RALEIGH, N.C. – Utility rookie forward Andrej Nestrsil has found a niche with the Carolina Hurricanes.
He’s become a versatile player that head coach Bill Peters has felt comfortable using on both the right and left wings, as well as at center.
He’s gotten special teams time as well.
The native of Prague, Czech Republic has posted 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) and sits with a team-leading plus-7 rating in 24 games played with Carolina after being picked up on waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 20.
As Detroit’s third pick (75th) overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Nestrasil didn’t take the fast route to playing in the NHL.
“I’ve been through a lot the last three-and-a-half years when I signed my first pro contract,” Nestrasil said.
“I thought I was going to play AHL and I got sent down to the East Coast, and I was back and forth in the East Coast for my first couple of years. I think that’s where I overcame all these mental issues and I realized it’s not so much about me as a hockey player. There’s a lot of other things involved. I just tried to focus on what I’m doing on the ice, so I try to give my best effort every night and that’s all I can control and that’s what I worry about.”
He credits his father and Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill in providing him with the reinforcement and guidance to focus on what was important to help his progression to the NHL continue forward.
“My dad is always good at explaining what it all means, and that was the biggest help,” Nestrasil said.
“Jeff Blashill, the coach at Grand Rapids, I think he really opened my eyes the last two years and really made me focus on where I should get better and what should be my role. That really helped me out.”
At 24, and after four years of playing in the ECHL and AHL, Nestrasil seems to have hit his stride as an example of a young prospect who has shown progress at each level.
In 2012-2013, he finished with 41 points (11 goals, 30 assists) in 40 games with the Toledo Walleye.
Those results helped earn him regular playing time in 2013-2014 with Grand Rapids, eventual Calder Cup champions, with whom he contributed 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 70 games.
Of note, during the Griffins’ regular season he scored seven power play goals and two game winners, and during the team’s championship run, tallied four goals and two assists, including two game winners.
All of that got him playing time this season in 13 games with the Red Wings.
However, with only two assists, a trip back to the AHL was imminent for some more seasoning.
With Peters’ previous employment with Detroit, it didn’t take long for Carolina to pick the young forward off the waiver wire.
It was a chance that they took, hoping he could work into the Hurricanes system quickly, and fill a void particularly with the injury and depth situation they faced at that point in the season.
It’s taken some time for him to adjust to working into the lineup, and as of late, he’s become an increasingly reliable and productive young forward.
Those are numbers Peters likes to see and that type of production should bode well for Nestrasil down the road.
“He’s done a good job stayin’ with it,” Peters said.
“He’s gonna’ continue to get stronger and quicker and become even more effective. He’s a big body who knows how to play. He goes net-front. He’s heavy on the puck in the offensive zone. He’s got power play skill. He’s got a bright future.”