The question is asked and Florida Panthers
forward Michael Frolik
reveals a boyish grin.
"Hey Mike, are you really known as 'Baby Jagr' back home?"
"Well, (Jaromir) Jagr grew up in my hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic) and we might have played in similar tournaments, but there's only one Jagr so I don't even think about it," Frolik told NHL.com.
Still, the rookie enjoys the comparisons to his childhood idol. That smile of his is strikingly similar to that of the former Hart Trophy winner. Additionally, each played for the Kladno junior team in the Czech Republic as youngsters and they were both first-round draft choices.
"Everybody from back home used to watch (Jagr) and it's unbelievable to think we had a player like that in our hometown," Frolik said. "He's one of the best players in the world and it's just too bad he's still not in the NHL because I would have liked to play against him."
Instead, Frolik will have an opportunity to play against many of the top second-year players in the NHL on Jan. 24 when he suits up for the Eastern Conference in the 3-on-3 2009 YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck at Bell Centre in Montreal as part of NHL All-Star Weekend.
Frolik has certainly made the most of his opportunity with the team that drafted him No. 10 in 2006 after spending the last two seasons with Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scoring 55 goals and 138 points in 97 games. He also played for Team Czech Republic in the 2007 World Junior competition, posting 4 goals and 2 assists in 6 games.
"I think playing in the 'Q' helped me for sure," Frolik said. "Juniors were different than the style of play in Europe. It was a different lifestyle and I learned to speak English a little better and that helped. In Europe, it's bigger ice and stuff like that so it's completely different but I thank Rimouski for helping me become the player I am. It was great to play there and have some success."
Frolik was signed by the Panthers in May, and following an impressive training camp, was inserted into the lineup Oct. 11 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. He totaled 5:48 and nine shifts in his initial game -- one he'll never forget.
"I just came into the room in the morning and saw the lineup there and I was very surprised to see my name; it was awesome for me," Frolik said. "I didn't really know what to do and I was nervous a little bit, but once I got on the ice for my first shift, I tried to play hard and skate hard and didn't put the pressure on myself. I played only five minutes that game, but was happy for every single second."
Frolik is ninth among rookies in goals (8), third in shots (71), 11th in shooting percentage (11.3), tied for 10th in points (17) and is eighth in power-play assists (4). He's played 38 of the Panthers' 41 games and is the team's seventh-leading scorer.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound playmaker has recorded a point in seven of his team's last nine games. The red-hot Panthers, once cellar-dwellers in the Eastern Conference, are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have catapulted to ninth in the conference with 19 wins and 44 points.
Florida coach Peter DeBoer
has had the Czech Republic native on his second line alongside Stephen Weiss
and Cory Stillman
"(Frolik's) been getting better every single day, and that's the honest to God truth," Weiss told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "He's not shy to go into the corners now and bump some guys and he's winning battles. He's going to be a really, really dynamic player in this League. I love playing with him."
He's averaged just over 14 minutes and 19 shifts a game with the big club.
"It's a nice thing to be playing in the NHL since it was my dream when I was young and now that it's happening I'm just so happy I can be here and be with experienced guys like this," Frolik said. "It's fun and exciting. I know I haven't scored a lot but I really try not to think about it. I just want to play hard and work hard in practice, be relaxed and hope it will eventually come."
DeBoer has taken notice of his all-purpose performer, who has played on all four lines and special teams.
"It's a nice thing to be playing in the NHL since it was my dream when I was young and now that it's happening I'm just so happy I can be here and be with experienced guys like this."
-- Michael Frolik
"He's a real skilled young guy and I think he's getting better every day," DeBoer said. "It's a big jump from junior hockey to the NHL and he's learning to work and compete and be strong on the power play and responsible in his own end. He's a smart hockey player and I believe he's going to be an NHL player for a long time."
"I played a couple games with the top line and that was very exciting and I know as long as I play and practice hard, I'll get another opportunity," Frolik said.
He's grateful to have teammates who have really taken him under their wing in his first season, most notably 23-year-old Rostislav Olesz
of Bilovec, Czech Republic.
"My very good buddy, Rosti, has been great because we're like the same age and I live in his house in Florida," Frolik said. "He lets me use his cars and stuff like that. He helped me a lot, so if I don’t know something I just ask him and he gives me advice."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.