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Big Mesz: A Long Road | February

Andrej Meszaros is really turning out to be quite the pick up for the Flyers. He's not afraid to join the rush, throw his weight around, or get a wrister on net - all while playing a defensively sound game. But what's his story? Why's he always looks so happy? How'd he make his way from Slovakia to the NHL? It's always fun to look at prospects today and wonder where they'll end up, but you have to wait so freaking long for the answers. Which is why I went down into our wine cellar and pulled some snippets from articles about Mesz over the years. Then I Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V the shit out of them, and here you are - from WJC stud to WHL stalwart, to Rookie Phenom:

Drafted - June 2004, Pierre LeBrun, The Canadian Press

The Ottawa Senators may be one of the NHL's elite teams when it comes to drafting players, but they had some luck on their side Saturday. Slovak defenceman Andrej Meszaros, ranked by many as a top-10 pick in this year's draft, went 23rd overall to the Senators.
``All the rankings had him high, so we're quite pleased,'' said a smiling Anders Hedberg, Ottawa's director of player personnel.

The International Scouting Service had Meszaros ranked fourth overall, while the Hockey News pegged him at 12th. NHL Central Scouting had him as the sixth-ranked European skater.

``I expected to go higher but I'm proud to be drafted by Ottawa,'' Meszaros, who doesn't speak English, said through a translator.

The Sens may have pulled off the steal of the first round, adding yet another talented European to their organization. The six-foot, 198-pound Meszaros had three goals and three assists in 44 games with Dukla Trencin of the Slovak elite league last season and played in both the world junior championship at Christmas and was the youngest player at the men's world championship in Prague in May.

``It proves that he's already a good player,'' said Hedberg.

Still, he won't be rushed. He's at least two years away from challenging for a spot on the Sens roster.

With a club that already includes a bevy of skilled players from Europe, including Slovak stars Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara, the critics may wonder why Ottawa didn't try to address their most obvious need: grit.

But they'll gladly welcome another talented Slovak.

``We have no problem with Slovaks, we like them,'' said Frank Jay, Ottawa's director of amateur scouting. ``He's a man already, physically and mentally. He's played in the elite league for two years and played in the world championship. He's a few years away but he's on track.''

While at the world championship, Meszaros said he got plenty of advice from Hossa and Chara, among others.

``They told me it's a long road to the NHL but I feel I will definitely make it,'' Meszaros said.

He then went to Rookie Camp, but with the pending lockout it was all but certain that he'd end up in juniors somewhere. That somewhere was in Vancouver with the Giants of the WHL:

VANCOUVER - Andrej Meszaros has won over his Vancouver Giants teammates and club brass with his rowdy, rambunctious game.

His Western Hockey League opponents? Not so much.

The 18-year-old Slovak defenceman, the Giants' first-round pick, 16th overall, in this summer's CHL import draft, has been a physical presence throughout the preseason. Last Saturday, in a 5-0 exhibition loss to the Kelowna Rockets, he had bout with Kelowna defenceman Brett Palin and ended the evening with four minor penalties, a fighting major and a game misconduct.

"He plays a good North American game," Rockets winger Troy Brodie told the Kelowna Daily Courier. "He went out there and tried to be a tough player, and that's what you have to do in the WHL. I thought he did fine."

Meszaros, who was picked 23rd overall by the Ottawa Senators in the NHL entry draft during the summer, is used to playing with men. The 6-1, 190 pounder spent most of last year playing in the top Slovakian league.

And then an injury when he captained the Slovaks in the WJC slowed him down a bit upon his return to the Giants, but he found other ways to contribute (Stephen Snelgrove, Vancouver Sun):

Andrej Meszaros has become an expert on pain, at least to the point where he now understands it is far better to give than to receive.

The 19-year-old defenceman has spent much of his rookie season with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants dealing with an assortment of injuries, to the point that it hampered his ability to play with the reckless abandon that had become his trademark growing up in Slovakia.

It has only been in the last few weeks that Meszaros, a first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, has begun to feel healthy enough to display the powerful skating stride and the intimidating physical presence that was so evident early in the season.

"Everything is great right now, I am happy and healthy and I can play. I can help the team and I can play even better," said Meszaros before heading out to practice with his teammates on Tuesday.

"I am seeing the ice better. When I was injured I was always watching, wondering if someone was going to hit me. Now, I can see everything. I can see where the guys are and can make better decisions with the puck."

Learning to play hurt hasn't come easy for Meszaros, who had never had a serious injury before this season and certainly had never gone through a year like this one, where every day a different part of his body seemed to hurt. But he is beginning to understand that playing with pain comes with the territory if you want to succeed in North America.

"If I'm going to play in the NHL I'm going to have to learn to play injured," said Meszaros. "There is always going to be someone who wants your job, but I want to play. This is a new experience, to play injured, and it's something that I have to show Ottawa and the Giants that I can do."

His numbers may not back it up, but Meszaros is now playing as well or better than he has all season for the Giants. He has rediscovered his ability to carry the puck and continues to punish opponents with his physical play.

The after the Giants got knocked out of the WHL playoffs in the first round Meszaros' focused turned to the pro game. By late August he had signed with the Sens (Ken Warren, Ottawa Citizen):

Hello Andrej Meszaros.

Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler completed another stage in his revamping of the club's lineup Thursday, signing 19-year-old defenceman Andrej Meszaros to a three-year contract.

Meszaros, who starred for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League last season and has been a vital player for Slovakia at the past two world junior championships, will be subject to the rookie salary cap of $984,200 next season if he cracks the Senators' lineup.

Once de Vries and his $2.28-million salary were shipped to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the Dany Heatley-Marian Hossa deal on Tuesday, it was only a matter of time before Meszaros was signed.

Muckler is extremely high on Meszaros, who was selected by the Senators in the first round (23rd) of the 2004 entry draft. He has said repeatedly that the physical 6-1, 208-pound defenceman could step directly into the NHL.

Meszaros scored 11 goals and had 30 assists with the Vancouver Giants in 2004-05, sixth in the WHL among rookie scorers. He had three goals and one assist for Slovakia at last year's world junior championship.

And then the waiting was over, Andrej Mesazros was an NHL player at 19. (Ken Warren, Ottawa Citizen)

A sleepless Sunday night gave way to a dream come true yesterday for talented young defenceman Andrej Meszaros, tough guy Brian McGrattan and speedster Chris Kelly. Those three learned they would be in the Ottawa Senators' opening night lineup tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Meszaros says the anxiety was almost too much to bear.

"I went to bed too late; I didn't sleep too well," said the poised defender, who turns 20 next week. "When I came here, I just tried to do my best every practice, every game. But you never know what is going to happen in hockey. One night you might play, and if you don't play well, the next day they might send you down (to the minors)."

Murray and general manager John Muckler say the sky is the limit for Meszaros.

"For a kid just coming out of junior, he shows a lot of poise," Muckler said. "He has great vision for a kid and he has not even touched his potential yet."

Murray says fans might see a rapid improvement in Meszaros' game by Christmas.

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You more than likely know what happened from this point out. Meszaros would play all 82 games for 3 years in a row with the Sens, playing sound defense while putting up 39, 35, and 36 points from the point. After his entry contract expired he became a RFA and was traded to Lightning for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard, and a first rounder. Things never really clicked in Florida for Mesz. He missed 30 games his first season as a member of the Bolts and while he came back healthy last year his production was less than 1/2 of what it had been with the Sens. This season Mesz looks to hit the 30 point mark for the first time since his days with the Sens, and he still leads the NHL in plus/minus with a very impressive +27.