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Rambler's Top100

21 2010 . 
Bartulis Begins Quest in Flyers' 4-3 Shootout Win // CSNPhilly.com

By Tim Panaccio

All or nothing.
 
Thats 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 hes 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 were 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 didnt make it right away. This year, my goal is to make it right away and be on this team from the beginning.
 
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 didnt 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 didnt play a lot in [the playoffs]. You get in there and its 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 ODonnell 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 its 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 its 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 doesnt have a regular partner regardless. Meszaros and ODonnell are expected to be the third pair and ODonnell 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. Its 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 ODonnell 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 more.
 
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 dont think Oskars is any different. Hes 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 cant 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 doesnt 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, Im a young guy and have to work hard every day to show them I want to be here. And thats it.
 
Now heres 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 hell get a contract probably similar to Walkers.
 
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. Thats 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 cant 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.
 
Its entirely possible that factors into whether Bartulis makes the final cut, as someone who can help ease Zherdevs 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. Hes 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 everything.
 
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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