David Krejci had never scored less than 20 goals in any season during his hockey career — whether it was developing his puck magician skills in the minors, maturing in the Quebec Major Junior League as a Czech Republic native slowly growing comfortable with the English language, or dominating amateur leagues in ice rinks all across his native land.
That is until last season.
The craftier than crafty 22-year-old has obviously honed a puck identity as an assist machine during each level of his hockey development — a byproduct of his wise-beyond-his-years ability to think the game through. And a gifted set of fast-twitch hands that easily make split-second transitions between puck possession and a perfect dish to the high-scoring areas on the ice. It’s a gift that the skilled elite in the National Hockey League all possess, and Krejci has it in glorious abundance.
But the 6-foot, 178-pounderalso takes pride in being able to make opposing teams pay when they expect him to pass, and he’s always been something of a goal-scoring throat along the way. So when Krejci looked back on last season’s encouraging second half performance with the Bruins, he clearly saw one area that needed some improvement: 13 goals scored in 81 games split between the Providence B’s (7 goals, 21 assists in 25 games) and the Hockey Hub (6 goals, 21 assists in 56 games).
“One of the top [improvements for me] is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight,” said Krejci. “That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I hadn’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.”
With that in mind, Krejci spent a lot of time this summer shooting anywhere he could. There was no confirmation that a young professional hockey player named Krejci was spotted on the beaches of Krk Island in Croatia armed with a stick and rocketing stones into the ocean during his summer vacation, but the center did admit to long hours firing away at pucks in the garden outside his Czech Republic home this summer. It’s something that Krejci had always done each and every summer to strengthen his wrists and add snap to the his wrist shot and slapper attempts, and his strength and feel for his shot went missing last season.
He felt as if shying away from the hundreds of shots each week is why he wound up with 13 goals for the
season, and it’s a big reason why the budding B’s prospect thinks he’s going to be back up over that comfortable 20 goal level this season. Krejci has already potted the game-winner in Colorado on opening night, and his goal-scoring touch was again key in last night’s point-winning 4-3 shootout loss to the hated Habs on Wednesday night. Krejci scored Boston’s first goal of the second period, a rocket of a one-time slap shot after a rebounded puck floated right to him in the high slot.
Did Krejci’s extra shooting work supply a little more sizzle to a shot that rattled the cross-bar before eventually dropping into the net? That just may be, but you be the judge after checking out a Q&A I had with Krejci recently. His skills are truly of the eye-popping variety and he seems poised to make a huge step forward in his second NHL season this winter.
How big was getting up to the NHL toward the end of the season and feeling comfortable last season? DK: Last year I went to training camp to make the team and i did it. But I had some up and downs, you know. I need to be more consistent. I know I had a good year and so many people told me that, but it’s time to to put last year behind me and do whatever I can do this year to be even better. I just need to focus forward rather than the past.
So you had people congratulating you on having a good year, and you’re thinking in your head that the best things are yet to come? DK: Yeah, exactly. I know I had some good games last year. Those games I would love to play every single night this year. No up and downs like I said before. Just consistent. I was happy with the season, but I wasn’t happy as the season went along because I need to be at the same level.
How much of last season was getting comfortable? What was the key for you? DK: A little bit of everything. You need a little luck. I got lucky by getting an opportunity. Savvy got hurt and I was able to play his position. Sometimes I didn’t play good, so I just need to work harder. I don’t want to go back to Providence. I liked everyone there and had a good time, but this is what I dream of. The games I didn’t play good, I just tried to work the hardest so they wouldn’t send me down.
What kind of players bring the best out of you at center? DK: I take everything from everyone. I played a lot
last year with Marco Sturm and Kess, and they both have a lot of speed. So you give them the puck and everything is fine. When I played a long time with Axxy, I think he is one of the best two-way players in the league. So many people think he’s only a defensive player but he’s got great skills to make all the plays. So I like playing with anybody. I can just pick two guy and then play with them all year. You never know there’s going to be injuries or something…or there’s five minutes left and you’re going out there with guys that you have played with and they know what to expect from you. And I know what to expect from them. It makes it a little easier.
When you’re in the offensive zone are you thinking in your head to pass first? Is that how your hockey mind works? DK:I know I don’t have the greatest shot in the league, so I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to get better sticks [Krejci said this with a laugh]. 2-on-1 or whatever I don’t care whether it’s me or Axxy or whoever scoring the goal. Whether I make the pass or I shoot it, I just like when we score a goal. I don’t want to go back to the bench [without scoring] and have somebody says ‘nice play’ or whatever. If I make a nice play and we don’t score a goal, then it’s just like putting the puck in the corner, you know. I just want the team to score goals.
