Thursday, September 27, 2007

Can Hlinka make an impact?

Of all the many stories coming out of NHL training camps, Jaroslav Hlinka's is the most compelling so far.

A 30-year-old European veteran who came over on a bargain of a deal, one year after winning the Czech league scoring title, and now it looks like he's secured a spot with the Colorado Avalanche — a team everyone's predicting will make a giant leap forward this season:
It can be tricky, so it all seems to indicate Hlinka and rookie center T.J. Hensick likely will be on the active roster for opening night. Hlinka's six assists lead the team in the preseason, and he and Hensick are the only Avs to play in all five games so far. Hlinka said of the transition: "Of course, this is faster. There is more contact. But hockey is just one sport."

Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said Hlinka "has had a great camp. ... His poise and patience with the puck, his play selection, are all high end. Being around top players who have a lot of skill, he plays right into that, feeds off of that."
Of course, making the team and making an impact are two completely different things. The Avalanche's roster is full of scoring types, and unless Hlinka catches on the second line with Milan Hejduk, he could be looking at trying to put up points in a third-line role — no easy task for any NHL rookie.

But can he take the spot of a Wojtek Wolski or Marek Svatos? And where does Hensick fit in now that he, too, looks like he's on board?

Preseason's not even over and Hlinka's battle's just begun.

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