SAN JOSE- When you consider that the Sharks roster features names like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, and Joe Pavelski (among others), I guess it’s not surprising when other particularly skilled Sharks players skate under the radar.
And that would be the case with second year Sharks forward Martin Havlat.
Havlat missed all of training camp last year and the first four games of the regular season as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Then to make matters worse, a freak hamstring injury in mid-December forced him to miss the next three months. All in all, Havlat played in less than half of the 82 game schedule in his first year as a Shark.
That said, Havlat managed a solid 27 points in 39 games played last year, a pace for 57 points in spite of all the missed time and the Sharks record was significantly improved with him in the lineup. With him they were 25-11-3, and without him they were a .500 club at 18-18-7.
Now when you add in San Jose’s hot start to this season, in which Havlat has played all ten games, the Sharks are now 32-13-4 in regular season games with the Czech native in the lineup.
Should we really be all that surprised how much of a positive effect Havlat has had early in his Sharks tenure? After all this is a guy that has put up point totals of 77, 62, and 54 in his last three full seasons before arriving in San Jose. Plus those latter two totals came as a member of the offensively challenged Minnesota Wild organization.
But juxtaposed to top line scorers who get the sexy attention (recall all the love Patrick Marleau got for his hot start when Thornton received less attention for setting him up) like the one he was traded for in Dany Heatley, Havlat’s play-making style doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Plus when you watch him live there’s no question that Havlat is the best Sharks forward in terms of dangling ability or “juking” as you NHL ’13 gamers would put it. And along those lines is what I believe teammate Brent Burns was alluding to when he chimed up about Havlat, whom he has shared many a power-play situation with dating back to their days with Minnesota.
“He’s unbelievable one-on-one, he’s got great vision” commented the Sharks defenseman. “I mean he’s one of the few guys that can really, consistently beat guys one-on-one, it’s hard to do in the NHL and he can consistently do it. He’s got great hands, great shot, he’s a smart hockey player.”
First year Sharks winger Adam Burish also played with Havlat with another organization as they were teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks from 2006-2009. The rough and tumble winger always has plenty to say and he certainly wasn’t shy about pointing out what separates his teammate from other top level players.
“It’s almost like he sees the game a little differently than everyone else does. He’s probably one of the more explosive skaters yet he knows when to slow the game down. He has a real good sense of when the game needs to be slowed down a bit and that’s how he creates space for himself.” chimed the forward. “A lot of other players that are real great skaters are always kind of moving at a high speed but he’s got this change of speed where he can slow it down, get by you, [real] slippery. So I think just the way he can vary his speeds on the ice make him different than a lot of players, he just sees the game a different way.”
Burish would go on to mention just how much of a big time player Havlat can be in reference to a late tying goal he scored against the Predators earlier this season, “I’ve seen him do it before, I’ve seen him do it in the playoffs when I played with him in Chicago, he scored some overtime goals for us. He enjoys being in the spotlight, he enjoys the pressure and he’s good with it.”
As for Todd McLellan’s thoughts, the head coach focused on one adjective in particular in describing his second line winger:
“Marty is a creative player, he ends up on the plus side of the scoring chances most nights. He tends to create out of nothing.”
Whether it’s his creativity or ability to be “slippery” as Burish put it, Havlat is certainly a special player. He may not put up the elite offensive statistics in recent years playing with the Wild and now in a more secondary scoring role (second power play unit, sometimes playing on a “third” line) with San Jose but the Sharks records don’t lie.
Keeping the (at times) injury riddled Havlat healthy and in the lineup has been and will continue to be a huge key to the Sharks success.
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