In André Savard’s greatest move as a former GM of the Montreal Canadiens, he made a swap with the Washington Capitals for two young players and a draft pick in exchange for two players who weren’t working out for the best in Montreal plus a draft pick. Jan Bulis was one of the players who came to the Habs, and it’s possible even they didn’t realize just what they’d acquired.
Born in Pardubice, Czeckoslovakia, Bulis was drafted in the second round and 43rd overall in 1996 by the Washington Capitals. At the time he was in his first year playing for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and he would go on, in his second year, to rack up 103 points, including 42 goals. After playing a brief two games with Kingston the next year (1997/98), he would finally make it to the NHL and went on to play 48 games with the Caps that year, scoring five goals and chipping in eleven helpers. Over the next three years he was used irregularly by a struggling Caps team and eventually found himself as part of that trade which occurred on March 13th, 2001.
At 6’1 and 208 pounds, the Habs had found a little size they needed in a hard working young player. In fact, at that time the Canadiens had precious few players around Bulis’ age as much of their drafting in previous years had proved fruitless. Houle had indicated that part of the reason for the trade was to restock the Habs with younger, talented players. In his first full season with the Canadiens, Bulis was hampered with a knee injury that caused him to miss 20 games, however he was already proving to be a successful acquisition as Hab management and fans were impressed with his outstanding speed and work ethic.
In 2002/03, Bulis found his game on the wing of Joe Juneau and became a far more complete player as he was used in a checking role. Matched up against opponents best players, Bulis was still able to pile up solid numbers offensively, and in fact had a career year in all categories managing 16 goals and 40 points in a full 82-game schedule. Equally impressive was his plus/minus, which at plus nine on a defensively weak club proved his worth for the Canadiens.
This year Bulis has continued his fine defensive game, improving it continually and still generating some offence. While he was once considered a potential offensive star, now many might consider him the centrepiece of the future Canadiens checking line that is able to contribue on the attack. Of course, the most noticeable part of his game is his speed and skating ability, which he has learned to use to advantage in recent years. Either in defensive coverage or in an attacking role, he uses his speed to move himself to better position thus allowing him to regularly be in the right place at the right time. Offensively, you wonder if a few goals might not just unlock all that potential. He gets himself in fabulous positions, however when he gets close to the net his shot, more often than not, lets him down somewhat. And while many might stop there and just point out his deficiencies on offence, the fact of the matter is that he’s still getting in these wonderful positions and is still putting the puck in the net from time to time. Defensively he’s apprenticed extremely well next to Juneau, a checking specialist. Always one of the first back in his own end on the backcheck, Bulis rarely gets outworked for the puck and maintains a solid coverage on his man and zone in the defensive third. That his work ethic is second to none only lends more to his defensive prowess as he’s usually first to the puck and can effectively knock out attacks.
In fact, during much of last year and the year before, Bulis was one of the only players who was a consistent worker. Night after night, shift after shift he put in a solid effort, while many of his teammates might have taken shifts or even complete nights off. Gainey must be most pleased with this aspect of his game, since Gainey himself was one of the hardest workers in hockey. It was never a common theme, but for the acquisition of Jan Bulis, we can walk up to Houle and thank him profusely. Bulis’ future with the club is a bright one, and assuming he doesn’t fall too deeply in love with his other passion, riding Harley Davidson motorcycles, he should be a solid contributor for years to come.
HabsWorld Player Profile: #38 Jan Bulis