May 10, 2013

How David Krejci became one of B's all-time best draft picks

By Kirk Luedeke

When the Bruins drafted David Krejci 63rd overall in 2004, the Czech center didn't speak English and needed a translator to talk with the media. (Getty Images)

David Krejci currently sits atop the NHL for playoff scoring with five goals and 10 points in just four games, keying Boston’s 3-1 advantage over the Toronto Maple Leafs in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Keyed by Krejci’s second career playoff hat trick in Game 4, including the sudden death game-winner to secure a 4-3 victory, Boston is surging at the right time after the top line struggled to find consistency during the regular season. Although Nathan Horton (three goals, six points) and Milan Lucic (six assists) have found their offensive games at just the right time, Krejci has taken things to a whole new level.

Hardcore Bruins fans and especially those who have been solidly in the 27-year-old Czech center’s corner since he made the NHL club as a regular during the 2007-08 hockey season are not at all surprised by his torrid production of late.

Well, maybe just a little.

It stands to reason that Krejci is merely carving in stone his reputation as a top postseason performer after leading the NHL in scoring during Boston’s 2011 run to its first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. His 12 goals and 23 points (in 25 games) were lost in the shuffle of a brilliant Tim Thomas MVP performance, but Krejci’s own heroics were hardly unexpected given his position near the top of the team’s playoff scoring list every year since 2008. Two years after hoisting the Cup, Krejci is performing like an NHL superstar, even if his regular season numbers don’t even begin to tell the story of how skilled, smart, and competitive he is.

In 424 NHL regular season games, Krejci has 91 goals and 309 points, all in a Bruins uniform, or as the Hockey News’ Ken Campbell points out, a 0.73 points per game pace. Krejci’s 57 points in 63 playoff games is a substantially higher 0.90 scoring rate, placing the former late second-rounder at the top of Boston’s list of active playoff scorers.

There is a select group of believers who have stood behind Krejci all along. Principal among them are the Boston Bruins and current director of player personnel Scott Bradley, who was the club’s amateur scouting director when Krejci was drafted.  However, in looking back on where Krejci stood going into the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, his eventual success was anything but a certainty.

When the skinny kid with frosted blonde highlights in his hair met with the Boston media after the team announced his selection 63rd overall, he didn’t speak English and former B’s scout (and 1990 draft pick) Otto Hascak had to translate for him. In the years since, though he softly speaks with a thick Czech accent, Krejci is one of the more thoughtful and intelligent interviews of any NHL player.

“We think we made a big score here,” then chief scout Bradley said at the conclusion of the proceedings at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.  “To get two (Martins Karsums, acquired one pick later) guys we had rated in (our) top 20, it’s a good feeling.”

Karsums didn’t pan out as a Bruin, but he and fellow disappointment Matt Lashoff were packaged off to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009 for Mark Recchi and the pick that ended up fetching Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski a year later from the Florida Panthers.

Krejci, after spending a couple of years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Gatineau Olympiques, joined the Providence Bruins for the 2006-07 campaign (he saw six mostly uneventful NHL games with the non-playoff Bruins, taking a head shot from Buffalo’s Adam Mair along the way).

Krejci made Boston’s opening night roster for the 2007-08 season but struggled in 12 games, notching just three points before being sent back down. He earned a call-up just after Christmas that year and has never looked back, blossoming as a top-two line center for the B’s even without high-end regular season production.

Here’s a look back at David Krejci in 2004, the benefit of hindsight only now revealing what was indeed, as Bradley put it, a “big score” by the Bruins and their scouts.

Perhaps under different circumstances, Krejci would have been made a king in Boston by now. If his clutch playoff scoring continues, it won’t be long before even the most grudging cynics are ready to stand at his coronation.

The David Krejci File

Drafted: Boston Bruins, 2nd round, (33rd selection) 63rd overall, 2004 (pick acquired from L.A. Kings for Jozef Stumpel; previously acquired by Kings from Detroit for Mathieu Schneider)

Amateur Club: HC Kladno (Czech Jr.)

Central Scouting Ranking: 21, Europe

Top-3 NHL Picks in 2004: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Cam Barker

Notable European hits ahead of him: Alexander Ovechkin, 1E (Capitals- 1st), Evgeni Malkin, 2E (Penguins- 2nd), Ladislav Smid 4E (Ducks- 9th)

Notable European misses ahead of him: Rostislav Olesz, 3E (Panthers- 7th); Lauri Tukonen, 5E (Kings- 11th), Marek Schwarz, 1 EG (Blues- 17th)

Notable European hits after him: Andrej Sekera, 39E (Sabres- 71st),  Jannik Hansen, 41E (Canucks- 287th); Rafael Diaz, 80E (not drafted- Canadiens); Mikhail Grabovski, NR (Canadiens- 150th)

2012-13 Bruins from 2004 NHL draft: Chris Bourque, 74NA (Capitals- 33rd); Carl Soderberg, 23E (Blues- 49th); Anton Khudobin, EG 12 (Wild- 206th)

Red Line Report Ranking: 130 “Tiny, but good wheels and great hockey sense.”

THN 2004 Draft Preview top-60: No

NEHJ projected B’s picks: Ryan Garlock, Juraj Gracik, Dane Byers, Martins Karsums

NEHJ July 2004 post-draft report on Krejci (based on NHL scouting sources):

Strengths: Outstanding hockey sense, vision and passing skills. Able to slow the play down and distribute the puck well. Has an excellent attitude and work ethic; wins a lot of battles for loose pucks. Very intelligent and can play any forward position.

Weaknesses: Skating is average. Needs to improve first-step and doesn’t possess ideal size. Shot is only average. Needs to add weight to his frame to handle the pro grind in North America.

Projection: The Bruins see him as a second-line center with first-line forward potential. He will need time to develop but could end up being a steal where the Bruins got him.

Quotable: “Krejci is a kid we have high hopes for. He’s a player who can put up some points and has terrific hockey sense.”- Mike O’Connell, Bruins GM; NEHJ- July, 2004

“I don’t think we ever doubted his skill level. We knew what he was capable of doing. I think the biggest thing I said at the beginning of the year for him was consistency. When he found his game, he was a real good player for us, even last year let alone this year. And again right now what we’ve liked about him is that he’s been pretty consistent the whole year.”- Claude Julien, Bruins head coach; NEHJ- March, 2009

“I’m just trying to do my best. I know I had a good run a couple of years ago, but I also know I had a bad run the last year. I’m just trying to play my best, go out there and do my hardest and not worry about the results.”- David Krejci, May 8, 2013

Twitter: @kluedeke29