MONTREAL – Jiri Sekac has done nothing but turn heads and impress since arriving on the scene in La Belle Province nearly two weeks ago.
On Tuesday night, the 22-year-old left-winger made his much-anticipated preseason debut against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre, and he didn’t disappoint. Playing on a line with veteran pivot Tomas Plekanec and top prospect Jacob De La Rose, Sekac quickly showcased the qualities that put him on the radar of countless NHL teams in the lead up to his signing a two-year contract with the Canadiens back on July 1st.
“I got a huge rock off my back finally [on Tuesday night], and I’m really happy that I finally scored. It was a tough game. The main thing is that we actually won,” offered Sekac, who registered the Canadiens’ first goal of the preseason in a 3-2 win over Claude Julien’s troops after he failed to light the lamp in any of the team’s four intra-squad scrimmages at training camp. “I got a little bit more confident after that goal because I hadn’t scored for a long time. I finally got one, so there was a big difference between how I played before the goal and how I played after it.”
That wasn’t lost on head coach Michel Therrien, who praised the manner in which the Kladno native played with a sense of poise far beyond his years.
“He does a lot of good things out there. He’s excellent with the puck. He works extremely hard, and he’s in terrific shape. We really like the way he competes. There are a lot of good things that really stand out about his play,” explained the Canadiens’ bench boss, who rewarded Sekac with 19:10 of ice time on Tuesday night, the most of any Habs forward in uniform. “We’re starting a new stage of training camp with these preseason games. We’ll give him every opportunity to prove himself.”
The fact that Sekac is thriving in his relatively new surroundings shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Already familiar with the likes of Plekanec from having trained together back home in the Czech Republic, the talented young gun also feels at ease playing on NHL-sized rinks despite spending the last three seasons competing overseas.
“Compared to the KHL Finals, it wasn’t a big difference because we used to play on a small ice surface during that series. We were playing all of the home games [at the O2 Arena in Prague] on small ice surfaces. The game against the Bruins was actually very similar to that,” mentioned Sekac, who starred for KHL powerhouse HC Lev Praha in 2013-14, collecting 11 goals and 28 points in 47 games, and ranking second on the team in both assists and points.
“The KHL is a really good league. You don’t really see anyone struggling on the ice come Finals. Everyone is confident, and everyone is working for the team,” continued Sekac, whose squad dropped the Gagarin Cup Final in seven games to Metallurg Magnitogorsk last year. “I’ve embraced the North American style of play. I’m getting used to the hits and to the more physical play over here.”
Case in point was the manner in which the 6-foot-2, 195 lb. forward used his imposing frame to perfection against the Bruins. Wasting little time standing out among his peers, Sekac credits his early success to staying true to his game plan from start to finish.
“I think I knew what I was going to face. I’m pretty happy that I kind of stuck to it. I was actually feeling pretty good out there. I definitely feel the chemistry with Plekanec. We’re passing the puck more and more out there, and I think it’s getting better every day,” offered Sekac, who also logged 2:35 of ice time on the power play on Tuesday night and spent some time killing penalties. “Every time you get more ice time, you’re more into the game. It’s way easier to stay in the tempo of the game that way. It’s always good to play as much as possible.”
If Sekac can make every shift count like he did in his preseason debut, that trend will certainly continue.
“He works. He protects the puck well, and he sees the play well, too. He’s a quick and talented player,” confided Therrien. “We’ll give him a chance to showcase what he can do at the NHL level, and we’ll make a decision on him when the time is right.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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