With a new contract and 100 percent healthy, forward excited about new season
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A year ago at this time, Vladimir Sobotka was a spectator more than a participant.
Sobotka, the Blues' multi-purpose center/winger, was on the mend. Getting his left shoulder right and ready to go was the first order of business.
Sobotka, 24, missed the first four games rehabbing after off-season shoulder surgery but became an integral part of the Blues' lineup last season.
Vladimir Sobotka (17) set numerous career highs with the Blues in 2010-11
But heading into a new season, Sobotka is equipped with a new three-year, $3.9 million contract and a clean bill of health.
No wonder there have been plenty of smiles this preseason from the Trebic, Czech Republic native.
"It's actually my first camp I'm healthy and I'm excited for a new season," Sobotka said. "I spent a lot of time in Prague (over the summer). I was practicing there with Slavia Prague and I worked out with them and skated with them. I feel good."
Sobotka is coming off a season in which he set career highs in points (29), goals (seven), assists (22) and games played (65) with the Blues after being acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for the rights to defenseman David Warsofsky at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Sobotka's role on the team widened with the rash of injuries the team suffered. After beginning on the fourth line and asked to be a checking center, the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Sobotka was pressed into scoring roles as warranted. He did it all for the Blues.
But with the Blues as deep as they've been in years, Sobotka's role on the team seems to be more defined.
"The initial thought is to use him on the wing," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "He and I talked about that. I thought he played very well there last year. He made that adjustment, had some real strong games there. Scotty Nichol coming into the fold, we feel we've really strengthened that middle. I feel like those two guys would make a real good tandem.
"Sobe contributed in a lot of different ways.... We feel that we've got guys that can move up in a number of different roles. We also feel guys can move up and play solid, defensive checking roles. Who's going to have those sole responsibilities Oct. 8 is what we've got to determine."
Using Sobotka on the fourth line again with Nichol and B.J. Crombeen, a familiar linemate last season, give the unit a polished look.
"Sobe can do a number of things," Crombeen said recently, "and he did them all well. It's easy playing with a guy like that. If you need him to play a more checking style, he did that. When he was asked to step into a scoring role, he did that as well. He may not look very big out there, but let me tell you, the guy's as strong as they come for the package he brings."
It was an easy decision to resign Sobotka when he became a restricted free agent this past summer, according to general manager Doug Armstrong.
"One of the things I respect about Vladi is his versatility," Armstrong said. "It's like dressing two players on a lot of nights. He can play left wing on your top line, be an anchor on your bottom two (lines), power play, kill penalties ... he's real versatile.
"You need two or three guys like that on a roster. I also think at his age, he's defined himself and we know what he's going to do now. He'll be able to provide more offense as he matures. But the type of player he is, he exemplifies what we want to be on the ice as competitors."
Sobotka, who made his preseason debut in Wednesday's 4-3 win over Tampa Bay, is on par with the rest of the team as far as winning is concerned. He's ready to do whatever it takes.
"I can see myself being more effective in games," said Sobotka, who also missed the month of March last season with a broken foot. "I'd like to shoot the puck more and play like I played last year. Of course I'd like to play with the scoring players and creating chances for other players, but if they have a checking role for me and I'm playing more defensive hockey, I'm also good with that. I want to make this a better team. We have a really good team this year and I just want to do whatever I can and help as much as possible."