Work in Sports
SOUTHEAST DIVISION |
5 Atlanta Thrashers
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 29
By Tim Crothers
Precocious 20-year-old center Patrik Stefan remembers when he was a wide-eyed 10-year-old Czech lad and he first saw Jaromir Jagr play for the national team in Stefan's hometown of Príbram. After that magical day two of Stefan's most prized possessions were a hockey stick and a helmet, both autographed by Jagr. A decade later Stefan still admires Jagr, but from a different perspective. For four months during the off-season, Stefan returned to the Czech Republic and played in a charity event organized by Jagr. "I would sit beside him on the bench and think, Wow, 10 years have passed so fast. I can't afford to waste any time becoming the best player I can be."
Similar to a young Jagr in size (6'3", 205 pounds), speed and puckhandling ability, Stefan diligently studied the world's best player, both his moves on the ice and his training habits off it. Since the end of last season the top pick in the 1999 draft cut his body fat from 11% to 6.5% and committed himself to becoming a more aggressive scorer. As a rookie last season Stefan launched just 117 shots in 72 games and had five goals and 20 assists. "I am a playmaker first," says Stefan, who missed this season's opening game with a groin injury. "It has taken me a year to figure out that if you don't shoot, it's hard to score."
Coach Curt Fraser plans to boost Stefan's productivity by giving him more ice time, especially on the power play. "We shouldn't expect a miracle this year because guys don't become 100-point scorers overnight, but I believe he could double his numbers," Fraser says. "He's got extraordinary tools; he only needs to learn how to use them."
Atlanta's first season was typical for an expansion team, including the league's fewest goals scored, most goals allowed and worst record (14-61-7-4). "It's tough sometimes because everybody wants to win yesterday, but I'm looking ahead to a brighter future," Fraser says. "We're using the Atlanta Braves' model of patiently building from within so that hopefully when we get good, we'll stay good for 10 years."
Stefan and the Thrashers are still in their NHL honeymoon stage, but the dreams of youth are beginning to be tempered by the harsh reality of expansion. "Growing up in my country, every kid wanted to be like Jagr," Stefan says. "I have made it to the same league, but playing with him helped me realize that I still have a very, very long way to go."
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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