29-Year-Old Center – St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Sobotka Contract Information:
Signed a three-year, $12 million contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL in July 2014.
Sobotka will be heading to Toronto to represent the Czech Republic in the World Cup of Hockey, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. After the tournament, Sobotka is expected to return to the NHL as a member of the Blues this season, following two years in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
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RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
In one of the offseason’s more surprising moves, Sobotka chose to leave the Blues for Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Sobotka agreed to a three-year, $12-million contract, a sum that was reportedly only marginally larger than what the forward would have netted annually had he elected to stay with the Blues. Given the pervading political tumult in Russia, the KHL seems to face an uncertain future, which might allow Sobotka to opt out of the contract before it concludes. Should he choose to do so, the Blues would retain Sobotka’s rights, after awarding him a one-year arbitration deal shortly after he fled for Russia. Sobotka, 27, recorded a career-best 33 points, 72 PIM and plus-14 rating in 61 games last season and would likely have an important role as a depth center waiting for him when and if he decides to return.
Sobotka is an important piece for the Blues because of his energy and above-average two-way play. The diminutive forward gets time on the power-play and the penalty kill, but his value in fantasy circles is another story. His real world skills don't overcome the fantasy numbers of only 90 points over the last six seasons. Unless he has a spike in offensive numbers, Sobotka is not someone that can help your team in any one category.
Sobotka became a favorite of head coach Ken Hitchcock, largely because of the flexibility he provides. He plays both center and wing, though Hitchcock prefers he play out on the wing. St. Louis is a bit thin at center, so we could see him return there. He was a good faceoff guy last year, winning 56.1 percent, which was second on the team among the players that lined up for more than 200 draws. Because of injuries the past two years, Sobotka has had some time on scoring lines, though it hasn't translated to a full-time top-six role. He's been effective as a role player and should get ample playing time on the third line. He plays both ends of the ice, is tenacious on the forecheck and doesn't mind throwing his body around (152 hits, fourth on team).
Sobotka found himself playing more minutes than was expected of a projected fourth-line center at the start of the season. Injuries moved him up to a top-6 forward at times, but the Blues have added more depth at forward offseason, so he’ll assume a role similar to what he had to open the 2010-11 season. He does have some ability as a passer and face off guy, and plays with a bit of recklessness, finishing second on the team with 137 hits.
Sobotka played a career-high 61 games for Boston in 2009-10 before the offseason trade that landed him in St. Louis. There's less of a crowd for playing time with the Blues, who have been trolling the bargain bins for forwards this offseason. He has some offensive skills and can play on the wing, perhaps has high as the third line if the Blues are looking for a little more panache. He'll be part of the third/fourth line rotation at the wing, along with Brad Winchester, Matt D'Agostini and B.J. Crombeen.
Sobotka is probably not going to be a fantasy factor unless injuries hit the B's forward corps hard, but he's probably ready to spend all or most of the season with the big club, after spending a majority of his time last year with AHL Providence. His best shot to make an impact out of the gate could come if David Krejci (hip surgery) is forced to miss some time early on.
Sobotka came on late in the season and certainly has the ability to improve on his numbers (1-6-7, 24 PIMs in 48 games) this season. He could carve a role as the B's No. 3 center, a role that suits his ability as an agitator/forechecker.