The story of Jan Vopat is one of a career unfulfilled. Vopat was selected by the Hartford Whalers 57th overall in the 1992 Entry draft. He remained in the Czech Republic to play with CHZ Litvinov, and the Whalers wound up trading his rights to the Los Angeles Kings on May 31, 1995.
The Kings found Vopat to be a smart, but not overly physical, defenseman. As a player, he stuck to a simple game with few mistakes and allowed others to perform the fancy stick work. This simple approach put him into 65 games over the next three seasons with the Kings. He spent the rest of the time with the Kings' minor league teams learning the North American game.
Vopat got his chance to be a regular when Los Angeles traded him to the expansion Nashville Predators on June 26, 1998. The Predators let him take a regular shift on the blueline and he responded to the challenge. His downfall came toward the end of his first full season.
Vopat could not stop itching. He had developed a rare skin rash, known in sports circles as "gunk," on his knees and shins. The rash causes a mass of ugly, purple welts to appear on the body and scratching makes the condition worse. Vopat tried to combat the "gunk" with a variety of ointments--without luck. The Nashville training staff changed cleaning products and equipment materials to narrow down the cause of the ailment. Doctors and allergists thought altering his diet would help.
The reappearance of the rash brought out stories of other sufferers. The North Stars' Tom Reid had his career ended by the ailment while Paul Gardiner, Grant Fuhr, Rick Vaive, Jacques Lemaire, Lou Nanne, and Dennis Hextall all suffered bouts of "gunk."
Vopat ended his 1999-2000 season on December 10, 1999 after six games. After hoping the off season would clear the rash, he found that it was back. His NHL dream had to be abandoned.
He did try a comeback in 2000-01 with a team in Finland, but he had to withdraw before playing a game because the rash began creeping across his arms and legs. There is still the hope he can resume his career through medication.