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ONE TO WATCH: MARTIN HANZAL

Thursday, 05.01.2008 / 1:42 PM / Features
Arizona Coyotes
When Martin Hanzal steps onto the ice at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship this weekend, his teammates will become his opponents and his skill will once again be tested on a grand scale.

The 2008 World Championship begins this Friday, and some of the Phoenix Coyotes’ best are in the action. Keith Ballard and Peter Mueller will represent Team USA; Ed Jovanovski and Shane Doan will play for Team Canada; Niko Kapanen will skate for Team Finland; Mikael Tellqvist will man the pipes for Team Sweden; and Radim Vrbata, Zbynek Michalek and Martin Hanzal will compete for their home country of the Czech Republic.

The Coyotes surpassed everyone's expectations this past season in large part due to the emergence of their rookies. Dan Winnik came out of nowhere and Dan Carcillo added an edge that the Coyotes have lacked in years past. Both were impact players. Peter Mueller also showed the world he will be a top player in the NHL. However, the one player who was most surprising in my eyes, was Martin Hanzal.

Most thought the now 21-year-old center might need at least a year of work with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, before jumping into the NHL. And after rookie camp, it certainly appeared that way. But Hanzal had everyone taking note of him from day one in training camp. It quickly became apparent that he was improving every day with each practice and progressing much faster than anyone could have predicted.

Hanzal belonged up with the big club, and everyone could see it. For the majority of the 2007-2008 campaign, he centered the third line — a checking line — where he was continually asked to be a shut-down center matched up against some of the league's finest. Hanzal did not disappoint. Constantly being matched against the Pacific Division's best centers, including Joe Thornton, Mike Ribeiro and Ryan Getzlaf, Hanzal held his own, drastically limiting their production. No doubt, the Czech Republic native was a significant reason for the Coyotes’ 19-11-2 record against opponents in their own division.

Not only did Hanzal play well defensively, but he found his offensive game towards the end of the season, finishing the year with eight goals and 35 points.

Hanzal's rookie year was a great learning experience, throughout which he continually developed his skill. Now, Hanzal is representing his country in the World Championship and will be playing against some of the world's top players. I am anxious to see how he handles the situation and how he plays. Will he escape from a thundering hip check by Ballard?  How about when Jovanovski sizes him up? Will he deny Doan and Mueller from getting to the net?  Will he fire a wrist shot past Mikael Tellqvist?  Competing at the World Championship will not only benefit Hanzal, it will have a significant impact on the Coyotes, as one of their stars of tomorrow gets to showcase his burgeoning talent today.

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