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X-Factor: Sobotka's versatility instrumental to Blues

by Dan Rosen

Vladimir Sobotka isn't even the most-heralded Vladimir on the St. Louis Blues. But he is the most important.

Sobotka trails behind the still-injured Vladimir Tarasenko in notoriety, but he's as vital to the Blues' chances of winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup as any other forward on the roster because of the role he plays and how coach Ken Hitchcock uses him.

"He absolutely despises losing, and that to me is No. 1 when you look at the character of Vladimir Sobotka," Blues television analyst Darren Pang told "There is no player more grumpy after a bad play, bad loss or a bad effort than Sobotka. He absolutely carries everybody into the fight with him."

Sobotka would likely be the Blues' second-line center behind David Backes if everyone is healthy, but he can play on either wing too, especially if Hitchcock wants to use Patrik Berglund and Derek Roy in the middle. Sobotka was one of six regulars who did not play in the final game of the regular season, but is one that could be ready for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

If the Blues need to win an important faceoff, Sobotka can do it, particularly if it is on his strong side in the defensive zone. He was better than 60 percent in more than 800 faceoffs this season.

"Sobotka doesn't surprise anybody anymore," Pang said. "He's been at the top of the League all season. He's been over 70 percent in a lot of games. That's not a surprise by any stretch."

Sobotka is an important part of the Blues' dangerous power play and their top-five penalty kill, playing nearly two minutes per game on the PK and 1:36 per contest on the power play. He won almost 60 percent of the faceoffs he took when shorthanded.

He follows a mixed martial arts training regimen in the offseason, so he's remarkably strong even though he's only 5-foot-10, 197 pounds. When Sobotka lays a hit, which he does often, the player he nails remembers it. He feels it for the rest of the game.

"He's really a powerful guy, way more powerful than people realize," Hitchcock told earlier in the season. "He trains with those MMA people and the training that that sport does is all about explosiveness and power, stuff like that. He's really a physical guy."

Pang said Sobotka has the "perfect hockey body."

"I think pound for pound you'd be hard-pressed to find a stronger, tougher player in the entire League," Pang said. "He's got a lower center of gravity, stocky legs, a strong lower body. I've often said on the air that he weebles and he wobbles but he won't fall down. He doesn't embellish. He's very honorable."

Beyond his off-the-score sheet attributes, Sobotka is coming off the best regular season of his career. He posted career highs in points, plus-minus, and penalty minutes. He topped 100 shots on goal for the second time in his career.

The Blues win by checking and maintaining control the puck. Sobotka contributes in those areas with his strength, speed and prowess in the faceoff circle. St. Louis needs him as much as they need players like Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen.

"I think his calmness with the puck is really unheralded," Pang said. "He's very patient. He doesn't panic. You do see that panic from guys who aren't known as offensive players."


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