Radek Faksa had to think long and hard before finally writing down the number he hoped would impress Kitchener Rangers coach and general manager Steve Spott.
Prior to his initial season in the Ontario Hockey League, Spott asked his first-year import from the Czech Republic to jot down the number of goals he thought he would score as a rookie in Kitchener. Faksa predicted 15; Spott had other plans.
"I had 15 goals before the season but he crossed that out and put 25," Faksa told NHL.com. "I already have passed that 15-goal mark, so maybe it's possible. I didn't believe him."
Spott confirmed the exchange for NHL.com.
"I did do that," he said. "I think if there's any negative to Radek Faksa, it's his humility. He doesn't realize how good he could be. He's very respectful and I think sometimes just doesn't give himself enough credit.
"When he came in here and put down 15 goals, I just told him, 'Hey that's not where you need to be.' I told him 25 is the benchmark."
Faksa not only hit the benchmark, he surpassed it. Through 62 games, he potted 29 goals and recorded 66 points.
When Faksa was selected by Kitchener with the 22nd pick in the Canadian Hockey League's import draft last June, he barely could speak English. Now, thanks to his billet family, Brian and Cailin Daub, as well as teammates and coaches, he can hold his own. Still, it's nowhere near the speed with which he picked up the North American game.
In fact, Spott sees a lot of similarities between Faksa and Gabriel Landeskog, who spent two seasons in Kitchener before being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche with the second pick of the 2011 draft.
"I think the transition that Radek has made has been a little bit easier for him," Spott said. "I think, like Gabriel, he plays a North American style of game. He's physical and willing to go into the dirty areas to score. Defensively, he has a real good battle level, so I think that's why he's been able to make this transition rather smoothly."
In addition to scoring a pair of goals for the fifth-place Czech Republic at the 2012 World Junior Championship, Faksa was fourth on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters. He finished off the year sitting seventh overall in the final rankings, falling back slightly due to the strong performance of Cody Ceci and having Alex Galchenyuk jump back into the rankings after missing the majority of the year with an ACL injury.
He is listed as the fourth-best forward, behind only Nail Yakupov of Sarnia, Mikhail Grigorenko and Galchenyuk.
Was his coach surprised at the mid-term mark and the final ranking?
"We are hoping he will be a first-round pick, that's our goal," Spott said. "When I spoke to his agent, Allan Walsh, the goal was to try and allow Radek to become a first-round pick, and I think what the NHL scouts are recognizing is how complete a player he is. I think if there's one area we pride ourselves on in Kitchener, it's creating the complete player along the lines of the Jeff Skinners and Gabriel Landeskogs. I'd like to think that when players graduate from our program, they're able to make the next jump because coaches are confident that they can play both ends of the rink."
While the mid-term ranking may not have surprised Spott, it did Faksa.
"I was surprised when coach showed me I was No. 4 … I must keep working hard," Faksa said. "Coach Spott is a very good coach and in practice, we work hard, so it's good for us. I get loads of ice time and on the power play and penalty kill, and I'm happy about that."
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who specializes in watching players from the OHL, has been pleasantly surprised with Faksa's consistency in his first season in North America.
"He's been continually steady, good from September on," Edwards said. "He's really gotten better every game and has adjusted very well. I haven't seen him wearing down despite the number of games he's played over here as compared to what you see overseas."
Faksa, winner of the showdown breakaway challenge at the recent CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game skills competition, compares his style of play to Martin Havlat.
"I like to protect the puck and play hard," he said.
"The fact he made the Czech National Junior Team as a 17 year old is an accomplishment, and the fact he was given the minutes he got says a lot," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "When you look at the WJC, you never want to use it to hurt a player, but there are cases, like Nino Niederreiter a couple of years ago, where it could certainly help a player. I think World Junior helped solidify Radek's standing.
"He's stepped into Kitchener and has been a very consistent contributor to that team. His work ethic stands out, his hockey sense is exceptional and his puck skills and the way he processes the game at top speed is impressive. We're projecting, moving forward, that this guy has the potential to be a top six (forward) in the NHL and center one of the top two lines."
Faksa lived in a hotel for five years as a player coming through the ranks of Czech club Trinec. He had 19 goals and 30 assists in 28 games with Trinec's Under-18 team and skated for the national squad at the World Under-18 Championships last season.
While there's plenty to like about Faksa, Spott realizes no player is perfect.
"He could improve his strength," Spott said. "He's got great size (6-foot-2 1/2, 203 pounds), and when he's done growing, he's going to be playing upwards of 220 pounds. But his best friend has to be the weight room and I think that's the one area he must continue to work on."
Author: Mike Morreale of NHL.com with files from Torie Peterson of CalgaryFlames.com