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Kozlov playing like a keeper - Sun-Sentinel
By Michael Russo
SUNRISE · Viktor Kozlov's name has undoubtedly come up often in recent trade talks.
But it's equally certain that if Kozlov can play as dominant a game as Saturday's 3-0 win over Calgary, the Panthers would feel no need to trade the immensely talented forward.
The Panthers, who host Chicago tonight, have no problem with Kozlov's $2.1 million salary as long as he plays up to his potential and is healthy.
Many think the 27-year-old Kozlov has always had the ability to be one of the top players in the NHL, but it's felt that for some reason his heart isn't in it.
He has gained a reputation for not wanting to play hurt. He has missed 109 of the 408 games (26.7 percent) the Panthers have played since his trade from San Jose in November 1997, the latest an eight-game absence with sore ribs.
"Slowly but surely it's getting better," Kozlov said. "At least if I go hit somebody or I get hit, I'm not worried it'll hurt."
When Kozlov, who has eight points in seven games, is healthy and in the lineup, he can dictate success or failure. The last time the Panthers made the playoffs (2000), Kozlov had a career-high 70 points.
In the seven games Kozlov has played, the Panthers have averaged 2.6 goals. In the eight games he has missed, they have averaged 2.1.
Kozlov works wonders on the power play, which ranks 19th in the league. In his seven games, the power play has gone 9 for 33 (27.2 percent). In the eight games he's missed, the power play is 3 for 42 (7.1 percent).
"He's such a highly skilled individual," coach Mike Keenan said. "He makes the plays and can see the ice really well, can make the passes. Our power play has obviously been improved.
"He's made good puck-possession plays. He's got the size and the strength and the leverage to work with. He's got the ability to protect the puck with his size."
Kozlov, who has played right wing all season, was outstanding against the Flames. He used his 6-foot-5 frame and played like the power forward the Panthers so desperately need.
He did the board work he often avoids, digging the puck free and stick-handling through traffic to set up Valeri Bure's power-play goal.
He forced numerous turnovers with pressure and tied up Jarome Iginla's stick when the star could have cut the Panthers' lead in half. He even inflicted some body checks.
"Since San Jose, everybody tells me I have to use my size," Kozlov said. "I'm trying to learn to use it. I'm still learning."
Offensively, Kozlov used his speed and vision to create chances for him and his linemates.
"I love playing with him," said Olli Jokinen, Kozlov's center.
"I know that if I pass the puck to him, I just need to go to the net because he'll either shoot and there may be a rebound or he'll find me."
Trading Kozlov would be risky because Jokinen and Kozlov have developed an excellent chemistry. Ten of Jokinen's team-leading 17 points have come with Kozlov on his right side.
And if Jokinen doesn't score, the Panthers' don't win. They're winless in six games in which he hasn't registered a point.
"Kozlov is more productive playing right wing and he adds a lot to a top line when you put him there," Keenan said.
"And Jokinen has to be given credit for stepping up his game. It's their size and presence that have made them successful."
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