Pilar makes NHL debut

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

Checking In On the New Czech

Over the weekend the Leafs 2nd round pick of the 2001 entry draft Karel Pilar saw his first NHL action first against Vancouver and the following day vs Edmonton. As the Buds were slapped around to the tune of 10-2 collectively in those two tilts there wasn’t a whole lot good to say about anything that happened. However, for those out there looking for an easy scapegoat, #29 wasn’t it. Yes, looking at the linescores will tell you that the 24 year old was -2 on the weekend with one hit and one blocked shot, but that presents an incomplete picture at best.

All told Pilar was on the ice for three even handed goals against and one even handed goal for. The first of those was the bad angle shot early in the Canuck game that Curtis Joseph simply whiffed on, deflecting it in his own net. On the second one Pilar can clearly be seen taking his man completely out of the play towards the far corner while Shayne Corson desperately tries to catch up to goalscorer Ed Jovanovski breaking in from the point. In the Edmonton game Pilar was on the ice when Bryan McCabe scored, hence his +1 for part of that contest. That, however, would be wiped out by shoddy coverage by Robert Reichel on Mike Comrie. Again Pilar has his man, but his former Litvinov teammate let the diminutive Edmonton pivot get away from him and the rook took the minus.

What could be seen but was not readily apparent by the linescores was Pilar’s low risk passing game. Outside of one feed across the middle of his own zone that Reichel had to bail him out on against Vancouver, the 2nd rounder showed good vision in making the smart pass to get the rush started. In this area he is a vast upgrade over both Cory Cross and Anders Eriksson. As well, he demonstrated a willingness to shoot and keep his shot low and on the net. While it is true that the shots didn’t get through (they were blocked in front of the net by stray skates), was there really much difference between those and what typically happens when say someone like Dimitry Yushkevich let’s fly? It says here, that once he gets more comfortable in the bigs, Pilar may actually have the better blast from the blueline.

Then there is the physical aspect of the game. This according to many was supposed to be the former Czech Extraleaguer’s Achilles Heel. In a sentence, Scott Stevens he ain’t. You’ll never see Pilar on one of Don Cherry’s hi-light video’s dishing out a check that leaves his opponent senseless, it’s not his game. That said, in his limited action he showed the ability to shield and mirror his man very well and he took good angles defending off the rush. That kind of defense won’t bring spectators out of their seats, but it is extremely frustrating to play against. If it’s done well, no amount of baiting by the opposition in the form of head fakes or stick fakes will buy an opening.

This is not an exciting hockey player, and that might be his curse in media mad Toronto. Pilar, at least on early returns at the pro level, looks like a boring defenseman who will do a lot of little things right and only rarely make the killing mistake. While it’s only been two games in the NHL, should he keep to the same learning curve, a comparison that might be apt would be that of a better skating, better shooting, healthier Alexander Karpovtsev. Of course, the last memories of this Russian from a Toronto standpoint were bitter ones, but give him better wheels, a better shot and a better health plan and you can do a lot worse in today’s NHL. If Pilar can perform at that level, the Leafs might not need to go shopping for blueline help come the trade deadline.