When we first made our preliminary selections for the Czech Republic roster for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the New Jersey Devils
' Patrik Elias
was something of a question mark.
Not on talent, certainly, but on health. Elias had missed training camp and the first 13 games of the season following groin surgery, so there were doubts about his availability and effectiveness for Vancouver.
But Elias has answered those questions with his play. He scored his 300th career regular-season goal Saturday in a win against Philadelphia and has been one of New Jersey's most effective forwards, with 6 goals and 9 assists in 17 games.
"It's obviously a nice little mark and a little achievement," Elias said of becoming second only to John MacLean
(347) in goals scored by a Devil. "To do it with just one organization, that's even more special."
If selected for the 2010 Games, it would be the third Olympic tournament for Elias. He appeared in four games in 2002, scoring a goal and an assist. In 2006, he played in only one game.
As for the remainder of the Czech roster, Martin Erat
moves ahead of Ales Kotalik
and Ladislav Smid
has overtaken Roman Polak
on the defense.
Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers --
Vokoun is a solid pro who stepped up for the Czechs when Dominik Hasek
was unable to play in Turin in 2006. He appeared in seven games there, going 3-4 with a 2.46 goals-against average. In 25 games with Florida, he is 7-10-7 with a 2.67 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Ondrej Pavelec, Atlanta Thrashers --
A big presence in net at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Pavelec is seeing sustained NHL action for the first time, appearing in 20 games and posting an 8-8-3 record with a 3.09 GAA and .913 save percentage.
Marek Schwarz, Mlada Boleslav (Czech Extraliga) --
Selected with the 17th pick of the 2004 Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues
, Schwarz didn't find North American hockey to be his cup of tea. To be honest, had Hasek not gotten injured, he would have earned the nod here based on his ability to come in and steal a game.
Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs --
Having the playmaking skills of Kaberle will be a boon to the Czechs. Kaberle has been one of the most dominating offensive defensemen in the NHL this season. He can man the point on the power play and log lots of ice time, which he figures to do plenty of in Vancouver. In 32 games with the Leafs, Kaberle has 2 goals and 29 assists.
Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota Wild --
Another solid playmaker from the blue line, Zidlicky also is NHL-tested. He has had seasons of 39, 37, 26, 38 and 30 assists and plays more than 20 minutes per game. In 21 games with the Wild, he has 2 goals and 15 assists.
Pavel Kubina, Atlanta Thrashers --
Kubina is a moose, standing 6-4 and 250 pounds, so he will be tasked with showing opponents the way out of the Czech zone. He also is a capable point producer, with five seasons of double-digit goals on his resume. He is a solid plus-13 with the Thrashers and has 3 goals and 11 assists in 29 games.
Roman Hamrlik, Montreal Canadiens --
Not the point producer he was as a youngster in 1995-96 with Tampa Bay (16 goals, 49 assists), Hamrlik has matured into a very capable, very reliable presence on the back line who still logs a mountain of minutes. He has 5 goals and 9 assists in 32 games this season.
Jaroslav Spacek, Montreal Canadiens --
Like Hamrlik, Spacek seems to have been around for ages and excelled at various tasks -- be it point man, playmaker and all-round defender. He has 3 goals and 8 assists in 31 games this season.
Zbynek Michalek, Phoenix Coyotes --
At 26, Michalek is one of the younger players the Czechs need to integrate on defense. He has past experience in the World Championships, but 2010 would be his first taste of Olympic competition. He is in his fifth NHL season.
Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators --
Injuries limited Kuba's start with the Sens this season, but he has bounced back nicely. In 23 games, he has 2 goals and 11 assists.
Ladislav Smid, Edmonton Oilers --
Smid has been very good for the Oilers this season, and replaced the Blues' Polak from the original list. Smid has 1 goal and 8 assists in 30 games and is plus-13.
