SUNRISE, Fla. --
There was never much doubt about Tomas Fleischmann
's hockey skills. His nickname of "Flash" might have come about because of his last name, but it also applies whenever he shows off some of his deft stickhandling and playmaking ability.
Now, the only question with Fleischmann when he became a free agent this past summer was whether he'd be healthy enough to play after he was sidelined by blood-clotting issues in each of the past two seasons.
Yet, the Florida Panthers
were confident enough that they signed him to a four-year, $18-million contract July 1. The move, questioned by some analysts, clearly has been a positive for a team poised to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
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Fleischmann, announced Monday as the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy, ranks first on the Southest Division-leading Panthers with 52 points and he's tied for first with Kris Versteeg
in goals with 22.
"I've had one conversation with him about (Fleischmann's medical condition) and it was at training camp and he was very matter-of-fact and comfortable with talking about it and did not foresee it as being an issue moving forward," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen
said. "There was a little bit of a leap of faith by Dale (Tallon) to show the commitment that he did, but obviously it's been well worth it."
Fleischmann returned this season after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism last January, a condition that caused him to miss Colorado's final 36 games.
Before he was sidelined, Fleischmann had recorded 21 points in 22 games for the Avalanche, which had acquired him a trade from Washington in late November.
Fleischmann missed the first 10 games of the previous season (2009-10) after he developed a blood clot in his leg during a flight home to the Czech Republic the previous summer.
"When I was with him in Washington and he wasn't playing, those are serious problems," said 2010 Masterson Trophy winner Jose Theodore
, who played with Fleischmann with the Capitals. "As players, we were wondering whether he'd be able to solve those. When you're talking about health issues and you're dealing with the blood and things like that, you think about his health first. I was starting to think it was taking a long time.
"After I read he went to Denver and was still having problems, you start thinking that maybe hockey is secondary and he should think about his health. To see, knock on wood, that he's healthy and he's able to perform the way he is, it's a great sign of determination."
Fleischmann said doctors told him after he had the blood clot in his leg that he might not be able to play hockey again, but tests later determined he was good to go as long as he took blood thinners.
The speedy forward said the problem last January occurred after he stopped taking the medication "because the blood looked perfect."
Now, Fleischmann is back to taking blood thinners and he also wears compression pants whenever he's on a plane.
Left Wing - FLA
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 52
SOG: 189 | +/-: -7
"I knew there was no problem, that I should be playing hockey," Fleischmann said after the Panthers' practice Monday. "I was just hoping that someone would trust doctors and me. Florida did, that's why I appreciate it."
With an assist in Saturday night's 3-2 shootout victory against Buffalo, Fleischmann surpassed his career high of 51 points, set in 2009-10 when he had 23 goals and 28 assists for the Capitals.
He's been one of the most consistent offensive performers on a revamped Florida team that appears headed for its playoff appearance since 2000.
"We went through a streak where we weren't having success on the ice, but he just kept sticking out on the ice," Dineen said. "Whenever he was on the ice, he was our one guy that was still a real legitimate offensive threat. He's done a good job on that front."
Fleischmann also has been a welcome addition off the ice.
He's pretty reserved when talking to reporters, but his teammates portray him as quite the comedian.
"He's awesome," said center Shawn Matthias
. "He's very likable, he's funny, I think he's from a different planet almost. He's pretty quirky. He's full of energy. He's a great teammate, he works really hard. He's in the weight room every day. He's just a hard-working guy and he deserves whatever he gets."
Said Theodore: "It's fun to see him healthy and playing. Everybody can see he's a good player. I saw him in Washington, but now that the other players, the fans and the media, everybody can see the talent this player has."