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The Sweater Series (or Notable Numbers): #23 Petr Svoboda

Good defensemen are hard to find. Even fans of teams that have very good ones feel like they don’t have enough. With the Lightning frequently setting the standard for “lean years” over the course of their existence, one might think they’ve never really had any good ones, but that simply isn’t true. Petr Svoboda was a pretty good defenseman on some very bad teams.

Czech-born Svoboda was selected with the fifth pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. At the time, he was regarded as the top-ranked European player and many considered him the second best player overall in the draft, behind only Mario Lemieux. He slipped to fifth because apparently Canadiens GM Serge Savard was the only person in the league who knew Svoboda had defected in Germany when the Czechoslovakian team was participating in the European Championships earlier that summer.

Slight of build and lacking a great shot, he was valued for his mobility and passing and developed into a reliable two-way defenseman, although chronic injuries hampered him throughout his career. In his eighth season with Montreal, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. He later moved on to the Philadelphia Flyers who traded him to the Lightning in late 1998 for Karl Dykhuis. The next season, he played in 70 games, averaging 23:00 per game while recording two goals and 23 assists.

He only played 19 games the following season before a stick to the face from Shane Doan which literally drove his nose back into his brain. The resultant injusry and post-concussion syndrome ended his playing career. Still, he became the first Czech player to appear in 1,000 games in the NHL, a mark established while with the Bolts. He’s also credited with serving as a mentor in the development of a young Pavel Kubina.

Upon his retirement, he started representing NHL players as an agent and is employed with Sports Associates International, LLC in Santa Monica, California.

Others to wear 23 include Mike Hartman, Chris Joseph, Rich Sutter, Ben Hankinson, Brian Bellows, Bryan Marchment, Michal Sykora, Janne Laukkanen, Jamie Howard, Mike Commodore and J.T. Brown.

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