Ottawa wing Martin Havlat, 19, is the rookie with the biggest
In the course of a typical night's work Senators rookie left wing
Martin Havlat is likely to weave elegantly through the neutral
zone, gull a defender with a shimmy of his shoulders and burst
Bure-like into open ice. He may well score an important goal
(five of his 19 tallies have been game-winners), and he's almost
certain to give highlights junkies a satisfying fix. "He does
things that make the crowd happy," says Ottawa coach Jacques
Martin shares in the excitement, and he's expecting it to be more
than a short-term high. Across the NHL, coaches, scouts and
players agree that Havlat, a 19-year-old Czech who finished the
regular season with 42 points in 73 games, has the most promising
future among the players in this season's strong rookie class.
That group also includes Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, 25, whose
2.19 goals-against average was sixth in the league and who should
win the Calder Trophy; Lightning center Brad Richards, 20, who
put up rookie-best totals of 21 goals and 40 assists; and left
wing Marian Gaborik, 18, last year's No. 3 draft pick who led the
expansion Wild with 36 points.
Havlat, whom the Senators plucked with the 26th choice in the
1999 draft, has been less heralded than those other three
rookies, yet his integration into an excellent, system-oriented
team bodes well. Ottawa's depth at forward limited Havlat's ice
time (he averaged three minutes less per game, 13:47, than
Richards did for awful Tampa Bay) and afforded him minimal
opportunity on the power play. "Richards had a fine year, but
you're still evaluating how he'd fit in on a good team," says
Flyers coach Bill Barber. "Havlat has been effective in a good
The effectiveness goes beyond his eye-catching skills and can be
measured by sequences such as one that unfolded in a March 1 game
against San Jose. After batting down the puck at the blue line,
Havlat took it into the left wing corner and began working a
cycle with linemates Mike Fisher and Rob Zamuner. The lithe
Havlat (6'1", 178 pounds) absorbed several heavy checks as he
corralled the puck behind the Sharks' net. Then he moved toward
the crease and, with 6'2", 215-pound defenseman Brad Stuart
draped over him, shoveled a one-armed pass to Fisher, who scored
from the edge of the crease. "There are more battles in the NHL,"
says Havlat, who played the last four seasons in junior and pro
leagues in the Czech Republic. "I like it."
Havlat's origins have won him comparisons with Penguins
superstar Jaromir Jagr, yet the edge in Havlat's game--"When the
kid gets pissed he just goes harder," says Zamuner--is
reminiscent of Ottawa's All-Star right wing Marian Hossa, 22.
"We thought he could be as good as Hossa," says Canadiens
general manager Andre Savard, who was Ottawa's chief scout in
1999. That's an eventuality the Senators would welcome.
Kings' Surprise Turnaround
Playoff-bound And Hungry
Last Thursday the Kings, still sweaty from a 3-2 overtime loss to
the Canucks, sat staring at a TV in the visitors' locker room in
Vancouver. They watched the Sharks close out the Coyotes 3-0, an
outcome that secured an improbable playoff berth for Los Angeles.
There wasn't much whooping, though, and bubbly wasn't sprayed.
"We were saving the champagne for later," says goalie Felix
Potvin. "We think we can win in the playoffs."
Never mind that the Kings, who are seeded seventh in the West,
are a prohibitive underdog against the Red Wings in the first
round, which was to begin on Wednesday; they're accustomed to
small miracles. On Feb. 23 L.A.'s postseason hopes seemed dead,
and not only because it was seven points out of a playoff spot
with 21 games left. The Kings had just traded their best player
(defenseman Rob Blake) and lost five of six games. What's more,
in his debut with Los Angeles, Potvin had looked as inept in a
5-0 loss to the Oilers as he had while going 14-17-3 with an .887
save percentage in starting the season with Vancouver. "We had a
team meeting and talked about how time was running out," says
defenseman Mattias Norstrom. "Then it was as if we had 25 guys
who decided to make the playoffs."
One was Potvin, whom general manager Dave Taylor had acquired for
future considerations in hopes that "he'd give us a jolt." A
butterfly goalie who plays deep in the net, Potvin was six years
removed from his last winning season but was an improvement over
L.A.'s inconsistent Jamie Storr.
In his second start he shut out the Flames 2-0 to send his new
team on a five-game unbeaten streak. Soon after he ignited a
six-game unbeaten run that included a 4-1 win over the Sharks,
who outshot the Kings 40-20. With that, Potvin established
himself as a goalie his teammates believed in, and they rallied
around him to play conscientious defense down the stretch. Los
Angeles went 13-2-5-2 to finish the regular season, leaning
heavily on Potvin (.918 save percentage and five shutouts).
"We're ready for the first round," said Norstrom last Friday.
"We've been in playoff mode for five weeks."
Islanders' Coaching Search
Who Would Want This Job?
General manager Mike Milbury has interviewed five candidates to
be New York's next coach. Whomever he settles on--the bet here is
former Penguins and Sharks coach Kevin Constantine, 42, a superb
tactician who would be an excellent hire--will have some serious
thinking to do before accepting the job.
On the plus side, the Islanders, who finished last in the NHL for
the second straight season, have promising young talent on their
roster and in their system. They'll also select no worse than
second in June's draft and have wealthy new owners (Sanjay Kumar
and Charles Wang) who say they'll spend freely on free agents.
The flip side is that the new coach will work in sparsely
populated Nassau Coliseum and for the impetuous Milbury, who is
making his sixth coaching change in five years and has traded
some of the Islanders' best assets without sticking to a cohesive
rebuilding plan. Outgoing interim coach Lorne Henning has this
advice for whoever is offered his post: "Tell him to take the
job, we have a great foundation."
Easy for him to say.
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis
from Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Some observers compare Havlat, who was drafted 26th in 1999, to a young Jagr.
COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: J. LEARY/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
WHO DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE COACH OF THE YEAR?
Though stars Jason Arnott and Scott Niedermayer missed time
because of contract disputes, Robinson kept the defending champs
on top. New Jersey went into the playoffs on a 19-2-0-0 run and
with an Eastern Conference-best 111 points.
Philadelphia was 12-12-4-0 when he succeeded Craig Ramsay on Dec.
10. Since then the Flyers have adopted his snarling persona and
gone 31-13-7-3, despite injuries to several key forwards and
relying heavily on a first-year goaltender.
The Verdict: Barber has done more with less, so he's our choice.