May 12, 2016

Robert Lang

Robert Lang was an imposing center out of Czechoslovakia. But it was all-world hockey talent that really unsettled the opposition.

Lang had excellent skating ability with both quickness and balance. But it was his excellent hockey sense that really amplified his nice set of skills.

Lang was not a shooter - it was not in his mentality. He was a crafty pivot who loved to dish the puck to his teammates. He had an uncanny ability to draw defenders to him, opening up more space for his teammates. Once the defender bit, he'd feather a soft pass that was at the same time both simple yet brilliant.

Lang was originally a Los Angeles draft pick. It was hoped that he could immediately step into a second line center role and take some of the heat off of Wayne Gretzky in the 1990s, but it was a little too early for Lang. He would bounce between the Kings and minor leagues as he adjusted to North American and the NHL game. He had trouble consistently using his size to his advantage - something he would always be maligned for.

As the decade rolled along it seemed Lang was destined to flounder but he would find a home alongside Jaromir Jagr first in Pittsburgh and then Washington as the millennium turned. He emerged as a consistent 20 goal, 70 point threat for several seasons. He also enjoyed success on a line with Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka. He also took turns left wing as a power play specialist.

Yet somehow Lang had a long list of detractors. Again, he didn't use his size to bulldoze over anyone. He didn't shoot enough. And he seemed slow or, worse yet, disinterested, they said. Truth was he may not have ever had elite speed but he was an efficient positional player who understood where to be at the right time.

Lang later went on to play in Detroit, where he mentored a young Jiri Hudler, and Chicago before bouncing around with Montreal and Phoenix. In 989 career NHL games Lang scored 261 goals, 442 assists for 703 total points.

Lang was also quite the decorated international player. Four times he represented Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic at the Olympics, winning goal in 1998 and bronze in both 1992 and 2006. At the World Championships he helped his nation win gold in 1996 and bronze in 1992 and 1997. He also played in two World Cups.

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