The fact that David Valek
was born in the hockey hinterlands of Orem, Utah, is just one step in his long, winding road to what he hopes will be the NHL. Valek, a right wing with the U.S. National Team Development Program, has had more addresses in his 18 years than most people will have in a lifetime.
His stay at the USNTDP campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., proved fruitful. The 6-foot-2, 199-pounder had 7 goals and 20 points in 48 games with the Under-18 team. He had a goal and a plus-2 rating in seven games as he helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship in April.
"Playing at the program my job was to be a two-way forward," Valek told NHL.com. "In the defensive zone it was details, not allowing scoring chances. In the offensive zone, since I'm 6-foot-2, I needed to use my body on the forecheck, put pucks back, get my body over the puck, get in front of the net, get those dirty goals, the rebounds and screen the goalie, just make his life hell."
The USNTDP was Valek's latest stop. His journey started in Utah -- but not long after he was born, he moved to Croatia, where his father, Ivan, a former professional basketball player, had started an architectural design firm.
"Since they're not really that good in hockey they bring in coaches from the Czech Republic and Slovakia," Valek said. "When I was about 10 years old, one of my coaches from Slovakia, he was about to leave Croatia and he told me that if I was serious about hockey I needed to go and move on to a better (place)."
With his family's blessing, Valek spent two years living and playing in Slovakia. But when he turned 12, things started to sour, so he jumped at the chance to move to the Czech Republic.
"My dad knew one of the scouts there," Valek said. "When I was seventh grade I played in a junior league there, so I got a bunch of experience."
David packed that experience and his bags again when he turned 15 -- this time for a hockey camp in Colorado that his father signed him up for.
It was there that he met Chris Brown
, another highly-rated player for this month's Entry Draft. Brown was headed to the famed Honeybaked hockey program in Detroit before he started at the U.S. program, and thought Valek would make a good addition to the team.
"I got on the phone with one of the coaches I was playing for in Detroit and said, 'We got a really good hockey player here, and I think he'd be a great asset to the team,'" Brown told NHL.com.
Brown proved prescient, as Valek had 17 goals and 53 points in 52 games -- then moved with Brown to the U.S. program.
"I didn't know about the (USNTDP) until I went to the Colorado camp," Valek said. "I thought it would be a great opportunity, even if I didn't get selected, to just showcase myself in the U.S. and North America. But I ended up getting selected."
In two seasons with the U.S. program, he did a good job showcasing himself.
"When I was about 10 years old, one of my coaches from Slovakia, he was about to leave Croatia and he told me that if I was serious about hockey I needed to go and move on to a better (place)."
-- David Valek
"David Valek is a power forward who can play both wing and center," Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston told NHL.com. "He's quick and aggressive to loose pucks, is strong along the wall and in the corners. He finishes his checks well. He is strong and hard to move from in front of the net. Overall, he plays a gritty and determined-style game. He has good puck skills, passes the puck well and has a good heavy shot.
"He will probably be a power forward with future success coming by playing on the wing."
"He's a really strong player," Brown added. "He's a big kid; he's a force. He finishes everything, whether it's hitting or finishing his opportunities for scores. And he's a very smart player."
Those smarts are evident in his next hockey location -- Harvard University.
"I was talking with them for two years before I committed," Valek said. "I really got to know the coaching staff, been out there a couple times. Fell in love with the school. Since I was one of the last guys to commit I was able to see the incoming class and we have great names coming in, so we should be a strong team."
Valek said playing at Harvard also will give him the opportunity to play for coach Ted Donato
, who played 13 seasons in the NHL.
"The biggest place I need to improve is my skating," Valek said. "I've been working out with the power skating lady that works with the (U.S.) program and I'll continue to do that. And I'm confident that at Harvard the coaches there will develop me as a player."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.