Pospisil shining in transition to North America

By Holly Gunning

Atlanta Thrashers 2005 draftee Tomas Pospisil is having a terrific rookie season with the OHL Sarnia Sting. The right wing is tied for fourth in rookie scoring in the league with 45 points in 49 games. His 22 goals place him third amongst rookies in that category.

It’s been a surprisingly easy adjustment for the 18-year-old Czech native, who spent last year with both the junior and men’s teams for Trinec.

“He’s a skill player and a smart player and he’s made the adjustment very nicely,” Sarnia Head Coach Shawn Camp told Hockey’s Future. “The physical aspect of the game in North American with the smaller rinks, he seems to be OK with the body contact. He doesn’t seem to get flustered by it at all, in fact he tries to be physical at times himself. So he’s done a real good job of it, and he’s not afraid around the net at all either.”

Pospisil was humble when asked about his season.

“I think my start was good, I played well,” he said. “I think it’s been a good season, but we have still 20 games. So I have to play still, work hard.”

Sarnia selected him fourth overall in the OHL Import Draft, which this year was held before the NHL Entry Draft due to the lockout. Camp explained how Sarnia came to put him so high on their list.

“Alan Millar, our general manager, had the opportunity to watch Tomas play at the World U-18 Championships and I had the pleasure of coaching against him over there. So we were both very familiar with him and his skills.”

The Thrashers selected Pospisil much later, in the fifth round, during a draft where teams passed on Europeans like hot potatoes in light of the lack of an IIHF agreement for players leaving Europe. His play has made other teams regret passing on him.

No slowing down

Camp described Pospisil as a streak scorer, with flurries of points, but said he has been as good lately as early in the season. They expected a slowdown particularly right after Christmas, given the increased number of games for him, the high amount of travel, and the more physical play, but it didn’t happen.

“To his credit he didn’t go home at Christmas, he stayed over here with his billet family,” Camp said. “He’s really climatized himself well to his surroundings and the city. He’s very comfortable with that now. I think he actually took advantage of that break and got some extra rest.”

Pospisil said he feels pretty good right now, and it shows. Playing on a skill line, he’s showing some impressive moves. He works along the half wall on the power play and retains control of the puck very well when pressured in the offensive zone, and his defensive play is good as well. Going through traffic in the neutral zone is one area where he has a bit more trouble.

He’s one of the team’s top shootout guys, with fellow Thrashers prospect Chad Painchaud being the other. Camp says that Pospisil has only missed once in the shootout.

Pospisil does get involved physically in puck battles and finishes his checks. He has 53 penalty minutes in his 49 contests.

Last weekend he had a couple stitches on the bridge of his nose from a fight against a Windsor Spitfire player. He said he lost the fight, at least partly because the other guy, defenseman Scott Todd (NAS), was big. Todd is listed at 6’4, 221.

Despite the loss, the 6’0 185-pound Pospisil didn’t rule out getting in more fights this year.

“I don’t know, maybe,” he said, laughing.

Linemates and companions

Painchaud, a year older, is the team’s top scorer with 63 points in 48 games. He logs a lot of minutes playing on both special teams and often quarterbacking the power play. Kneed against Sault Ste. Marie, he sat out all of last weekend. There’s no word yet on how serious the injury is.

Painchaud and Pospisil played together on a line at the beginning of the season, but not lately.

“We’ve had to split them up just because they are our two best offensive players,” Camp said. “We try to get them away from the checking lines of other teams. It’s fun to watch them play together because Pospisil is going to be a tremendous finisher and Chad has been not just a good finisher but a nice playmaker as well. They complement each other because they see each other well on the ice, they move the puck well, and they use their teammates well.”

Right now Pospisil is playing with Stefan Blaho and Jared Gomes. Pospisil counts Blaho, a Slovak, as one of his best friends, though they’ve only played together for a month since Blaho came over to the team from Sudbury. He also became friends with 20-year-old goaltender Jeff MacDougald, who is no longer on the team.

Pospisil understands what’s being said around him, but can’t always express himself fully. In trying to describe his relationship with Blaho, he stopped mid-sentence and said, “My English, it’s not that well.”

He might have trouble speaking, but listening is not a problem. In this respect, it’s “well” enough that he understands everything anyone says, according to Camp. His good comprehension is partially due to English lessons at the local high school.

In the first semester he was going to school every day, working through coursework on a computer, so he was doing lots of reading.

“His literacy in English has improved tremendously,” Camp said.

The billet family he’s living with has helped a lot as well.

“They are great,” Pospisil said with emphasis. “They have one son who’s 14 and he wants to talk to me so it’s good for me.”

The pair play video games together and go to the movies. He said his favorite movie this year is The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a horror film.

“He fits in really well with them,” Camp said. “He really feels part of their family and they’ve really made him feel like one of their own kids. He’s very close to the family and spends most of his time around them when he’s not at the rink.”

Outlook

Sarnia is struggling, at the bottom of their conference standings with an 18-35-2 record, and have lost the last nine games. Pospisil admitted it was tough to lose so much.

“Yeah, it is, but we have a pretty young team. We have to work hard to have a chance at the playoffs. Next year probably we will.”

Coach Camp described at length how the team is building for the future. Right now it means that both Pospisil and Painchaud are getting more opportunity as under-agers on Sarnia than they would on most others.

“We’re the youngest team in the league by far,” Camp said. “That began last year when we moved most of our older players out and brought in Chad last year in a trade from Mississauga. Our team is loaded with 16 and 17-year-olds, Chad is our only 19-year-old player. We’re going to keep this group together for the next three years. We’re building through the draft, accumulating young players. So we’re taking our lumps now, and it’s tough not winning every night, but we’re also playing our young players in all situations and they’re getting invaluable experience right now playing on the power play, on penalty kill and our 17-year-olds are playing against the top 19 and 20-year-olds in the league every night.”

It also means that next year Pospisil will be looked to as a veteran to lead the offense.

Both Painchaud and Pospisil competed at the Traverse City rookie tournament this year for the Thrashers, which was the first time Pospisil had put on the NHL jersey. He said he is under no special instructions from Atlanta this year, just to work hard every game. According to Camp, though, the team’s scouts seem satisfied.

“The guys seem to be quite pleased with their progress. Tomas has an equal number of goals and assists, so he’s showing that he’s not just a one-sided player in that he’s not just a finisher. That he will be a player that will move the puck as well as he takes it. Chad has certainly put up some impressive numbers so far this year for us, so he’s showing that he can dominate at this level at times when he wants to. Their progress has been steady.”


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