There’s a debate in hockey circles that has been raging on for a long time, and will presumably rage on even after the final hockey game is played: toughness versus skill. Should teams bulk up and try beating their opponents into submission, or sacrifice the rough stuff for the fancy yet less physical?
Thankfully, Martin Pospisil is both tough and skilled, so he should satisfy everyone. The 6’2, 183 pound left-shooting centre has become notorious in the USHL for his foul temper and his playmaking abilities. He comes in on the top 20 at 10th, up 10 spots from the year before.
How did he get here?
Pospisil is a bit of a hockey nomad. Born in Slovakia, he played for the Austrian Red Bull hockey academy, leading the traveling team in PPG scoring with 31 points in 18 games as a 17 year old. After that, he followed his older brother’s footsteps to Sioux City in the USHL. He also succeeded in this challenge, picking up 37 points in 49 games in his draft year and finishing second in team scoring. Pospisil was also noticed because of his ability to rack up penalties, leading the league by a large margin with 253 PIMs. His style of play and production interested the Flames, who snagged him with their first pick in the 2018 draft at 105th overall.
Pospisil returned to the USHL for his 2018-19 season, which was the plan all along. What wasn’t part of that plan was the NCAA ruling him academically ineligible to attend St. Lawrence University, his presumed destination for 2019-20. Instead of finding another college despite interest, the Flames opted to sign him and turn him pro at age 20.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
Pospisil exploded this season, nearly lapping his 2017-18 self.
With Bobby Brink and Markus Kallionkieli, Pospisil centered one of the USHL’s most effective lines, a scoring threat every night. Pospisil was the distributor, picking up 46 primary points all season. He also proved helpful on special teams, racking up 24 points on the man advantage as a net-front presence, and picking up two shorthanded goals on the PK.
Pospisil also cleaned up his act a bit, cutting his PIMs nearly in half and finishing outside the top ten in the USHL. Although 118 minutes served is still enough evidence that he loves the rough stuff, he demonstrated that he’s learned where the line is and how not to cross it. He cut his total number of suspensions from six to one, and the one was for him attempting a Mike Milbury impression, rather than for reckless on-ice play. He can still put his team at a disadvantage with his antics, but he’s at least starting to knock it off.
Pospisil also chipped in for Slovakia at the World Juniors, picking up two assists in five games as the team unceremoniously exited early.
Those in the know
We talked to Sioux City’s head coach Luke Strand about Pospisil’s season. First, here’s what the coach said about Pospisil’s strengths on special teams:
Power play, I found him very effective on the goal line, around the net area. He’s got a scoring touch, but he’s got a size about him. He’s got a nastiness. He’ll pay a price to earn that front position. Penalty-kill wise, the attractive part about Martin is his length. He’s a long player with a long stick with skill, with a good brain to match. All of a sudden with those pieces, he’s an offensive threat when he was killing because could take a situation and use his skill to create offense out of it, as well.
Where does Strand think Pospisil will need to grow to make the transition to pro?
The main thing to make is his strength. His body, he has a frame to fill out… He’s gonna be a 200-pound centerman with skill. That part is going to be a big thing. I think with that strength, though, everything’s going to have more pop. His skating is going to have more pop to it. His shooting is going to have more pop. And he does those things very well now, but I think it’s going to increase what’s going to come down.
On the horizon
As explained, there were few options besides fast tracking Pospisil to the pros. He’s already signed his ELC and is Stockton bound.
From there, who really knows what happens with him. The first question could be: what position will he play? Although a centre, he may be moved to the wing depending on how Stockton’s depth breaks down. The second is: how will he perform? Skipping the NCAA to go to the AHL rarely happens, especially when a player is still a teenager. The most notable recent example is Zemgus Girgensons, who went from 1.12 PPG in the USHL to 0.28 in the AHL, though he was also a year younger than Pospisil at the time. It’s fair to say that some tough times are coming.
Although, it shouldn’t really matter whether or not Pospisil struggles in his rookie year. With a three year contract and a lot of learning ahead of him, it’s fair to say that Pospisil won’t be in the NHL any time soon, and that it’s best for his development if the Flames take their time (back to Girgensons for a second: Buffalo promoted him to the big club after just one AHL season). The club was likely looking at bringing him into the fold when he was 21 or 22, but circumstances forced their hand. They’ll be patient with him.
Pospisil is taking the long road to the big show, but given his fast rate of acclimatization, you have to wonder how soon it will be for the young forward.
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