Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins said he had some doubts about rookie forward Matej Stransky early this season. Doubts that have now been erased.
“He’s come a long way from the start of the year,” Desjardins said. “At the start of the year I wasn’t sure he belonged here. I thought he should probably be in the ECHL, but there were some people on the staff that believed in him and he got a little bit more of a chance.”
The 20-year-old Czech native, Dallas’ sixth round pick (165th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, knew he was on the bubble early in the season and did everything he could to stick in the AHL.
“I battled hard. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I just stayed with it and it worked,” said Stransky. “But it was tough. It was hard to get going. I had to work on some stuff. But over the season I think I proved a lot of things and I feel better about myself.”
Stransky is proving to be an effective player for Texas in the Calder Cup Playoffs as a part of the Stars’ fourth line, which has been outstanding. Stransky is playing right wing with center Radek Faksa and left wing Kevin Henderson in the Calder Cup Finals, which Texas leads 2-1 over St. John’s. Toby Petersen and Taylor Peters have also played left wing on that line over the course of the playoffs. Stransky and Faksa, a fellow Czech who joined the team late in the season after his junior career ended, found chemistry quickly.
“We are from the same country, so the chemistry is kind of natural,” said Stransky. “It feels good playing on the ice. He is the same type of player as me. He is big, he likes to play in the corners and he is pretty simple with the puck. So, yeah, I think we have pretty good chemistry, and I hope it is going to be better and better. Maybe we will play together again next year.”
Stransky and Faksa have developed chemistry off the ice as well, hanging out a lot together. It’s helped Faksa, Dallas’ first round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, with his transition to playing and living in Cedar Park, and it’s been good for Stransky as well.
“It’s really nice,” said Stransky. “It’s always nice when you can hang out with somebody and talk about stuff from Czech Republic with someone who knows what’s going on. It’s been really good that he is here.”
Stransky has five points (one goal, four assists) in 19 playoff games. His one goal was a big one. He circled behind the net and scored from the bottom of the right circle to give Texas a 4-2 lead in its 6-2 victory over Toronto in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
“He’s really been good since Christmas on, and he’s been really good in the playoffs,” Desjardins said of Stransky. “I like how he holds onto the puck. He is gifted offensively. He’s good down low. And he’s confident. Those things certainly add to our lineup.”
But to become a regular in the lineup Stransky had a lot of work to do over the course of the season. At the top of the list was his skating, which has been seen as a key weakness. It was more evident when he made the jump to the AHL from juniors this season.
“I think the speed [was a big adjustment]. Everything is quicker here. I had to work on my skating,” Stransky said. “[Assistant coach] Doug Lidster worked with me after practices and that helped a lot, and in the gym it was some leg stuff. We practice high tempo, and that helps, too.
“It’s way better. I feel more confident with the puck so I know I can do more things, so that helped me a lot.”
This is Stransky’s first professional season and his fourth in North America. He came over from Czech Republic as a 17-year-old to play for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. Stransky was a big scorer in his final two seasons with the Blades, registering 79 goals in 142 games. The goals did not come easy in his first year as a pro. He had 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 65 regular season games and 10 of those points (five goals, five assists) came on the power play. Playing on the fourth line was a factor in the limited offensive output, but Stransky sees that as an area for improvement.
“We didn’t have the biggest ice time and I didn’t think it was that bad, but still I think I should be better,” Stransky said. “That’s something I want to work on.”
Despite the low offensive numbers, both Texas and Dallas like what they’ve seen from Stransky this season, especially the improvement and the work put in to achieve it.
“He’s done really well,” said Dallas Stars assistant GM Les Jackson. “First, he’s got a great attitude. He’s got a nice skillset and I’d say this year he has taken huge steps in his skating. He’s put in the work and he’s earned the trust of the coaches. For a first year player he has done exceptionally well. There’s a wide gap in his improvement this year. He’s a dependable two-way player, plus he has some hand skills to do damage offensively. He’s had a pretty solid first year.”
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