SAINT PAUL, Minn.
-- Martin Havlat sure makes a good first impression.
Polite and engaging, dressed in jeans and white sneakers, Havlat met with the Twin Cities media Friday afternoon in his new home away from home: the Wild locker room at Xcel Energy Center. Only two days ago, Havlat, 28, who was drafted No. 26 overall at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, expressed interest almost immediately in playing for the Wild, and, on Friday, took his first opportunity to don the home red jersey he'll wear in earnest this coming season.
His first thoughts after walking through the double-doors? How did he look in that Wild jersey? Certainly, Havlat seemed to enjoy the proceedings from the very start.
On Friday, he spent 45 minutes with the media, first in front of a stall surrounded by a throng of cameras and reporters, followed by the dutiful and friendly attending to of one-on-one interviews for radio, TV, print and, in the case of Wild.com, Wild TV. (Click here
to check out Kevin Falness' Wild TV interview with Havlat, which is also available in PONDcast form here
The 6-foot-2, 217-pounder flew in from Los Angeles Thursday night, touching down in Minnesota for less than 24 hours before heading to the Czech Republic. By Friday evening, he will have jumped back on an airplane at MSP, bound for Amsterdam, then to Prague, a city about which he speaks very fondly ("You should go," he offered with a smile) and is about two hours from where his parents live.
Havlat will enjoy the next few weeks in Europe, then return to North America about a month or so in advance of Training Camp 2009. He hasn't yet begun the on-ice training portion of his summer, but will kick it into gear in Montreal at that time. When he does return to the Twin Cities, fans will see the sturdy but nimble stride that is the hallmark of so many Czech-born players, the kind of strong footing that allows a guy to drive hard to the net on both feet while still being able to steer in and out of traffic. (For an example of what that combination looks like at speed, with the natural gifts of great hands thrown in for good measure, take a look at this YouTube video
"Skating is the most important thing in today's hockey," Havlat said Friday. "If you can't skate, it's tough. If you can skate, you have a big advantage."
Growing up, naturally, he enjoyed watching Jaromir Jagr's brand of hockey. And while Havlat may not have the sheer mass of Jagr, Havlat is hard to knock off the puck, and he can dangle, too. He's also a versatile player Head Coach Todd Richards sees all over the lineup, on either wing, on the power play, man-down, and even in checking situations late in games.
In addition to skating that is as slick laterally as it is strong going forward, plus good hands and a big body, Havlat also seems to bring a smile to the rink.
"I like to have fun," he said. "Actually, it all comes from hockey. If everything is OK with hockey, and the team's winning, I think the atmosphere in this room and outside the dressing room is fun for everybody. If you lose, it's much more tense and much harder ... so we will look to be on the fun side."