Blackhawks veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival played a reserve role in 16th NHL season
Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Michal Rozsival’s 2016-17 season ended on April 6 with a bare-knuckled sucker punch from Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie that required surgery to repair his fractured face. The 16-year NHL veteran had skated in 22 games last season and also signed a one-year contract extension in late February to keep him with the ‘Hawks thru next season.
While the Blackhawks have stirred up plenty of excitement over the past 72 hours with intriguing picks at the 2017 Entry Draft and monster trades with Columbus and Arizona, we’re also evaluating the performance of each of the players last season. Here’s a look at Rozsival.
2017-17 regular season statistics: 22 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, minus-3 rating, 50.9 Corsi-for (even strength).
2016-17 playoff statistics: Did not play.
Not so great expectations
Many fans may not remember that Rozsival averaged 32.2 points per season over a five-year stretch from 2005 to 2010 with the New York Rangers. After a 2010-11 mid-season trade to Phoenix and subsequent drop in production, he came to the Blackhawks in 2012 as a 33-year-old veteran whose best years were clearly behind him. Still, Rozsival played in 185 regular season and 54 playoff games over his first four years in Chicago, hoisting two Stanley Cups along the way.
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But age and a broken leg suffered in the 2015 playoff series against Minnesota have considerably slowed his game and reduced his playing time to 22 games last season, mostly on the bottom pairing with Michal Kempny or Brian Campbell.
Nonetheless, Rozsival still plays a smart stay-at-home game with a physical bite that belies his age. He led Chicago blueliners with 2.1 hits per game, and his 47 hits (in 22 games!) ranked third among ‘Hawks defensemen. At age 38, Rozie was used sparingly last season, but still averaged 15:29 minutes of ice time while posting 24:43 total time on the ‘Hawks’ penalty kill.
While many Blackhawks have seen their puck possession numbers decline over the past few seasons, Rozsival’s even strength 50.9 Corsi-for was actually a modest gain over the 2015-16 season and ranked second among ‘Hawks defensemen. It’s not surprising then that Rozsival’s ratio of giveaways to takeaways was an impressive 10:5, second only to Trevor van Riemsdyk on the ‘Hawks’ blue line.
And Rozie’s still an opportunist able to convert a scoring chance as he showed with his game-winning-goal in the ‘Hawks’ 6-3 win over Arizona on Feb. 23.
Unfortunately, Rozsival no longer skates with the speed and mobility of his youth, and that is his biggest weakness. Rozie is painfully slow on the ice, routinely losing races to the puck and to the corners. Let’s face it — he’s quickly coming to the end of his playing days in the NHL. To put this in perspective, Rozsival played his first NHL game for Pittsburgh in 1999 — just four months after the birth of 18-year-old defenseman Henri Jokiharju, the Blackhawks’ 2017 first round draft pick last weekend!
Frankly, the main reason Rozsival was signed to a one-year extension and played in 22 games last season was to make him eligible for the 2017 expansion draft, thereby allowing the Blackhawks to expose him while protecting another defenseman. That’s the business side of professional hockey that actually worked in Rozsival’s favor this time around.
Rozsival effectively played to script last season as a low-cost eighth defenseman, drawing into the lineup whenever veteran presence was needed to spell other players or shepherd rookies like Kempny and Gustav Forsling.
With fellow Czech Jan Ruutta expected to bolster the ‘Hawks’ blue line next season, Rozsival will likely play a major role helping him adjust to North American hockey and frenetic life in Chicago. Rozie skates at a glacial pace these days, but the final curtain has yet to fall on a long and valiant career.