Lubos Velebny progressing

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

A Knight in Shining Feathers?

Lubos Velebny was selected by the Leafs in the seventh round of the 2000 Entry Draft as a little known blueliner from Slovakia and remained so through last season as the focus of most fans attention turned to Mikael Tellqvist, Brad Boyes, Petr Svoboda and Jeff Farkas. However, one person who didn’t lose sight of the rearguard was the coach of the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks, Scott Koberinski. The reason being of course, was that Velebny came over to North America and spent the season learning the finer points of hockey on this side of the pond under the aforementioned bench boss. Now that he has been nabbed by the London Knights in the CHL’s Import Draft, his progress will be more easily followed by Leaf fans in Southwestern Ontario. That said, in a recent conversation with Koberinski, who compares him to a young Lubomir Sekeras (Minnesota Wild) in style, he described a player that while a work in progress, is further ahead in that progress than most defensemen his age.

Offensively minded, Velebny’s main weapon is a devastating slapshot from the point which he doesn’t hesitate to use, especially on the powerplay. Koberinski goes on to say that had he stayed in the USHL this season “he would have easily been the best powerplay quarterback in the league”. In addition to that his first pass out of the zone is almost always flawless and he has adapted to the rougher game over here faster than one would have expected. However, like all wild young horses, there is a downside and that downside is in his decision making. Too often for the coaches liking Velebny tries the low percentage play, whether that be trying to blast the puck through a maze of bodies when feeding his partner would have served a better purpose or trying to thread the needle cross-ice when a corner dump-in would have been better. While the young Slovak is adept at the back door play off the point, again decision-making can sometimes plague him and he’ll get caught up ice.

As for his defensive game, Koberinski applauded his willingness to move the man out from in front of the net and the progress made throughout the year in this area. More the type of a blueliner that would simply drape himself over an opponent without tying up his stick in October, he made great strides in technique in this area by the end of the campaign. While the coach admits he can still tighten up here, the fact that he is very solid on his skates was something he used to full advantage while knocking others off theirs. Not to say that he is flawless with the blades though. While he does have two step acceleration and likes to use it, his lateral movement could use some work and his pivot is not as tight as it could be. Koberinski does go on to say that while Lubos will “run around a bit in his own end” he is “ahead of where other 19 year old defensemen would be at this stage in his career.”

In short, Velebny possesses the raw tools to be a player in the NHL. He’ll have to, like most young rearguards, pick up his technique defensively and make sounder decisions on offence but these are things that can be taught. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, he could use a bit more weight, but at his age that’s to be expected.


Quinn’s Giant Step for Player Development

Let’s see, Pat Quinn is the Coach and General Manager of the Leafs, top dog of the Olympic Coaching Fraternity and oh yeah, part owner of the WHL’s newest team, the Vancouver Giants. There are many who think that the two titles in the Toronto organization are one too many, let alone calling the shots at Salt Lake City. To add an ownership position of a team that is on the other side of the country must surely be a bridge too far then, correct? Not so fast. To begin with it is a well-known fact that the big Irishman delegates an awful lot of his GM’s duties to other parts of the head office, Bill Watters, chief among them. While it is true, he is playing an important role in the Olympic program, again there are many others sitting at the same table sharing that burden as well. Still, why, with all of this on his plate, did he have to go out and buy into a WHL club? Rather than dwell on how much of a distraction the Giants could be, stand back for a minute and consider the this move in relationship to the Toronto Maple Leafs and their commitment to player development. Those last two words were unheard of in the Cliff Fletcher era. In Cliff’s last year at the helm, the Leafs selected but eight times at the Entry Draft the first being in the third round. Contrast that with Mike Smith and later Pat Quinn. In the last four years, the blue and White have kept all of their high picks and grabbed a total of 41 players at the NHL’s annual free-for-all. That’s an average of over one extra player per draft and sometimes that one player can make a difference. But we digress. Where is the advantage of the Toronto Maple Leaf Coach and GM owning a piece of a WHL franchise? As some may have noticed, there is a bit of a relationship being developed between the Buds and Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67’s. The Blue and White draft a player from Europe, and he somehow almost always ends up playing his junior hockey in the Nation’s Capital. But what happens if Toronto drafts more than two players from the European pool that they feel would be best served by being in the CHL, or more specifically in the rough and tumble Western Hockey League? Now that Quinn has a hand in one of the franchises out that way, it would be quite easy to select a Leaf prospect during the CHL’s Import Draft that needs to work on his toughness into that organization. To take it a step further, it will also be easier to evaluate how a potential draft pick will hold up physically if he is placed in that league on a team that the GM has close ties to. In this light, the Vancouver Giants cease to be a distraction to the greater cause. Rather they become an arm of Toronto’s player development, one step below the Baby Buds on The Rock. And that is a step in the right direction.