Michal Rozsival’s role with Blackhawks gets high ratings
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org March 23, 2013 1:08AM
Michal Rozsival is a defenseman by title, but the Hawks have brought out an offensive side that he hasn’t shown in years. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 25, 2013 6:50AM
There was a time in Michal Rozsival’s career when he wouldn’t have been OK with this — a time when he’d look at his solid numbers on the stat sheet and review his solid play on film and be both bothered and bewildered by a platoon situation, alternating between a sweater and a suit.
But at age 34, in his 12th NHL season, Rozsival has gained plenty of perspective to go along with all the mileage. So right now he’s just enjoying the ride and whatever part he can play in it.
‘‘At this stage of my career, I just keep playing as if it was my last game,’’ the Blackhawks defenseman said. ‘‘Every time I get a chance to be out there, I enjoy it.’’
What’s not to enjoy? Rozsival hit the free-agency jackpot, taking a flyer on the Hawks — the team his Phoenix Coyotes beat in the first round of the playoffs last season — with no promise of a regular spot in the lineup. Thirty games later, he’s on a first-place team that enjoyed a rollicking, record start to the season.
That’s not terribly surprising, of course. Rozsival chose to sign with the Hawks because he wanted to win and felt they had the right pieces.
What’s surprising is that it appears the Hawks sort of hit the jackpot with Rozsival, too.
He has seven assists in just 16 games, has a whopping plus-14 rating — only Jonathan Toews, at plus-17, is higher — and has formed a nice third blue-line tandem with Nick Leddy while sharing time with the more physically oriented Sheldon Brookbank.
‘‘We’re very happy with his contribution,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘In the past, I don’t think he would have been missing a game.’’
During camp, Rozsival said he was here to play defense, not to be an offensive guy. But freed from the shackles of the Coyotes’ defensive-minded system, he has turned back the clock and looked like the more offensively gifted player he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. In fact, in New York, he was a four-time 30-point scorer, with 10 and 13 goals, respectively, in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
So there’s Rozsival joining the rush, carrying the puck into the offensive zone with speed, feeding forwards with deft passes and keeping up with the speedy Leddy, even with two bulky knee braces.
‘‘The way this team is playing, it’s pretty much offensive-minded throughout the lineup,’’ Rozsival said. ‘‘I don’t think anybody would be happy if I was just dumping the pucks off the glass on this team, so I’m trying to do my best. I knew I was able to play offense.’’
Quenneville, frankly, didn’t. At least not at this level.
‘‘His patience with the puck, the level that he’s played with the puck, is one thing maybe I undervalued,’’ Quenneville said.
Leddy, who just turned 22 on Wednesday, has enjoyed the May-December bromance.
‘‘I knew he was good, but he’s a really special player,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘He has such good patience and poise with the puck. He’s so smart, and makes everybody around him better. It’s great for me because I’m learning stuff from him every day.”
As for the gaudy rating, Rozsival shrugged and simply said, ‘‘Playing with Nicky, we don’t usually get into a lot of trouble in our own end.’’
But he downplayed the stat, pointing out that you get a plus-one or a minus-one even if you’ve just hopped over the boards and had nothing to do with the play.
The stat he’s most concerned with is the number of wins the Hawks have. It’s more than he or anyone else on the team reasonably could have expected at this point — much like his contribution to it.
‘‘I really try to enjoy every moment out there,’’ Rozsival said. ‘‘The way we are playing makes me enjoy it even more. I’m having a blast right now.’’