Like most Panthers’ first round draft picks from the early part of this decade, former 7th overall selection Rostislav Olesz is still trying to find his place in the NHL. A native of the Czech Republic, Olesz came into the NHL with an impressive skillet and even greater expectations. Sadly, after just over 5 seasons with the Panthers, Olesz never quite reached the lofty expectations that were put on him – reaching a pinnacle of 30 points during the 2006-2007 season.
Years later, as the team was starting to rebuild under the guidance of new General Manager Dale Tallon, Olesz was finally shipped out of Florida in exchange for Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell. Although it was mostly designed as a salary dump for the cap-wary Blackhawks, the team still hoped that maybe they could squeeze something out of this former first round pick.
After only a 6-game stint with the Blackhawks in which he recorded no points, Olesz career suffered yet another setback as he was waived and eventually made his way to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs. During his time with the Icehogs last season, Olesz finally started to show signs of life as he was able to contribute regularly to the team’s scoring attack – compiling 41 points (17G 24A) in 50 games played. Sadly, Olesz’s comeback took yet another hit when he suffered a knee injury in a game against the Milwaukee Admirals on April 1, 2012.
Still recovering from knee surgery, Olesz began the 2012-2013 season once again trying to simply make it back to the ice. After having to endure a long healing process, Olesz finally returned to the ice on March 22nd against the Abbotsford Heat – scoring 2 points in his return. Since returning from knee surgery, Olesz has compiled an impressive 19 points (7G 12A) in just 14 games for the Icehogs. With the Icehogs currently battling for a playoff spot, Olesz will have a grand opportunity to show just what he is capable of as well as his ability to excel in important games.
While 14 quality games are hardly a large enough sample size to judge just how far Olesz has come, the fact that he still remains within striking distance of the NHL is commendable. Still due $4 million in 2013-2014, Olesz may once again find himself in the AHL again next season if the Blackhawks do not trade or buy him out. However, if he is able to keep up his current level of play, a much more affordable Olesz may finally find both peace and new home when his current contract does expire. Although he will never be the star he was supposed to be, with 6 of the 8 Panthers’ first round picks from 2001-2005 currently playing either in the AHL or overseas, Olesz can only hope to shed the “bust” title and be revered as an NHL-caliber skater.
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