Jan Hejda, Columbus Blue Jackets --
The Blue Jackets experienced life without Hejda earlier this season, due to an injury, and didn't like it. Unheralded and underrated, Hejda, 31, has been excellent for coach Ken Hitchcock the past two seasons and should add a third season to that resume now that he is healthy again.
Jaromir Jagr, Omsk Avangard (KHL) --
Jagr hasn't lost the scoring touch that saw him score 646 goals and 953 assists in 1,273 NHL games when he arrived in Russia. Once again, Jagr will be the offensive linchpin for the Czechs.
Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils --
Now recovered from offseason groin surgery, Elias has re-established his game in New Jersey, primarily working on a line with Brian Rolston
and Jamie Langenbrunner
"It seems like when Patrik came back, that's when I started scoring more," Rolston said. "That's probably it."
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens --
Plekanec is coming off three straight seasons of 20 or more goals for the Canadiens, netting 20 in 2006-07, 29 in 2007-08 and 20 in 2008-09. He has been more of a playmaker for Montreal this season, with 6 goals and 26 assists in 33 games.
Vinny Prospal, N.Y. Rangers --
Prospal has done well after being reunited with coach John Tortorella in New York. He has earned praise from the tough-to-please coach with his offensive production (6 goals, 21 assists) and playing a representative game in the defensive zone. Prospal scored 4 goals in Turin four years ago and would appear to be a lock to be in Vancouver.
Michael Frolik, Florida Panthers --
The 10th selection of the 2006 Entry Draft, Frolik is just 21, so he is a building block. A solid producer in junior, he also enjoyed a very solid rookie season in 2008-09 with 21 goals and 24 assists in 79 games.
Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche --
A veteran of three Olympics, including the gold-medal winter of 1998, Hejduk, 33, is now a graybeard on the NHL and international scene. But he remains a productive presence with nearly 700 points in his NHL career.
Tomas Fleischmann, Washington Capitals --
Injuries slowed Fleischmann at the start of the season, but he has been gaining steam since returning to the lineup -- especially with the absence of Alex Ovechkin
. He has 11 goals and 8 assists in 22 games this season.
David Krejci, Boston Bruins --
Only 23, Krejci had a terrific sophomore NHL season in 2008-09, scoring 22 goals and 51 assists for the Bruins after a rookie season that saw him total 6 goals and 21 assists. Krejci struggled early in 2009-10, but part of that slow start can be attributed to a bout with the flu in early November.
Martin Erat, Nashville Predators --
In 29 games, Erat has 10 goals and 8 assists and has worked his onto this roster with his play. Look for Erat to make his second Czech Olympic team.
Jiri Hudler, Moscow Dynamo (KHL) --
Hudler bolted the Red Wings after last season for the Russian KHL, where he is a point-per-game player. With Detroit last season, Hudler had 23 goals and 34 assists in 82 games, and 4 goals and 8 assists in 23 playoff games.
Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators --
The No. 6 pick of the 2003 Entry Draft, Michalek, 24, is another foundation player for the Czech's future. He notched three straight seasons of 20 or more goals with San Jose before being dealt to Ottawa in the Dany Heatley
trade prior to the 2009-10 season.
Martin Straka, Plzen HC (Czech Extraliga) --
A veteran of nearly 1,000 NHL games, Straka in all likelihood still could be playing in North America, but he opted to head home after the 2007-08 season. Last season, he had 22 goals and 30 assists for Plzen HC and this season has 7 goals and 12 assists in 18 games.
Jakub Voracek, Columbus Blue Jackets --
Only 20, Voracek -- selected No. 7 in the 2007 draft -- may be a spare part in Vancouver, but that isn't a bad thing for the youngster. He did not look out of place in the NHL during his rookie season, scoring 9 goals and 29 assists while going plus-11. He has been even more productive in 2009-10.
Phil Coffey, NHL.com's Senior Editorial Director, has covered the past two Olympics and has been around the NHL long enough to have covered Jaromir Jagr's rookie season.