DALLAS – Considering how far Radek Faksa has already come in his quest to pull on an NHL jersey, it probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against him completing the journey.
The 18-year-old native of Vitkov, Czech Republic left home at age 11, living in a hotel 90 kilometres away, in order to further his hockey career by joining the higher level Trinec organization, all with the ultimate objective of reaching the NHL.
After several years moving up the ranks in Trinec, Faksa embarked on the next phase of his trek by taking the voyage across the Atlantic to skate for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League in Canada last season.
Although many Czechs try to go this way, not many succeed in North America the way Faksa did in his first OHL year.
An impressive season, during which Faksa led all OHL rookies with 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games, along with a +19 plus/minus rating, led to rave reviews from scouts and boosted his profile heading into the June 22 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
“He’s not afraid to play in traffic, go to the net, take hits, deliver hits and he plays with a bit of an edge,” said Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting. “He’s got real good playmaking skills, good puck ability. He’s got real good ability to get the puck through to the net and make plays.”
Following his selection by the Dallas Stars with the 13th overall pick, Faksa found himself in Frisco, Texas, taking part in the his new club’s prospect development camp. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Faksa and he couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
“It’s been a good experience for me because I’ve been drafted by a good organization and I am at an NHL development camp,” said Faksa Friday at the Stars’ practice facility. “It’s my dream and I’m here now. I spent lots of time alone and I did lots (to make it to the) NHL, and I am here now. It was very hard, but it’s awesome.”
“He had a terrific year in junior – he’s a remarkable kid, he learned the English language over the course of one season just by hanging out in the dressing room,” marveled Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He’s a great, young kid and we’ll treat him with white gloves and make sure he’s comfortable and not rush the kid, but push him and teach him how to be a pro.”
While getting acclimated to the Stars organization and meeting the other Dallas draftees, Faksa also found time to sign a three-year entry-level contact on July 6.
“It’s a very big opportunity, I signed a big contract, so it’s a very big day for me,” said Faksa, who registered two goals and six points in 13 playoff games as Kitchener advanced to the OHL’s Western Conference Finals. “I’m excited, it’s a great feeling. It’s amazing, because your whole life you dream of being an NHL player, and now you’re drafted and closer to NHL. That’s incredible.”
“We know he’s a world-class offensive player,” said his coach at Kitchener, Steve Spott, who would undoubtedly love to get Faksa back for another year. “But I think what makes him attractive to NHL scouts is the fact he might play earlier than expected because he’s able to defend at what I consider an elite level right now.”
The Dallas management is excited about their new player, but tempered enthusiasm that the electrifying 190 cm, 92 kg centre might be able to make the jump directly to the parent club next season.
“He’s a big, strong kid, there’s no doubt about that,” Nieuwendyk said. “It’s hard to say in today’s NHL how these kids do when they come in. There’s certainly no urgency to rush him in any manner, nor would it be right for the kid. He’ll participate in training camp in the fall, and we’ll see how he progresses.”
“Faksa is a pretty talented kid, he has a great attitude and a great story behind him,” added Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development, Les Jackson. “He played this last season in Kitchener, he’ll go back there this fall. He’s a big, raw kid who has unique talent offensively, he’s a big kid that can skate and he thinks the game really well. It’s the same thing as any other kid, we’re just going to have to be patient with him and work with him, and he has a chance in two or three years to play for the big team.”
Heading back to junior for 2012-13 would be just fine with Faksa, who enjoyed his first season in North America, particularly the more physical brand of hockey that prevails in the OHL.
“I got a big body, so I play more of a physical game and here in Canada, you need to be more physical, so it was awesome for me,” Faksa said of his year in Kitchener. “It was really hard because I didn’t speak English, but in other ways, it was a great experience. In Kitchener, we have great fans, so every game was loud and I had great coaches, they gave me an opportunity to play lots of ice time and on power play. We had a great group of guys, so it was great.”
Another year in junior would also give Faksa another chance to represent the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship, which in 2013 take place in Ufa, Russia. As an underage player last season, he recorded two goals in six games, including one in the Czechs’ fifth-place game victory over rival Slovakia.
“It was a very great experience because I played with older guys and I am looking forward to another World Juniors so that I can have more of a role on the team than I did last year,” Faksa said. “I’m excited for the World Juniors in Russia. I want to play on the first two lines and I want to be a leader on my team. I think we’ll have a great team and I hope the semi-finals are possible.”
“I think any time you can play those types of tournaments, in international competition, it’s great for your résumé and gets you playing at a high level,” Nieuwendyk said.
And hopefully for Faksa, the experience gained during those types of high-stakes playoff-like situations will help him eventually find his way back to Dallas for the next chapter.