Flyers intrigued by Petr Straka's scoring ability

Flyers intrigued by Petr Straka's scoring ability

July 8, 2013, 2:15 pm
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VOORHEES, N.J. -- To watch Petr Straka wheel up the ice and uncork a snap wrister, a backhand and pick apart the top corners of the net, you can see the kind of skill set the 21-year-old Czech winger has, and why the Flyers were delighted to have won his sweepstakes last April from among a dozen clubs.

“We liked him in his draft year (2010) and had him in the certain area, but Columbus got him,” recalled Chris Pryor, the Flyers’ director of hockey operations.

“They drafted him. Over the last couple of years, who knows what happened with them. He had a couple of good years and our guys saw a lot of him. They were really high on him because of his attributes.”

Hard to believe the Blue Jackets never signed Straka after taking him 55th overall in the second round.

“I didn’t play my best hockey after I got drafted by them,” Straka admitted Monday at the Flyers' prospect and development camp at Skate Zone.

“The year after the draft I had a couple of injuries (broken bones) and I lost my position with the team. When I got healthy, it was just before playoffs and I was on a third line with no power play time.

“I was thinking too much about it. I got down on myself. Next year, I tried to turn the page. We had a new coach and I didn’t get along with him. Took him six months to see what I could do. Obviously, it wasn’t enough for them to impress and I was hoping to sign, but it didn’t happen.”

Straka was slated to attend the St. Louis Blues’ camp last fall. That’s when the lockout hit. He had already had three seasons with Rimouski and was looking for a change. His agent, Allan Walsh, suggested going back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Straka landed with Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

Good choice. The former “Golden Puck” finalist for QMJHL Rookie of the Year 2010 scored 41 goals last season at Baie-Comeau -- his best year in junior.

The Flyers are always keeping an eye out on players who either go undrafted or see their drafts right expire, as Straka’s did.

“[Walsh] called me in the middle of the playoffs and told me he had a serious offer from Philadelphia and told me what he thought,” Straka said.

“I signed it. He said there were couple more teams interested, but that the Flyers had the biggest interest. I liked what I heard.”

What’s interesting about Straka is that he felt he had to come to North America if he was ever going to make something of himself in hockey. He didn’t think the Czech national programs were good enough to get him to the NHL and he had played on Czech national teams from under-16 through U-20.

“When you are 16, you are so excited to be on a national team,” Straka said. “Wear the team logo. It really helped me at U-18 tournament in Fargo [North Dakota]. I came there and ... to see such good players, but we had no chance against Canada, USA or Sweden.

“I began to feel that something is wrong that we have no chance against those teams and felt it'd be better to come to a North American junior team. When you play in Canada, and against Canada with 20,000 people, it is so exciting. Just awesome.”

Straka has some familiarity with three players in this Flyers development camp. He played with defensive prospect Samuel Morin, the Flyers' No. 1 draft pick this past June, in Rimouski; played with defenseman Maxim Lamarche at Baie-Comeau; and played against left wing prospect Andrew Ryan at Halifax.

He spent some time at one of the Blue Jackets' training camps with Jakub Voracek and Steve Mason, as well, but neither player is here right now.

The Flyers think Straka can challenge for a roster spot in a year or so, after playing with the Phantoms.

“I am not the one who can decide, but for sure, when I come into camp in September, the No. 1 goal is to stay on the team with the Flyers,” Straka said. “I will get stronger and better this summer and be ready to compete for a spot.”

The one knock on Straka is similar to a lot of Europeans hear when they arrive in North America –- no defense. He says he was taught that way.

“I always score a lot of goals, Straka said. “Every level I played. Maybe sometimes it took time. I always scored goals and created chances for my teammates.

“I don’t want to change it. That is the type of player that I am. When they signed me, they saw that I could do this and the [Flyers] would want me to do that here.

“It wasn’t necessary to play defensively because I would score 2-3 points every game. When I came over I saw everyone has to play defense.

“If I play well without the puck, the puck will bounce my way. And I will have chance after. I have worked to make progress playing without the puck the last three years.”

Defense can be taught. Offense? Either you have the innate ability to score or you don’t.

“Coming out of junior, a lot of those guys are not accustomed to anything but offense,” Pryor said. “A lot of teams ... maybe they don’t pay much attention to defense or detail work. I think you can teach the defense.”

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