Ottawa wing Martin Havlat, 19, is the rookie with the biggest upside
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.
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 lineup."
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 defense-man 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.