Jiri Smejkal is slowly gathering his surroundings.
“It is a pretty nice city and there are nice guys here,” said Smejkal.
The Moose Jaw Warriors selected Smejkal with the 12th overall pick in the CHL import draft in July.
The Czech Republic native has been in the Friendly City for a couple of weeks getting to know the city and his new teammates.
He is excited to get back on the ice as training camp officially opens with fitness testing this morning. His first taste of the Western Hockey League will be this weekend at main camp.
“For camp, I am looking forward to it and I would like to show my best,” he said.
The 6’2 power forward feels like he will be able to pick up the North American style of play quickly and is excited to prove what he can do for the Warriors.
“I think it will be better for me because I am big and when I play in Canada or America, I play good, I think,” he said. “I want to make the playoffs and I would like to score some goals.”
Smejkal had quite a bit of success with his hometown club, HC Ceske Budejovice, posting seven goals and 19 points in 28 games. He also had a successful under-18 tournament, scoring five goals and 10 points in seven games.
That experience was one of the reasons the Warriors drafted him.
“He is going to turn 18 this year, so unlike some 17 year olds that come in with a tougher transition. With Jiri’s age and his experience, we feel that he has the opportunity and ability to contribute,” said Alan Millar, Warriors’ general manager. “I think he is a guy that is going to play in our top nine and compete to play in our top six.”
Millar also stated that with the acquisition of forward Jaimen Yakubowski and some of their younger talent coming up, the depth of the forward group is more important than running certain line combinations.
“It won’t necessarily be about line one, two, three or four … it is going to be more about a balanced approach and depth on all four lines,” said Millar. “We think that is he going to compliment that very well.”
With any European player coming over to the Canadian Hockey League, there is always a transition phase that will happen. Millar thinks that Smejkal will be able to make that shift easily.
“There is always going to be a transition — culturally, geographically and the size of the ice surface. I think all of those things are factors and you have to expect that it will take time,” said Millar. “There is a reason why, for the most part, import players are usually better in the second half of the season or in their second year in the CHL.
“I think with Jiri, the fact that his age and experience and his English is pretty good, it will make that transition a little bit easier for him.”
As for any anxiety from Smejkal: “I am not nervous, I think it is right.”
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