In my estimations he has all of the potential to become the next Zdeno Chara. Especially the size! At 6’8″ and 225lbs., he is the largest hockey player that you have probably never heard of. Halfway through his second full season in the National Hockey League, Andrej Sustr is the player I am most excited to watch for in the years ahead.
Sustr reminds me a lot of his fellow countryman, Richard Smehlik. Quiet but always there to depend upon. Not flashy, but very steady. Sound at his position, and only getting better. If he develops a mean streak like Chara displays from time to time – look out! This guy will be devastating.
I like the description that has been used more than once on Chara; “You don’t want to wake the giant”. Because when Chara gets upset or takes matters into his own hands on the ice, he is more powerful than anyone else in the game. He manhandles opposing players and he is literally an unstoppable force. This helps Chara’s game to be as effective as it is, and what has allowed him to be successful for so long. By being able to impose a little fear into opposing players, knowing that they do not want to be on his bad side, Chara is able to create more space for himself on the ice to dish a clean pass or drive home one of his rocketed shots on net. Chara creates opportunities that most players have to fight for because of his immense size and the intimidation factor that he possesses. At 25-years of age, it remains to be seen whether Andrej Sustr will garner that same intimidation factor. But like Chara, as time goes along Sustr can continue to improve his all-around game and demonstrate that he is a very sound defenseman regardless. Something that Chara did when he first broke into the league too; took the time to hone his skills until they became elite.
It is very hard for me to imagine that Andrej Sustr was never drafted into the NHL. Sustr left the Czech Republic at the age of 17 to move to the United States where he would play junior hockey as well as collegiate hockey for three years with the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. Sustr would participate in a handful of development camps for NHL teams before he was eventually recruited and signed professionally by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013. Everyone knows that Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman was a genius of a hockey player on the ice. As GM for Tampa, Yzerman is demonstrating that he may very well be a genius on the Management side as well, as under his guise numerous talented players have been brought to the Lightning, including “The Triplets”, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. By signing the giant-sized Sustr as an undrafted free agent, Yzerman might not only be a genius but a seer – who wouldn’t want to have the next Zdeno Chara on their hockey club?
In Sustr’s first full season in the NHL, 2014-15, he served as a stalwart defenseman on the blueline for Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would lose in 6-games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Sustr played in all 26-playoff games for the Lightning that season. Not bad for an undrafted rookie. Sustr registered a goal and an assist during those games, along with 18-penalty minutes. On a roster that already housed veteran, well-accomplished defensemen Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, Anton Stralman and the like, it was enjoyable to watch Sustr do his part and find his niche for Tampa as they made their way into the Finals:
Sustr’s first-round playoff goal against the Detroit Red Wings in 2015:
Made up of entirely the same blueline that led them into last year’s Finals, now in the 2015-16 season, Tampa’s defense is still causing opposing teams to be envious to no end. It is a blueline that will make the Lightning poised to take another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. If I were coach Jon Cooper, I would continuously pair the larger than life Sustr with the Lightning’s top defender Victor Hedman (who stands 6’7″ and 225lbs. himself), and dare offenses to get by these twin towers.
While only time will tell as to how great of a player Andrej Sustr will become, I am banking on him not disappointing. I trust Steve Yzerman’s judgment. I trust the Lightning scouts’ judgment. And I trust in what Sustr has displayed thus far. While Zdeno Chara is in his twilight, Andrej Sustr is giving all appearances that he is prepared carry the torch as the NHL’s next big man. The new giant that you do not want to wake.