PRAGUE, Czech Republic
-- Boston center David Krejci
returns to his home country this week for the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series against the Phoenix Coyotes
a far different player than the one who departed for North America six years ago to chase his hockey dreams.
"You mature much faster than if you stay here," Krejci said Monday as he sat in the cramped dressing room at Tesla Arena. "I think that helped me a lot with my hockey. I was training my body and I was playing professional hockey already when I started junior. I had no friends and no family, so I was preparing myself for every practice and every game and I believe it helped me a lot."
While success did not come as fast as Krejci hoped, it has come in incremental phases.
His first year of junior, with Gatineau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2004-05, he scored 22 goals and an impressive 63 points in 62 games. In '05-06, he improved to 27 goals and 83 points in just 55 games.
Not bad for a player who was still finding his way -- both on and off the ice.
Oddly, Krejci says his unease in North American society -- learning a new language and trying to make new friends -- has helped him excel in his profession.
He says that with a limited social life and an inability to interact with his surroundings on anything but a limited level, he poured all of his energies -- mental and physical -- into hockey, preparing extensively for each practice and game.
"It was very tough," Krejci admitted. "There is a point, in 3 or 4 months, where you get past it and kind of get used to it. You start learning the language.
"I was happy I got out of home, but you get homesick too -- especially if you go away with no friends or no family. You have to meet new people and that is not very easy."
But like most things, Krejci found a way to get it done. Each year, he says, he adds to his social circle -- both in the hockey world and in his time spent away from the rink.
That comfort level, Boston coach Claude Julien
said, is starting to show in Krejci's game.
After a monster first season in Providence, the franchise's American Hockey League affiliate, Krejci regressed when he was called up to Boston. Certainly a concussion suffered in one of his first NHL games didn't help, but Krejci was struggling with his new surroundings as well. Quite simply, he wasn't able to bring his "A game" on a nightly basis.
"In his first three (pro) years, I think he wasn't consistent with his game," Julien said this week. "Some nights he would show that he was good enough to play at this level, other nights you didn't see him much.
"He had to go back to work on that part of his game. Last time, he came back and readjusted himself and has done great. He is a great player when he is on his game and we just have to make sure that we keep him being the best player he can."
After scoring a career-best 73 points in 2008-09, Krejci slumped to just 52 points last season. But he was still good enough to make the 2010 Czech Olympic team that played in Vancouver.
So he returns to the Czech Republic for this weekend's Premiere games as one of his country's most accomplished players despite the fact that he is just entering his prime at 24.
"You leave and then you come back and you see what is new and you see what you have accomplished in these years overseas. It makes you appreciate much more your family, friends and just everything." -- David Krejci
While he doesn't want to dwell on it, the familiar sights, sounds and faces of being in his home country have caused him a bit of reflection about how far he has come since leaving the Kladno junior program for North America as an 18-year old.
"It makes you appreciate everything much more," he told NHL.com. "You leave and then you come back and you see what is new and you see what you have accomplished in these years overseas. It makes you appreciate much more your family, friends and just everything.
"I'm enjoying myself a lot. Hopefully we end it by getting a couple of wins."