Martin Necas took to the ice at PNC Arena for the first time Wednesday, showing some of the speed, skating and playmaking ability that made him a first-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Late in the session, his pass set up Morgan Geekie for a shot and score, bringing the first full day of the Canes’ prospects development camp to a close.
“The players are trying to get on their feet, get to know us a little bit as a staff and what the Hurricanes organization is all about,” Canes assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “For us, it’s getting to know them, too. A lot of them are new faces, and we don’t know much about them really.”
And his first on-ice impressions of Necas?
“He’s a good player, and he’s going to be, I think, a great player for us here whenever they decide he’s ready,” Brind’Amour said. “I like that he’s a playmaker. He sees the ice. You can tell. There are certain players, they get the puck, you can see what they’re thinking, and they’re thinking ahead of the game.
“I think it’s a matter of him getting that strength and up to speed at this level and then the sky’s the limit for a kid like that.”
The Hurricanes made Necas, 18, the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft last Friday. The Canes had the center from the Czech Republic rated among the top 10 prospects and gladly took him at No. 12.
“He’s a smart, creative player who attacks with speed,” Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting, said Wednesday. “He’s a very competitive kid who competes hard on both sides of the puck.
“He plays a 200-foot game, the kind of guy who wants to puck on his stick and works to get it back. That’s one of the things we like about him. He’s a European player who plays with a little bit of an edge, and you have to like that.”
The draft in Chicago made for a big moment for Necas, who says his name is pronounced NEH-chas. His family was there, as was another face familiar to many in the NHL and certainly Nashville Predators fans – Martin Erat.
Erat was one of Necas’ teammates last season on Kometa Brno, helping win the championship in the Czech Extraliga.
“He’s like my second brother, a second coach,” Necas said Wednesday. “He played almost a thousand matches in the NHL, and I could gain from his experience. What can I say? He’s great.”
Erat, 35, played 881 games for the Preds, Washington Capitals and Arizona Coyotes before leaving for Russia’s KHL in 2015-16. He then signed with Brno, and Necas said Erat plans to return to the Czech team next season.
“He showed me so much, on the ice and off the ice,” Necas said. “I’m really glad for that. I talked with him every day. I watched so many videos with him about power plays, about defensive zone, offensive zone play. I learned so much from that.”
Necas isn’t sure yet if he’ll return to the Czech Republic. At 6-1 and 178 pounds, he needs more size and strength – “man muscle” as coaches likes to say – to compete in the NHL and make it through the grind of an 82-game season.
The Canes’ prospects were without their cell phones much of Wednesday, a nice respite, and Necas didn’t learn until after the on-ice session that he was taken in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft – 10th by the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
A decision to make
Coming to North America would help him adjust to the smaller rinks and playing in tighter spaces. Returning to the Czech Republic would mean another season of professional hockey with older, more seasoned players such as, well, Martin Erat.
“It works both ways,” MacDonald said. “If they’re in a good situation there and playing professional hockey with men, that works well.”
Necas accomplished a lot last season, competing for the Czech Republic’s Under-20 team in the 2017 World Junior Championship and serving as captain for the Czech U-18 team in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He had 15 points in 41 regular-season games for Brno, then four goals in 10 playoff games in the run to the league championship.
“It wasn’t easy for a 17-year-old playing in that league but he learned a lot of good habits from Marty Erat,” said Robert Kron, who heads the Canes’ European scouting.
Necas smiled Wednesday when describing the huge victory celebration in Brno, one he recorded and posted on Facebook.
“I think we have some of the best fans in Europe,” Necas said. “I enjoy every single match there because those fans are incredible.”
Necas left his hometown of Nove Mesto na Morave, which he calls “a small city, a hockey city,” at 15 to play in Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic.
The next step is leaving his home country for North America. But that may be another year away.
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Necas said, again with the smile.