|21 ñåíòÿáðÿ 2010
Bartulis Begins Quest in Flyers' 4-3 Shootout
Win // CSNPhilly.com
By Tim Panaccio
All or nothing.
That’s pretty much how this Flyers’ training camp will break for young
Latvian defenseman Oskars Bartulis.
If he can make the roster as a seventh defenseman, he knows he has
a future here. If not, and he’s waived, someone will likely pick him up
because though he is 23, he is not waiver exempt.
More than that, Bartulis has a three-year, $1.8 million contract. His
light cap hit of $600,000 is an attractive number for clubs looking to
add a young, depth guy, still developing.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Bartulis feels he can beat out Matt Walker, who came over from Tampa
Bay in the Simon Gagne trade.
“Every camp is huge, but this one is my second year,” Bartulis said.
“Like last year, I came in late in October and didn’t make it right away.
This year, my goal is to make it right away and be on this team from the
Walker has 306 NHL games experience versus Bartulis’ 53 last season.
Both are 6-foot-2, but Walker is “thick” as the Flyers’ scouts like to
say, a term meaning he is stocky up top and can play physically. Walker
is a stout 235 pounds. Bartulis is a mere 184 pounds.
The Flyers see potential in Bartulis, but he has on-ice maturing to
do. He didn’t play against Boston or Montreal in the playoffs, yet still
had seven games of action. In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, he got unnerved
on the ice along with partner Lukas Krajicek and it cost the Flyers a goal
in a 2-1 loss.
“Last year I was learning every game,” Bartulis said. “It was something
new for me. This year, I know what is expected in this league. It is like
a next step. I need to be sharper on the ice. To read the game better,
read the passes and bring my game to another level.
“I think I kinda did a little bit in the playoffs. It was different.
That is what I feel I need to bring now. I didn’t play a lot in [the playoffs].
You get in there and it’s close. You learn from that. That is what I am
going to try to bring this season.”
The Flyers’ lack of quality depth in the fifth/sixth spots in the Cup
Final convinced management that a substantial upgrade was in order. Hence,
the trade for Andrej Meszaros and signing of Sean O’Donnell before Walker
came into the picture.
“I saw what they were doing,” Bartulis said. “They want a better defensive
corps and I have a chance to be part of that. I just have to be there.
I think it’s good for the team.
“Yeah, it kinda [worries] you see eight defensemen, and think about
that. But at the same time, you want to be here because it’s a good corps
and lots of veteran defensemen. You watch from them and you learn.”
Because Chris Pronger is still rehabbing his right knee, the defensive
pairs in camp have been mixed continually. Bartulis came into camp knowing
he doesn’t have a regular partner regardless. Meszaros and O’Donnell are
expected to be the third pair and O’Donnell said as much last week.
If Bartulis is going to make the team he needs to demonstrate he can
make defensive plays in his own end under pressure without panicking. It’s
as simple as that.
On Tuesday night in the Flyers’ preseason 4-3 shootout win against
the New Jersey Devils, Bartulis played right defense with Sean O’Donnell
and took shifts with others, including Braydon Coburn and Walker.
Bartulis drew a penalty in the opening period during a Flyer penalty
kill that led to a 4-on-4 goal from Jeff Carter in front of goalie Johan
Hedberg. Through two periods, however, Bartulis was minus-1 in the game
and played 22:50. Only Kimmo Timonen (25:19) and Meszaros (25:06) played
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Bartulis will get a long look in
camp before any decisions are made. He wants to see improvement.
“You look for young players to take the next step and he is not alone,”
Laviolette said. “[Claude] Giroux is in that category and JVR [James van
Riemsdyk] is in that category and a guy like [Andreas] Nodl.
“You want to see them make an improvement with their physical play
on the ice, their power and the way they play the game. I don’t think Oskars
is any different. He’s going to get the opportunity in a lot of exhibitions
to go out and crack the lineup.”
Bartulis made his NHL debut last Nov. 12 against Ottawa. On Dec. 2
after general manager Paul Holmgren gave him a three-year, one-way (NHL
only) contract. He can’t be sent down without going through waivers. For
a while, the contract gave Bartulis security.
“It kinda gives you some confidence,” Bartulis said. “Inside, your
thinking you have a three-year deal, but at the same time, it doesn’t matter.
You have seen in the past what happens with guys who have one-way or whatever,
they go to the minors.
“Especially for me, I’m a young guy and have to work hard every day
to show them I want to be here. And that’s it.”
Now here’s the rub. Walker is in the second of a four-year, $6.8 million
deal with a cap hit of $1.7 million. Bill Guerin is in camp on a tryout
and the general belief is he’ll get a contract probably similar to Walker’s.
The Flyers have less than $900,000 cap space. The decision on whether
to keep Bartulis over Walker comes down to money – Bartulis saves the Flyers
$1.1 million – and not talent. That’s life in the new NHL. Either way,
this position impacts whether the team signs Guerin, barring a trade.
There is one notable intangible that may factor in.
Bartulis is the only player on the Flyers’ roster right now who speaks
fluent Russian. During drills, he and Nikolai Zherdev, who understands
English but can’t speak it very well, are constantly talking.
Bartulis said he has been helping Zherdev off the ice in daily routines
in which Zherdev needs someone who speaks English better than him. In some
cases, Bartulis has helped Zherdev better understand what Laviolette wants
from him in drills.
It’s entirely possible that factors into whether Bartulis makes the
final cut, as someone who can help ease Zherdev’s transition with the team,
on and off the ice.
“I try to help him with the team,” Bartulis said. “I know myself what
it is like. You are kinda shy, your language is not that good. He’s doing
good. I have been helping a lot with [Segei] Bobrovsky in translating.
“With Zherdev, I have been helping him outside hockey with his life
situation … The only thing for him is his problem to talk but he understands
Obviously, the battle for the seventh spot on defense is a little more
complicated for the Flyers than it may appear.
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