Every now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, I decided to throw my guess in the hat, too.
First, here is my guess for Florida.
Everyone? No, that’s not fair. Keith Ballard? Also, not fair. Instead, I’ll choose Stephen Weiss. To me, the guy represents the Panthers’ potential-over-production movement now that Jay Bouwmeester is gone and Nathan Horton is actually proving himself. Weiss was supposed to be better than a 60-point player. Wasn’t he?
For Florida’s perspective, I nabbed the great Donny Rivette from The Litter Box (or is it Litter Box Cats? I never know.). His blog is the go-to source for all things Panthers.
Players who frustrate? In Florida? As Zelda Rubenstein’s character opined at a pivotal moment in Poltergeist: “This house has many hearts”.
As is the case with all clubs, the Panthers are not immune to carrying underwhelming or oversold assets who consistently leave fans with bald spots bloodied from chronic head-scratching. For every Dmitry Kulikov there is evidently a limitless supply of Anthony Stewarts, Branislav Mezeis, and Martin Lojeks. To name but a few.
Today’s variation of the team sports a few who’ve approached career bests (Weiss), others who undoubtedly would have if not for long-term injuries (Booth, Horton), youngsters taking that crucial next step (Garrison, Matthias), along with the expected setbacks (Stillman losing a step, Frolik’s sophomore slump).
Brushing aside the Cats’ annual struggles, ask any Panthers fan which player frustrates them above all others and you’ll get an immediate, instant answer: left winger Rostislav Olesz.
Jump for more on the oddly named frustration.
First, the disclaimer: There is no debating Rusty’s talent; his speed and agility are among the best on the club. He’s got heart, appears to work diligently, and no one’s got a better goal celebration. And he’s simply a nice guy. Unfortunately, none of those admittedly positive attributes have been enough to cover his deficiencies.
A 2004 first round (7th overall) pick by Florida, Olesz has redefined “enigma”, even for this franchise. Injuries have forced him to miss 101 games over his first five seasons. Point totals feature jagged peaks and valleys: 21, 30, 26, 9, 27. He’ll likely top his career-best 30 points, but by no means place money on it. One assist over his past 24 games (through March 28th) is warning enough. The entire league has the book on him in the shootout: he’s firing low from the backhand. Tends to lack adrenaline as the game wears on. Doesn’t use his body enough along the boards (though this has improved slightly in recent months). Gets beaten to the puck too often, regardless of his speed. Other than a four-game point streak in mid-December (1g), there hasn’t been much at all to cheer about. Imagine Radek Dvorak – another Florida product and similar to Olesz in many categories – minus the consistency and “go-to guy” status.
It’s one of those deals where Rusty gets the puck and you instinctively know something will go wrong. Miss the check. Break the stick. Run out of space. Or worse.
All those missed games obviously contributed to a somewhat stunted development, but he’s now passed the 300-game mark (March 29th), and that excuse no longer carries significant weight. He’s grown up in this organization, but he hasn’t broken out. Like so many former first-rounders the Panthers short-sightedly lost patience with, it would be a crime to see Olesz dealt and blossom elsewhere. He’s got the goods to do it here, but when? That’s the frustration among fans.