- General Manager Craig MacTavish announced Saturday that the Edmonton Oilers have signed defenceman Martin Gernat to a three-year entry-level contract.
The 20-year-old is currently in his second season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings.
"It's a great feeling," said Gernat. "It's a great step for me to get to the next level and it's a huge step for me in my hockey career. It's every kid's dream to be a part of the NHL, so now I'm there and trying to make the big league.
"My agent called me before the game (Friday) and I talked a little bit with my mom and dad. It was nice to share the message with the people that did so much for me."
Gernat missed most of the 2012-13 campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this season in Slovakia. While the 6-foot-5, 191-pound ("I need to put some meat on," he laughed) defenceman was playing a pivotal role in the Oil Kings' championship quest last year, few knew he was doing so in pain.
Gernat hoped time off and a restful off-season would help heal an injury he suffered during the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, but the pain kept getting worse and surgical repair was his last course of action.
The product of Kosice, Slovakia returned on Jan. 17 and played the final 23 games, registering 13 points (three goals) and a +8 rating. So far in the 2013 post-season, and after recording a four-point night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final vs. Calgary, Gernat sits second among all WHL defencemen in playoff scoring with four goals and 12 points.
Gernat was drafted by the Oilers 122nd overall in 2011 and was then chosen 18th overall by the Oil Kings in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. The smooth-skating blueliner put together an astonishing rookie season beginning that fall, recording nine goals, 55 points and a team-leading +41 rating in only 60 games. As a result, he was unanimously chosen as the team's Rookie of the Year.
En route to winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup as League champions last spring, Gernat put up 13 points (seven goals) in 20 post-season contests.
He has now attended two Oilers development camps and one main training camp, which included the 2011 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. Every day, the young defenceman is getting more and more comfortable with his surroundings.
"It was a huge experience for me," said Gernat. "The first time I came here was a little bit hard for me because of the language barrier and all that stuff, but now it's getting better all the time. I'm feeling more comfortable here in Edmonton and all that stuff was a really great experience to meet all the boys. It's really great to be here.
"You can meet all the guys with the Oilers and it's nice to see them and talk with them a little bit. I know Ladislav Smid and Ales Hemsky, and we can speak the same language, so it's pretty cool to be here and be part of one rink and (skate) on the same ice."
Gernat's four points (two goals and two assists) lifted the Oil Kings to a 6-0 win over the Hitmen on Friday night.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick