Even as a veteran of 17 seasons in the National Hockey League, Radek Dvorak knows that nothing is guaranteed.
Dvorak, 36, is a Carolina Hurricanes training camp invitee, and just like the young players half his age, he’s fighting for a roster spot.
“It’s a great challenge,” Dvorak said. “If you want to stay in the best league in the world, you have to be your best.”
And he wants to stay in the NHL, a league he’s been a part of since the 1995-96 season. During last year’s work stoppage, Dvorak played a brief stint in the Swiss league but knew this summer that he wanted to remain in North America.
“I want to play here. I wanted to give myself at least a chance,” he said. “I’ve been here all my career, and you don’t want to let that go easily.”
Since being drafted 10th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, Dvorak has skated for seven different teams. He’s made four trips to the postseason, twice with Florida and twice with Edmonton.
As a 19-year-old in his second season in the league, Dvorak was teammates with Kirk Muller, who was in the latter half of his playing career.
“He was one of the top players in the league,” Dvorak said of Muller. “It was great experience to play with him for a young guy like me.”
The two played together for three seasons, and now, Dvorak is under the coaching tutelage of Muller.
“He’s a coach, and I’m a player,” Dvorak said with a smile. “That’s how hockey goes.”
“He’s really matured, and he’s been a really good pro. I knew him when he was a young buck, and just learning the NHL coming over from the Czech Republic,” Muller said. “It’s great to see that he’s had a great career and progressed.”
The Tabor, Czech Republic, native, who has logged 1,200 NHL regular-season games, 223 goals and 358 assists (581 points), said he has kept the same mindset for the nearly 20 training camps he’s attended throughout his career.
“I might have been in the league for a long time, but it’s another training camp for me,” he said. “I go into every training camp on the same note. I want to be my best, play my best and practice my best. That hasn’t changed.”
During the first few days of this year’s camp, Dvorak was the elder statesman on a line alongside Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner, ages 18 and 21, respectively.
“Playing with them makes me younger, and that’s a good thing,” Dvorak said, laughing. “I just want to bring that experience there and help them a little bit, but they are good players on their own. Both guys are very skilled and very smart.”
“Like most veterans, you step in, start off the first few days getting your legs and get moving. He stays in good shape, and he’s a good skater, so that’s helpful,” Muller said. “Positionally he’s strong, and he’s a good penalty killer. His value will kind of kick in as things settle down around here a little bit more with the number of bodies.”
As the days tick off of training camp, Dvorak knows his time could be limited. Nothing is guaranteed, so he’ll keep competing.
“I just want to take this opportunity to fight for a job, and it’s not going to be easy,” Dvorak said. “That’s what makes this training camp special and exciting. I want to win a spot on the team. That’s my main goal.”