(HockeyStL) -- One of the most overlooked transactions by the Blues in recent years is the acquisition of forward Vladimir Sobotka.
In 2010, the Blues traded defenseman David Warsofsky to the Boston Bruins to bring Sobotka to St. Louis. Warsofsky has spent little time in the National Hockey League, whereas Sobotka has become an everyday player for the Blues, and has become one of head coach Ken Hitchcock’s best forwards.
Sobotka, 25, has never consistently been more than a fourth line player. He averages just over 13 minutes of ice time per game, yet Hitchcock has called him the Blues’ best forward so far this season.
Sobotka has received recognition for his game before. In 2007, he was voted the Czech Republic’s second star at the World Junior Championships despite only scoring two goals in the tournament. He has never scored more than once in a single game, but it’s his other attributes that stand out to coaches.
Sobotka’s most impressive attribute according to Hitchcock, is his competitiveness. Despite only being 5’10” and weighing only 183-pounds, Sobotka is one of the Blues’ hardest-hitting forwards, and is always found harassing opponents with his tenacity.
“He’s such a responsible player; wherever he goes, he adds to that line," said Hitchcock. “He’s such a dependable player. He is so darn competitive, and has such a high level of intelligence on the ice. He gives a boost to everybody.”
Hitchcock announced after Wednesday’s practice that Sobotka is being promoted to a line with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. Sobotka has three points on the young season, including a game-winning goal in overtime. Offense is not one of his strengths, but Hitchcock likes how versatile Sobotka can be and how open he is to doing whatever is needed of him.
“On Thursday he will be playing with (Patrik Berglund) and he will add to that line,” said Hitchcock. “If he goes down and plays with (Jamie) Langenbrunner and (Ryan) Reaves, he adds to that line. It doesn’t matter where you play him.”
“I don’t mind moving anywhere the coaches tell me,” Sobotka said. “(Hitchcock and I) sometimes talk about what kind of role he wants me to play in and what he needs from me. I wish there could be more goals, but I’ll take any role. We have four lines that can play. I say there is no difference between the first and last line. We have four lines that are able to score.”
Every player wants a promotion, so Sobotka is undoubtedly excited to slide up in the lineup, but he has to be careful not to adjust his game too much.
“I’m not going to change my game,” said Sobotka. “I’m going to play hard, get the puck deep and chase after it.”
The promotion comes after only six games, but Sobotka had been fine-tuning his game while playing with Slavia Praha of the Czech league during the four-month long lockout. There, he was depended upon for more than just checking and puck-chasing. His statistics during the lockout boasted more offensive production than what the Blues are used to seeing. Granted that it is not on the same level as the NHL, Sobotka was able to tally 10 goals and 15 assists in 27 games with Slavia Praha during the lockout. He says the experience gave him some much-needed confidence.
“I played for my old team in the Czech Republic, and it definitely gave my game more confidence. When I came here I couldn’t play the same way. I had to hit more, and skate harder. There I spent a lot of time on the power play, here I don’t. It’s a little bit different.”
The difference is easy to distinguish. In the NHL, Sobotka is not a scorer, and that is OK because the Blues don’t expect him to be. Sobotka’s speed will wear down the opposition, and his puck control is as strong and consistent as anyone’s. This makes the Trebic, Czech Republic native a player to watch as the season goes on. He will never supply more than an average amount of scoring, but he is a perfect fit for the Blues, who thrive with a balanced forward group.
His first test will be on Thursday playing alongside Berglund and Stewart. It’s an opportunity for a typically unnoticed player to further prove his worth.
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