Each month, Hockey’s Future will examine a Calder Trophy hopeful. This month features Colorado’s Marek Svatos.
The Colorado Avalanche were in a tough spot when the new collective bargaining agreement was reached this past summer. A salary cap meant they would need to drastically reduce their payroll and could no longer afford to keep some of the stars that had made them perennial Cup favorites.
Gone were Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Adam Foote and perhaps most importantly, Peter Forsberg. With such dramatic losses, it’s no wonder that many predicted the Avs to be at the bottom of the standings.
It comes as a surprise then that the Avs are doing so well in the new NHL. They owe their good play, at least in part, to the emergence of 23-year-old rookie forward Marek Svatos, who has 20 points in 21 games, placing him third on the rookie scoring list.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Svatos. “It’s always good when the team is winning and the team is doing good. You know when the team is doing good, the players are scoring and they are getting points. It’s great. I think we have one of the best teams in the league.”
In his first full year in the NHL, the Slovakian right wing is turning the head of even the greatest hockey player, Wayne Gretzky. After a recent game versus the Avs, the Great One commented that he believed Svatos was “a tremendous player.”
“I think that’s a great, great compliment knowing that Wayne is the best scorer ever,” said Colorado’s Head Coach Joel Quenneville. “But [Svatos] is one of those guys, whether it’s an opportunist or not, but he finds that puck in the tough areas and he sniffs it out. He doesn’t need much of a shot to get it away. The last couple of games he’s made two unbelievable shots, especially when the game is on the line. It’s nice to see.”
Gretzky’s praise came well deserved considering Svatos scored twice to help the Avs beat the Gretzky-coached Phoenix Coyotes. Svatos’s performance was no fluke. This season he leads the Avalanche team in goals with 10. He’s tied with All-Star forward Joe Sakic for third on the team in points (20) and perhaps most impressively he leads the NHL in game-winning goals with 5.
“He’s a very special player,” said the Avs coach. “He comes with energy every day and he’s got some real quickness to his game. He’s got a great shot and he smells those pucks in that slot area.”
“I’m trying to shoot the puck every chance I have and right now it’s going good for me,” described Svatos. “So I’m going to continue to do that. [I’m doing] nothing special. I have great linemates. They’ve been giving me the puck and I’m shooting.”
Svatos and his linemates, Steve Konowalchuk and Pierre Turgeon, have been great and clearly have chemistry. The new rules and playing with the speedy Slovakian has helped both veterans rediscover their scoring ways. Turgeon has rebounded from his previous totals of 40 points in the 2003-04 season with Dallas and is on pace to score 89 points this season. Konowalchuk is also on pace to increase his totals from the previous year by 20 points.
“I think that line has been outstanding for us all year long. I think the balance in our line-up is showing and I think [Svatos] is one of the guys making the difference,” said the Avalanche Head Coach.
Svatos has shown glimpses of his clutch play over the past two seasons but he has battled injuries the past few years. In 2003-04, Svatos made the Avs opening day roster but was sidelined in the second game of the season with a shoulder injury. Svatos would go on to miss 78 games. Upon his return he was once again clutch. He scored 2 goals in his first game back and scored the OT winning goal in game 4 against Dallas in the postseason. He had 6 points in 11 postseason games, which was no doubt a glimpse of what the Slovakian winger could do.
Last season, while NHL players were locked out, Svatos played for Colorado’s AHL team in Hershey. He appeared in 72 games and notched 46 points. He, like Ottawa’s Jason Spezza and Carolina’s Eric Staal, benefited from an extra year in the AHL both for his development and to shake the rust off from missing time due to injury.
“I played almost the whole season,” said Svatos. “I had problems with my shoulder before. I didn’t play almost three seasons so that was big. I got lots of ice time even if I didn’t do the greatest. I think that helps. The other guys weren’t playing, obviously, so I think it was good for me.”
Still, entering training camp injury-free and with an extra year of experience under his belt, neither he nor the Avalanche expected this type of production from the former seventh round pick in 2001.
“If you would’ve asked me before the season, I probably would’ve said ‘it’s not true’ but right now, like I said, my linemates are feeding me [the puck] in front of the net and it’s great to play with them,” said Svatos.
“We were aware he had ability,” said Quenneville. “I think last year he had a so-so year in the minors. We were expecting more and then coming into camp we know we were looking for him to be an offensive type guy. The rules enhance his type of game. There’s always a few, I don’t want to say surprises, but we’re pleasantly pleased with him.”
Svatos credits the NHL’s new rules and crackdown on obstruction for opening the game up for his team and the league. At 5’11 and 175 pounds, Svatos, himself, has also benefited from the new rules because they favor skill.
“The rules are good for the skilled players of the game and teams are scoring more goals. There’s less hooking and slashing and all that stuff. It’s good for the smaller guys also. They’ve been holding before and right now the advantage of the game is speed and skill. So this is great for the game.”
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