Jiri Smejkal arrived in the Friendly City late last week and since then he has been getting settled into his new surroundings in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The tribe made Smejkal their 12th overall pick in the 2014 CHL Import Draft, bringing the six-foot-two power forward over to Canada from the Czech Republic for his 18-year-old NHL draft year.
The first-year player was at Mosaic Place on Monday getting to know his new home and meeting some of his teammates for the first time as they helped out with the Warriors Kids Camp.
“It’s so important,” said Smejkal on getting to meet some of his teammates before training camp opens. “Now when I come next week, we know each other and it’s better for me and for them.”
Smejkal is expected to be a big part of the Warriors push towards reclaiming a playoff spot this season, but first he just needs to settle into his surroundings and get to know his teammates.
He was pretty impressed with his first look at Mosaic Place.
“Everything professional,” said Smejkal. “Unbelievable what is here, we don’t have this at home.”
That type of professional atmosphere is what Smejkal is looking for as he looks to start on the road towards the National Hockey League. Last season with his hometown club, HC Ceske Budejovice, in the Czech Republic, Smejkal posted seven goals and 19 points in 28 games with the under-20 team and five goals and ten points in seven games with the under-18 team.
He feels his game will translate better to North American hockey than it does in Europe.
“I’m big, so I think that in Canada I will play better than in Czech because there is smaller ice, so this is better for me,” said the six-foot-two, 185lbs forward, who’s expected to fit into the Warriors’ top-six.
There will be plenty of eyes on Smejkal when training camp opens next Thursday at Mosaic Place. Fans will want to see what he can bring to the offensive zone for Moose Jaw, an area the team has struggled in over the past two seasons. The Warriors’ brass will also be looking forward to getting some eyes on Smejkal to see if their investment was worthwhile.
“I like to pass to somebody, I’d rather pass than score goals,” said Smejkal. “I like to play with the puck and shooting goals.”
There will no doubt be an adjustment period for the young player, coming to a new country and playing in a new league, but he said he’s ready for the challenge.
“It will be hard, but I’ll try to make it easy,” said Smejkal. “I must play 100 per cent and I think it will be great.”
Smejkal isn’t unfamiliar with Canadian hockey having played, and scoring, against Canada at 2014 World Under-18 Hockey Championship. He posted four goals in six games at that tournament. That gives him some bragging rights on his teammates heading into training camp.
“I can make fun of them for this,” said Smejkal. “It was a great feeling that I score against Canada.”
Smejkal and the Warriors will be hit the ice starting next Thursday for training camp at Mosaic Place.