Thursday, 10.19.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
October 19, 2006
By Brian Wheeler
No player in the NHL wants to be tagged as one-dimensional, whether it is as an offensive sniper or a defensive specialist.
Thomas Vanek puts his skates on one foot at a time just like anybody else and isn't any different. After a stellar rookie campaign where he netted 25 goals and 48 points, the left winger from Graz, Austria wants more responsibility placed on his shoulders than just wreaking havoc in the opposition's zone.
But in order to gain that added responsibility, the 22 year old knows he needs to earn it.
"I need to work on being more consistent and that's what I'm trying to do this year," said Vanek, who recorded four points and a plus-five rating against Philadelphia on Tuesday night. "Last year, I had a string of five or six games where I would play well and then three games where I didn't play as well.
"Your first year in the National Hockey League, you're always a little overwhelmed. It was a good learning experience but you always look back to see what you could have done better."
One area that Vanek looks at a lot is his capricious play during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which led Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff to sit the talented rookie and play others who hadn't produced as much during the regular season.
Vanek saw action in just 10 postseason games and was a healthy scratch for eight others. When he did play, he averaged the third lowest ice time on the team.
His absence when the stakes were the greatest for Buffalo hasn't sat well with the second-year professional.
"It was a huge motivator and it's always in the back of my head," said Vanek. " It's something that's in the past but it's also something that stays with you to work harder for that chance again."
To become a more complete player, Vanek has focused on his conditioning.
During the summer, he modified his standard workout regimen that he employed during his two seasons at the University of Minnesota and in Rochester during the lockout to focus more on endurance and stamina.
The dividend of that change was noticed immediately by Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff at the beginning of training camp.
"His determination to come into camp in tremendous shape and be good with the puck as well as away from the puck," said Ruff concerning Vanek's greatest area of improvement this season. "His skating is better, in a sense where he maintains a pretty high level of energy throughout a 45 second shift."
And Ruff has rewarded that effort with added ice time on the penalty kill, an assignment that Vanek has come to relish.
"[Killing penalties] keeps you in the game and mentally sharp," said Vanek. "It's a good challenge to be out there and I want to be out there in those situations."
Vanek can still score, as evidenced by his three goals and four assists in six games this season, but now through hard work, he is well on his way to becoming a solid all-around player.