Martin Necas can’t make the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster this year, can he?
He’s 18 and looks younger. The Czech center says he weighs more than 180 pounds but looks lighter. He has played on bigger European rinks all of his life, allowing him more room on the ice to use his speed and quickness.
Besides, look at the Canes’ roster and the number of forwards with NHL contracts. Look at the Canes’ centers. Where is there room, even for a first-round draft pick?
The Hurricanes may have to find room. The kid can fly, a swift skater with quick hands and the ability to make things happen on the ice.
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After a training camp practice session Saturday, Canes coach Bill Peters broke into a smile before the question had been finished: “Is Necas the kind of player that the more you see him the more you like him?”
“I agree with that. That’s a good way to put that,” Peters said. “I thought he did some things (Saturday) that were spectacular. Each time I’ve seen him there’s things I’m taking away from his game that are very impressive. … The pace that he plays at, his skating ability, his vision.
“He’s a great young man and he loves the game. His passion for the game is incredible.”
Peters said Necas, who is listed at 6-2 and 179 pounds, looks bigger on the ice. “And he plays big and he’s powerful,” Peters said.
The Hurricanes made Necas the 12th overall pick of the NHL Entry Draft this year. The feeling, from the beginning, is he would return to the Czech Republic for another season with Brno of the top Czech professional league, again sharing a line with former NHL forward Martin Erat and continuing to develop and mature as a player.
But as Canes general manager Ron Francis said Sunday, “To be honest he has been better than I expected.”
The Canes were to play their first preseason exhibition game Monday on the road against the Buffalo Sabres and Necas will be in the lineup.
Necas was impressive in the Canes’ prospects camp in July. He was impressive in the recent Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament.
Now, Necas has come to his first NHL training camp with the goal of making the biggest jump of all – to the NHL, at 18.
Jeff Skinner did that. In 2010, the forward proved his value and talent early in camp and in exhibition games, made the Canes roster, played at 18 and won the 2011 Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.
Canes forward Sebastian Aho, in contrast, spent an extra year in the Finnish elite league before coming to the NHL last season at 19.
“Everybody here, the goal is to make the team,” Necas said Sunday.
Is he ready for the NHL?
“We’ll see after camp,” he said. “I’ll do everything for it.”
Necas (pronounced NEH-chas) has options. He was drafted by the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League although it’s unlikely he will play junior hockey. He could be sent to Charlotte to spend time with the Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
“We’ve talked about it so many times, but we still don’t know,” Necas said of the scenarios.
One of the bigger adjustments for European players is fitting their style of play into the smaller confines of North American rinks. Aho, for one, said it took him time to adjust to making plays in tighter spaces.
“I like the small rink,” he said. “You have more scoring chances here and hockey is faster. Yeah, I like it.”
In one drill Sunday at PNC Arena, Necas swept behind the net, then quickly pivoted and changed directions – the puck seemingly glued to his stick. His pass into the slot led to a scoring chance.
“He makes plays. He gets the puck to people right on the tape,” Peters said. “He’s got a real good understanding of the game and also has great instincts. His anticipation is very good.”
Odds are, it’s at least a year too soon for Necas. Odds are, he’ll end up going back to Brno, playing with Erat, getting in another pro season back home rather than, say, Charlotte.
“At the end of the day, it’s a decision we’ll let the kid make with his agent,” Francis said.
The Canes, beginning Monday, play three exhibition games in three days. Peters said Necas has earned an extra exhibition game with his early play in camp.
“This guy wants to make our team, the way he’s going about his business,” Peters said.