Jaroslav Hlinka, brought over from the Czech Republic by Milan Hedjuk this summer, is turning out to be the find of the century. And in the very least, the press department. James Mirtle and Paul Kukla both point to a Denver Post article about him, and the vast majority of Avalanche fans who have asked me anything about the team have been curious about him. Aside from winning the Czech scoring title, he is a hell of a deal at $600,000 on a two way contract (can be moved down for less money to Cleveland Lake Erie if needed). So, how did he get here? From the Denver Post:
Jaroslav Hlinka kept waiting for someone connected to an NHL team to ask him if he wanted to try the North American pro game. He wasn’t claimed when he was draft-eligible. He played parts of 10 seasons in the Czech pro league, parts of three seasons in Switzerland, one year in Russia and has appeared in six World Championship tournaments with the Czech Republic’s national team.
And still, he waited.
See, maybe it’s just me, but with all the emphasis put on the North American player, and the ease at which they are scouted, it’s way too easy to overlook gems like this. I may be putting the horse before the cart (wait, isn’t that how it works?), since Hlinka hasn’t really proven himself in the regular NHL season, but in the ‘insignificant’ pre-sesason, he has 6 assists, which leads the Avalanche. Points wise, he is showing up on the top 20 leader board (along with three other Avalanche), so given the impact he is having, and the impact the pre-season is having on the regular season (can you say head injury, boys and girls? I knew you could), it’s likely he will either be on the opening night roster, or will be one of the first call-ups from the Monsters.
And frankly, how would you treat the Czech scoring leader? If you have an undrafted thirty year old player with ability on the cheap, are you going to send him down to the AHL, just to see him get fed up with the minor league lifestyle, and head back home? Or worse, take a contract with another team and light up your red light? These are some of the factors that have to be weighting on Coach Q and Francois Giguere right now, as they are making the final cuts to the Avs roster. There are no easy answers right now, but given his displayed ability and his low cost, Hlinka is making the decision easier / harder on the Avs. Again, from the Denver Post:
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.”
Just one sport. Wow. I’m sure there are some parts of that sentence getting lost in translation, but what a bad-a$$ statement. And what did it take to get Hlinka to the Avalanche?
The Avs scouted Hlinka at the world championships, and also asked Colorado winger Milan Hejduk about him.
“I told them he was a great player, a great playmaker,” Hejduk said. “We played against each other in juniors. We played together a couple of times on the national team. He was always a really good player, so it’s kind of amazing that he wasn’t drafted. Sometimes, I guess, guys can be kind of hidden.”
Thank goodness the Avs found him.
Jaroslav Hlinka, No. 17
Height: 5-feet-10. Weight: 185 pounds.
Born: 1976, in Prague, Czech Republic.
Background: Hlinka has spent his entire career playing primarily in the Czech Republic league, in addition to stops in the Swiss and Russian leagues. He was a member of Czech Republic’s world championship teams in 2006 and 2007 and compiled six points in nine games and seven points in seven games, respectively.