If you’ve got an opening to shoot then I’ll shoot it and if I have an opening to shoot or pass it I might try to look off the goalie and make a nice play. Sometimes it doesn’t work.
Do you get more of a thrill out of setting up a nice pass or scoring a goal? DK:I was always more of the passer guy all my life, but I’ll tell you one thing…I was pretty happy when I finally scored a goal last year. I like to be the playmaker and play with the puck. It’s hard to say.
Guys must like playing with you if you like passing the puck? DK: You’ve got to ask them, you know. Scoring or passing, I’ll just take whatever comes. I just think I’m more of a guy who can handle the puck better than shoot the puck from the top of the circle.
You talked about the shooting a little bit…were there one or two areas like that you pinpointed in the summer and you wanted to get better at? DK: There’s more stuff I wanted to get better at in the offseason. One of the top ones is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight. That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I haven’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.
So this year I brought the net back and tried to shoot as many pucks as I could. This is back in the Czech, and I have a house on the hill that has a driveway that goes down below into a garden. I set the net up there and started shooting again. I didn’t it three years ago felt great and scored 30 goals. Didn’t do it last year and scored…what…six goals in the NHL.
So are you going to score 30 goals this season? DK: I’m not saying I’m going to score 30 goals, but I will say that my shot is going to be harder this year. Training camp was tough so you didn’t have a lot of time to shoot before and after practice, but we’ll see.
Was there a moment last year where something happened and you said ‘you know what, I belong in the NHL?’ DK: When I made the team from training camp, our first road trip was in California. I thought I played good and coaches told they wanted me to play here. Then when they told me I was unsuccessful. I didn’t want to be, but I just didn’t play as good as I did before. That’s why I was talking about being consistent. I knew I could play when we were on that California trip. I knew I could play at this level. So I went to work again in Providence and got called back up and really believed I could stay all year. And that’s what I did.
That must have been important to have that idea in your head that you could play here. DK: It was a good feeling. When they brought me back I was playing 10 minutes a night and playing on the power play. So that got my confidence up. I love it on the power play. I feel like it’s one of my strongest game. I love to feel like I’m an important guy on the team and other guys will be counting on me.
Is there kind of a good feeling that there’s a bunch of young players like yourself that are all growing up on the team together? DK: It’s nice. The older guys have been nice to us. Sometimes they make a joke at us, but you’ve got to take it as a team thing. It’s nice that we’ve got some more younger guys, so you kind of turn it on them and make jokes about them.
Who’s the biggest veteran to make jokes at you guys? DK:Axxey maybe. Just fun stuff. There are more guys. It’s hard to say just one.
What’s your favorite moment from last year? DK:It was all of the momens from the first playoff series for sure. It was something I won’t ever forget. Even if I play 10 more times in the league and 10 more times in the playoff, it was my first time there and we went to seven games in Montreal. it was something special, you know. That Game 6 was the biggest thing. They scored three goals, we scored three goals. It was just crazy. Like I said, I would love to do it again.
What was your summer like? DK:Yeah, my offseason I don’t skate at all. I usually start skating three or sometimes four weeks before the camp so I can get strong and get a feel for the ice before camp.
Did you do any traveling? DK: Travel. After the season I went to World Championships in Quebec City and then I spent maybe a week in Ottawa. I played Junior hockey there and I still have a girlfriend from there so I spent a week there. Then i went back home and went on a 10 day vacation with family, my good friends and my girlfriend to Croatia. It was nice just relaxing on the beaches.
People tell me that the beaches in parts of Croatia are pretty nice. DK:Yeah. It’s not a sand beach, it’s big rocks. So it makes the water so clear and it’s pretty nice. Sometimes when you have a sandy bottom to the beach you can’t see anything below the water, but you can see all the rocks in the water. It’s pretty nice. I go there the last 10 years in a row for a week or two. I always used to go to a place called Krk Island for five years in a row, but the last couple of years I’ve just picked places out of city with my friends.
Croatia is so beautiful, you know, they have all kinds of little villages that basically come alive at night. So you got to the beaches all day and then you have stuff to do like going to shops, or street dancers or street magicians. There’s always things to do there. it’s very nice.
Is that rest good for you when you had such a long season between Providence, Boston and the World Championships? DK: Oh yeah. There was a excitement inside of me, but I was so exhausted that I couldn’t wait to rest. I was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs you know, and it was so hard to watch them last season when you knew you could have been there. It’s so nice when I go to Croatia I just totally take everything off and I eat like an animal, you know, and do whatever. Just relaxing and doing whatever I want. After that [hockey] starts over again, you know.