Diamond in the rough?

By pbadmin

As previously stated, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had much luck in the later rounds of previous Entry Drafts – especially with players from eastern Europe. Some current Leafs including Sergei Berezin, Tomas Kaberle, and Daniil Markov were acquired in this way. On October 28th, I was fortunate enough to watch a Leaf prospect who just might turn out to be another “diamond in the rough.”

The Maple Leafs drafted defensemen Lubos Velebny in the 7th round of the 2000 NHL Draft. Last year he played with Zvolen Jr. of the Slovakian Junior League. He also played in 7 games with Zvolen in the Slovakian Elite League. As reported earlier in Hockey’s Future, Velebny participated in the Leafs’ Rookie Tournament this fall. At the conclusion of the Rookie Camp, it was reported that Velebny had been sent back to his junior team in Slovakia.

On October 24, 2000, I received a post on my guest book that Velebny was, in fact, playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League (USHL), a junior league similar to the Canadian Hockey League. The United States Hockey League however is a league where players can retain their US college eligibility. I live about 45 minutes from Rochester, Minnesota, home of the USHL’s Rochester Mustangs. I was lucky enough to find out in time that the Black Hawks were playing the Mustangs on October 28th .

The Black Hawks beat the Mustangs 6-2 that night with Velebny picking up a goal and an assist to go along with 4 PIMs. Velebny looked very good, but you can see he is still trying to adjust to the style of play in North America. In the first period (on the power play) he picked up an assist after blasting a shot from the point that was put in following a scramble in front of the goal. A couple of fans near me were raving about his shot. I would have to agree with them on this point – Lubos sure has a cannon.

In the 2nd period Velebny used that same weapon to fire a puck from the point that bounced around in front of the goal and somehow it went in without being touched by another Black Hawks player. In this period he also picked up a two-minute minor for roughing.

In the 3rd period Velebny kept putting the puck on net from the point (using that cannon of a shot). He didn’t register a point in the 3rd period but did pick up another two-minute minor, this time for tripping. Velebny should have been selected as one of the 3 stars of the game but the announcer apparently didn’t like the fact that he had “so many” penalties.

I noticed a couple things about Lubos that were very interesting. The Black Hawks seem to roll their defensive pairs evenly. Lubos looked to be the number three d-man and the number two offensive d-man. He played every situation, even strength, power play and penalty kill. He probably logged more power play time than any other Black Hawks defensemen. To go along with that big shot, Velebny has some good wheels to boot. He also seemed to be a adept puck handler as well. If you are worried about his communication skills on the ice, he seems to have a good grasp on the English language and was communicating well with his defensive partners.

Velebny’s physical play, however, is suspect. He tried to throw a fair number of hits but his timing seemed to be slightly off. His decisions concerning when to jump into the play were also questionable, often leading to odd man breaks for the Mustangs. He also likes to over handle the puck at times and this also led to some giveaways.

Velebny did notice me in my Toronto Maple Leafs jersey – I nodded to him and he smiled. He looked up every time he skated by where I was sitting with my girlfriend.

I am not sure why Velebny is now playing in North America. I suspect that he wanted to come over and learn to play an NHL-style game – smaller ice surface and with more physical contact than in Europe. Waterloo visits Rochester two more times this season, November 24, 2000 and Rochester’s last game of the season March 25, 2001. Hopefully I’ll be able to see him play again and will notice an improvement. Lubos Velebny is definitely a player to keep your eye on. If you are able to see him play either in the USHL or for Slovakia in the 2001 WJC, he won’t disappoint you.