You would never know it by his NHL stint, but big Czech Jiri Dopita is very much a hockey legend, at least back home.
Dopita is about as decorated as a player can get in the Czech Republic. He was a 7 time Czech league champion, 4 time regular season MVP and 3 time playoff MVP. He was part of three Czech world Championships and the 1998 Olympic gold medal championship. In 2001 he was given the Golden Stick Award, the top honour a hockey player can get in the Czech Republic. It is sort of like being inducted into a Hockey Hall of Fame.
For all his success he never gave the NHL a shot until he was 32 years old. He was drafted by Boston as a 23 year old in 1993, and then by the New York Islanders in 1998. Because of his size (6'3", 210lbs) and overseas success he was very much on the NHL radar as the century ended. But repeated attempts to lure him to the NHL failed and resulted in his playing rights bouncing around the league.
Finally in 2001-02 Jiri Dopita opted to bring his game to Philadelphia, where his good friend Roman Cechmanek landed the season before. Dopita was impressive at times, once scoring 4 goals in one game against the Atlanta Thrashers. But unfortunately injuries and coaching derailed his season. He suffered a knee sprain and cracked tibia in his very first game, and the injuries kept coming until arthroscopic surgery ended his season eventually. He only played in 52 games, scoring 11 goals and 27 points.
I mentioned coaching as a detriment in Dopita's transition to the NHL game. Dopita was a talented playmaker who was tough to separate from the puck. He was an understated mix of power and skill with deceptive quickness. Yet who did coach Bill Barber insist on saddling him with most of the season? Tough guy Donald Brashear.
The Flyers traded Dopita to the Edmonton Oilers for the 2002-03 season. It should have been a good fit for Dopita, as he was pencilled in as the 2nd line center and would be flanked by speedy youngsters like Ales Hemsky and Mike York. But injuries again derailed Dopita's season. He would play in just 21 games, scoring only 1 goal and 6 points.
With his contract expired, Jiri Dopita retreated back to the Czech Republic where he continued to play for many seasons. It was unfortunate he never had a better chance to show what he could do to NHL audiences.