Martin Skoula has played more games in the NHL than any defenseman his age.
Skoula, who hails from Litomerice, Czech Republic, the same hometown as Panthers forward Kamil Kreps, missed only only four games the past three seasons with the Minnesota Wild, and has missed only 11 games since 2003.
In all, the 6-3 veteran has played 724 NHL games.
But Skoula, 29, finds himself having to prove himself all over again this fall as he tries to win a job with the Panthers after accepting an invitation to training camp. And Skoula is in for a battle. Once thought to be a thin blue line, the Panthers defense now features a formidable starting six with Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen, Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold, Ville Koistinen and Dennis Seidenberg, who agreed to terms Monday with the Panthers.
Waiting in the wings with Skoula? Rookies Jason Garrison
, Dmitry Kulikov
and Keaton Ellerby
as well as former Blue Christian Backman, also invited to camp on a tryout.
“This was my best option,” said Skoula, 29, recently from the Czech Republic. “I don’t have a contract and I want to go to camp. It’s not easy to jump in and play good if you don’t go to camp. So this is my best option. My goal is that management will see me play, I’ll go through some games (during preseason), they’ll see what I can do and see if a spot is open.”
Skoula, a first-round draft pick (17th overall) of the Avalanche in 1998, spent 4 seasons in Colorado, winning a Stanley Cup there in 2000-01. After stops in Anaheim and Dallas, Skoula played the past 3 seasons in Minnesota. But with the Wild going through a facelift in the offseason – hiring Chuck Fletcher as their GM and Todd Richards as coach – Skoula was forced to go in another direction.
“There were some changes in Minnesota, they brought in new people, a new coach, and I had a feeling they were going to change some things,” Skoula said. “I don’t know much about Florida – I’ve probably played them only three or four times in my career because I’ve been in the west – but I’m excited about going to their camp. I look at it as a new start. It’s nice to change things some times.”
Despite having what appears to be several options on the blue line, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said there are jobs to win in camp on the blue line. When asked specifically about Skoula and Backman being invited to camp, DeBoer said; “We wouldn’t have invited them if we didn’t feel they could push for a job here, and I don’t think they would have accepted the invitations knowing their backgrounds.”
“They’re both legitimate NHL defensemen,” he added. “They’ve both played top four defense at different times on different teams in their careers. They’re both still relatively young guys. I don’t think they would have come unless they saw an opportunity here. From a coaching perspective, the more competition we have the better.”
And now theres’s plenty of competition. TONIGHT’S LINEUP AGAINST THE SENATORSFORWARDS
11 - Gregory Campbell
21 - Graham Mink
22 - Jeff Taffe
27 - Steven Reinprecht
37 - Jamie Johnson
49 - Andrew Sweetland
59 - AJ Jenks
61 - Cory Stillman
64 - Adam Keefe
67 - Michael Frolik
68 - Mike Duco
85 - Rostislav OleszDEFENSEMEN
3 - Clay Wilson
15 - Christian Backman
24 - Bryan McCabe
43 - Dmitry Kulikov
44 - Jordan Leopold
52 - Jason GarrisonGOALTENDERS
29 - Tomas Vokoun
35 - Tyler Plante