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Developing The Skills To Put It All Together

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Dave Joseph for

Lw Rostislav Olesz
While the Panthers skated one morning recently at IncredibleIce, a bystander sipping a cup of coffee expressed surprise at the age of Rostislav Olesz.

As the 21-year-old skated through the neutral zone, the bystander remarked, “I keep forgetting how young he really is.”

To which Olesz later replied with a weary smile, “Me, too.”

As he enters his third season with the Panthers, Olesz has not only matured off the ice, but “he’s established himself as someone who can play at the NHL level,” according to GM and coach Jacques Martin.

But after spending his first two seasons being known primarily as a responsible, defensive forward, Olesz will attempt to use his speed and skill to become more of an offensive threat when the 2007-08 season begins Oct. 4 at Madison Square Garden.

“My goal is to be better than last year because sometimes I had trouble scoring goals,” Olesz said.

It’s true. While Olesz solidified himself last season as a strong defensive forward, the bookends to his season read as follows: He scored one goal in his first 21 games and one goal in his last 28.

“I’ve got to try and be better everywhere,” said the 6-1, 205-pound winger.

The Panthers’ first-round draft pick (7th overall) in 2004, Olesz spent the 2004-05 season in the Czech Republic before arriving in South Florida in 2005-06. In 59 games his rookie season, Olesz had 21 points (eight goals). While he added to his point total last season with 30 points, Olesz has always hinted at better things.

In an effort to bring more out of him, Martin sent Olesz to Rochester last November for a four-game stint. When Olesz arrived back with the Panthers, he showed his potential and his offensive abilities by scoring nine goals in his next 17 games.

When asked if the trip to upstate New York was a defining moment in his season, Olesz replied “Yes, because I didn’t like (playing in) Rochester.”

“Rochester was good for me and there were good people there, but I want to stay here all of this year,” Olesz said. “You know, Rochester was good because it showed me another way. After I came back I played different because something changed in my head.”

Martin believes part of that change was “maturing…understanding.”

“Sometimes we forget that it takes a while for people to get comfortable, to start understanding what we need from them,” he added. “I think he’s one of the younger players we really believe in. He’s very responsible, definitely. The one area we’re looking more from him in is production.

“I know I saw him play last year at the World Championships for the Czech team and he played the power play and did a real good job. He’s probably one of the individuals who will get some ice time on the power play this year, especially in the absence of (Gary) Roberts and (Martin) Gelinas.”

Martin believes there’s no question about Olesz’s offensive upside.

“Rostislav has the skills,” he added. “He has a great shot. He has the whole package. I think we have to try and get him to concentrate a little more on the offense.”

Olesz would be happy to oblige Martin.

“I’m looking for this year,” he said. “From what I see, we have good defense, pretty good forwards, and I believe we can make the playoffs. And I hope to play better.”

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