Määttä faces an uphill struggle if he is to ever play in the NHL, needing to improve his skating, stick skills, shot power and decision-making.
One of San Jose’s two Slovakian prospects, forward Michal Macho still finds himself playing in the Slovakian Extraleague after being drafted by San Jose in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Entering his second season with Slovan Bratislava, and his fourth in the Slovakian Extraleague, the two-way center started the season on Slovan’s second line, but quickly dropped to the third line and even some fourth line action. Despite this, Macho tallied two goals and four assists in his first eleven games before being injured the second week of October.
After missing six games, the 5’11” 172-pound Macho returned to Slovan’s line-up October 24, tallying another goal in Bratislava’s final game before one-week league break November 3-10. In Slovan’s seven games following the break, Macho tallied three goals and two assists. Macho was again injured November 30, and missed only seven games, aided by a two-week break starting December 15 for the Slovakia Cup and Christmas holiday.
Macho returned to action in Slovan’s first game back from the break December 28 against Skalica, and scored a goal in the team’s next game two nights later against Nitra. Slovan begins competition in the Continental Cup Super Final January 8 in Gomel, Belarus, where the team will faceoff against Keramin Minsk of the Eastern European Hockey League and Severstal Cherepovets of the Russian Super League in Group N, with Group B comprised of HC Gomel of the EEHL, HC Lugano of the Swiss Nationalliga A, and HC Rouen of the French Super 16 league.
Slovan currently finds itself in second place in the Extraleague with 77 points after 39 games with a record of 23-1-6-1-8 (Wins – OT Wins – Ties – OT Losses – Losses), behind Dukla Tencin’s 89 points in 38 games. In 26 games, Macho has seven goals, seven assists and 12 penalty minutes, having missed a total of 13 games. Known as a competent forward in all zones of the rink, Macho made his first appearance in San Jose at training camp in September and could return again for assignment to Cleveland next season as the Barons project to have some openings next season. At only 172 pounds, Macho’s size is a concern, especially his ability to take the physicality of the AHL compared to the relatively unphysical Slovakian Extraleague.
Note: Details of Macho’s injuries not yet available.
Forward Kai Hospelt finds himself as the latest of a series of San Jose draft picks from Germany, drafted by the Sharks in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. One of Gemany’s top players in the Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga (German Junior League) for Cologne, Hospelt also played 21 games for the Cologne Sharks in the Deutsche Elite Liga last season. This season the 18-year-old has found himself in the DEL with Cologne fulltime.
Playing primarily on the fourth line with fellow prospect Markus Kink, Hospelt has been playing lately with Steven Palmer centering the line with Kink on the left wing. After 33 games this season, Hospelt has tallied one goal and two assists, ahead of fellow prospect Markus Kink, who has one assist in 34 games. However, Hospelt’s production pales in comparison to previous German Shark prospects such as Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Previously the fourth line’s center, Hospelt’s dismal 37.5 percent faceoff efficiency necessitated placing Palmer as the line’s center.
Cologne, typically one of the powerhouses of the DEL, sports a decent line-up on paper, keeping Hospelt low on the depth chart. However, this has not translated into results, as Cologne finds itself in sixth place 17-2-7-12 (wins – penalty shot wins – penalty shot losses – losses). With third through ninth separated by only five points, Cologne could still finish high in the standings, or even miss the playoffs.
Scratched for one Cologne game, Hospelt also missed four additional games for his DEL club while representing Germany at the DI Group A World Junior Championships in Berlin December 14-20. Germany won the tournament after Latvia collapsed against an inferior Slovenian team, with Shark prospect goaltender Patrick Ehelechner named the tournament’s top goaltender. While Cologne linemate Markus Kink tallied five goals and six assists in five games, Hospelt put in a mediocre tournament centering the team’s second line. Despite averaging a point per game in the WHL for Medicine Hat, linemate Yannic Seidenberg provided Hospelt little help in creating offense with only two assists, both against Hungary in the first game of the tournament. Left winger Axel Hackert tallied only two goals and one assist, leaving Germany‘s second line somewhat anemic compared to the first and third lines.
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Swedish center Alexander Hult entered 2003-04 hoping to secure a spot on Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) team HV 71. The 19-year-old instead found himself on Oskarshamm of the Allsvenskan League. Playing mostly on the third and fourth line from mid-September through mid-November, Hult managed a goal and seven assists in 22 games. On November 20 Hult was recalled by HV 71 for a three game stint, playing on the fourth line tallying no points. Hult was returned to Oskarshamm November 27, and played six more games until the Allsvenskan league paused for Christmas.
After the break, Hult did not return to Oskarshamm, instead, the Sharks eighth round pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft joined Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships in Finland. Playing mostly on the third and fourth lines, Hult managed two assists in six games, as Sweden finished seventh out of ten teams in the tournament. Hult finished no game with a negative plus/minus.
After 29 games for Oskarshamm, Hult had two goals and nine assists, 22 penalty minutes, a +10 rating, and a faceoff efficiency of 44 percent. Oskarshamm found itself in first place in the South Division after 32 games with a record of 19-7-6. If Hult played on a weaker Allsvenskan League team, he would likely find himself consistently on such a team’s second or third line.
Johan Nilsson of Elite Prospects notes that Hult, who is in his first full season of pro hockey, is creative with the puck and is also a hard working player. At 6’2” 205 pounds, Hult is also one of San Jose’s larger forward prospects and could challenge for a spot on HV 71’s fourth line next season.
Thanks to Oliver Janz (Germany), Johan Nilsson (Sweden), Eetu Huismann (Finland), and Tomas Egry (Slovakia) for their help in this report.