Who is the most frustrating Florida Panther?

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olesz.jpgEvery 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.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy