Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vlastimil Kroupa Autographed Card

Ironically, what had NHL teams salivating at the prospect of drafting Vlastimil Kroupa was ultimately what ended up costing him his job in North America: the fact that he was huge, standing at 6'5'', but weighing ''only'' 200 pounds by the end of his career, 175 in the mid-1990s.

Teams who had only seen him play with kids his age couldn't know he'd rather play a skilled game than a robust one, and at the dawn of the clutch-and-grab era, the San Jose Sharks thought they had the rare beast that could mix grit with good vision and puck-carrying abilities when they chose him 45th overall (second round) in 1993.

Playing against character, he nonetheless ended up with 23 career points and 66 penalty minutes in 105 NHL games over the course of 5 seasons (the first four in the Sharks' organization, the final one in the New Jersey Devils system).

The bruises from the North American rugged style of play and the tedious 8-month, 80-some-game schedule eventually took their toll on him, and he moved back to Europe at the turn of the millennium, first in Germany to finish off the 1999-2000 season, then back to his native Czech Republic until he retired in 2011. He did play for the Czech Team and earned a bronze medal at the 1997 World Championships.

I do believe, with his skill set, that he could have been a 25-35-point defenseman in the NHL - a top-4 on most teams - had they let him play his own game.

This card, from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Prospects set (card #4), shows him wearing the then-Sharks' IHL affiliate Kansas City Blades' red (away) uniform:

He signed it in blue sharpie with his jersey number (28) tagged at the end, after a Kentucky Thoroughblades (when the Sharks moved their minor-league affiliation from the IHL to the AHL) game against the Fredericton Canadiens - my hometown team's own farm club - in 1996-97.

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