Late in the afternoon on February 26 – moments before the NHL’s Trade Deadline, the Predators acquired Jan Hlavac from the Tampa Bay Lightning. What turned out to be one of the last transactions made across the league at this year’s Deadline has paid off nicely for the Preds.
Hlavac made an immediate impression on his new teammates, flying up to Buffalo to join his new team on the start of their key six game road trip. He missed the morning skate due to early morning travel plans and started the game on the team’s fourth line, but quickly earned the coaching staff’s trust with solid first period shifts and finished the game playing the wing with David Legwand
and Martin Erat
. Oh yeah, he scored a goal in his Preds debut, as well.
“We acquired him from Tampa for depth down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Predators President of Hockey Operations and General Manager David Poile said. “Based on a combination of some injuries and his own play, I believe he’s played a lot higher than we expected. That’s a good thing.”
In the two games directly preceding Deadline Day, Nashville had lost key energy forwards to injury in Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer. Feeling the depth chart was getting a little thin at the NHL level, the Predators made sure to acquire some healthy bodies before the deadline passed.
Hlavac continued his dangerous play throughout that first road trip, notching a pair of assists in an important win at Edmonton in his third game with the team. But stats – he has three goals and 13 points with the Preds – don’t tell the whole story of what he’s contributed to the team.
“He’s a solid two-way hockey player,” Poile assessed. “He fits into what I’d call a smart veteran player that knows how to play the game either when we’re behind or ahead. He seems to be very versatile in that he can play in an offensive situation when given the opportunity and certainly can check when the time is necessary. He’s played on the power-play and he’s killed penalties.”
That flexibility became invaluable when David Legwand
went down with a foot injury. Hlavac gave the coaches the ability to slide around line combinations. He and Martin Erat
formed an instant connection. And then when he was moved on the wing with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, neither he, nor the other two missed a beat. And in four-on-four situations, Hlavac and Rich Peverley have been a dangerous duo up front. In fact, they combined on arguably the team’s most important goal of the regular season, the overtime winner at St. Louis on April 1 to cap that improbable four-goal come-back and keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.
Hlavac is no stranger to the playoffs. Last season he won a title in the Czech League with Sparta Praha, scoring eight goals in the 16 post-season contests. He’s also been a part of two Gold Medal winning teams with the Czech Republic at the World Championships, claiming the title in the 1999 and 2005 tournaments.
That post-season pedigree has come in useful during this year’s playoffs. Through the first four games of the series, Hlavac has two assists and nine shots on goal, while averaging 19:10 of ice time. The coaches have slid him around the lineup this series and he’s produced in each slot.
“I would say that he’s been one of our best players since the day that we got him,” Poile assessed. “He’s been as consistent as any forward that we have on both ends of the ice. The coaches feel confident to have him out on the ice at any time of the game. The fact that he has contributed offensively is almost a bonus, because that is not his strong suit. Throughout his career, he has probably been thought of a little more as a defensive player than an offensive player.”
An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Hlavac’s play may end up earning this depth pickup an extended stay in Nashville.
“I feel he’s a Predators type of player. We have a lot of guys who are hard-working players. And on some teams that type of player doesn’t get a chance to play as big of a role as often times we’re able to give him with the Predators. I think it’s just been a real good fit for Jan and for us,” Poile said. “When we sit down at the end of the year, I’d like to have a conversation with him before he leaves to get his thoughts certainly on next season.”