In a game physically dominated by much bigger men, Roman Cervenka has trouble standing out.
At 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, the 26-year-old Cervenka will never be known for smashing opposing players against the boards or becoming involved in any of the other physical parts of the game that are synonymous with the North American style. But, while he may often be lost among the bigger players prowling the ice in the NHL, there is always one thing that assures Cervenka will be noticed in any game: his skill.
Simply, Cervenka is creative, he reads the game extremely well, provides teammates with gorgeous passes and, most importantly, he can score.
In 2011, with Kontinental Hockey League's Avangard Omsk, he received the top goal-scorer award, registering 31 goals in 51 games while playing alongside Czech veteran Jaromir Jagr, who now is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers. And this past season, with Jagr already back in the NHL, he recorded 23 goals during the regular season and added a league-best 22 points (11 goals and 11 assists) in 20 KHL playoff games.
The question now is whether he can carry his scoring ability to the NHL, where he will play next season for the Calgary Flames. Cervenka signed a contract with the club on Wednesday and is expected to challenge for a top-six forward spot this fall. It's a one-year contract, worth a reported $3.775 million with bonuses.
"It will be different hockey on the small ice, so now I need to adapt my training plan to get ready for it," Cervenka said Thursday morning during a press conference at a Prague hotel. "But I won't change my way of playing hockey. I just need to get ready for the new challenge. One of the things I need to work on during the summer is my English. I will not be able to speak as good as the native speakers there, but I should be able to understand and to say whatever I might need."
The main thing for Cervenka is having the contract in his pocket early in the spring and knowing the starting gate for his first NHL steps is wide open.
"I wanted to have things clear as soon as possible," Cervenka said. "I am happy the deal was done pretty early. Now I will have a lot of time to get ready and focus on the new season."
According to his agent, Ales Volek, many NHL teams had interest in signing Cervenka, but the Flames were clearly No. 1 among the bidders.
"There were some other offers, but the Flames have been working on it for a long time," Cervenka said. "They have visited me in Russia, which meant a lot to me. The others probably expected me to play at the World Championship and thought we could have some talks there, but that did not happen. This season was over for me and I had already decided about 90 percent for Calgary. I just wanted to hear other offers, too."
Cervenka excused himself from representing the Czech Republic at this year's IIHF World Championship in Stockholm and Helsinki because of a broken finger.
"The Flames were acting quickly and showed most serious interest," Cervenka said. "So I am sure I made a right decision. I don't know much about Calgary as a city, but I know about the Flames management plans for the future, and I like it."
"I wanted to have things clear as soon as possible. I am happy the deal was done pretty early. Now I will have a lot of time to get ready and focus on the new season."
-- Czech product Roman Cervenka
Cervenka said he has dreamed of the NHL since he was a little kid and, in those dreams, the Canadian-based teams always took precedence.
"I am glad I will play in a hockey city," said Cervenka, who has had a chance to play in Canada only once -- at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. "Many people say that there is huge pressure there, but still it's Canada and hockey is No. 1 there. I don't know a single hockey player who would not love to play in Canada."
Many experts see Cervenka as one of the best players in the world outside the NHL. But Cervenka knows those opinions do not mean much until he shows his skills in the world's best league.
"It's nice, but it's just words," he said. "I know I will have to prove it on the ice. What is important to me is that they want me to play a lot and they are going to give me a chance in their top two lines. That is what I need in order to use my creativity and break through in the NHL."
Cervenka knows that goals and assists will be the best indicator of how well he performs in the NHL. Such as it was in Russia, the country he leaves after totaling 100 points in 105 games of two regular KHL seasons.
"A good player should score a lot of points and have results. To have something that stays behind him," he said. "I am sure those two seasons in Russia helped me reach the NHL. I am older and have more big games behind me now. I think the entry to the NHL will be easier for me with that Russian experience."