Petr Nedved cant quite lay claim to the fact that his career has come full circle but it has certainly come close.
Nedved is back playing hockey in Alberta again. Certainly, Oilers fans remember his successful stint with the team during their surge to make the playoffs at the end of the 2003-04 season but his roots in Alberta go back further than that.
As a 17 year old, he was turning heads at the annual Macs Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary. On January 1, 1989 he scored four goals in the title game at the Saddledome to lead his Czechoslovakian team from Litvinov over their Sherwood Park opponents. He was also the leading scorer throughout the tournament.
The next day, he shocked the hockey world when it was announced that he had defected and would remain in North America.
"My biggest thought was, back then, 'How am I going to explain to my parents that I am going to stay in Calgary and not come back home?," said Nedved. "I have to say, for some reason, I had back then a lot of confidence in myself."
At some point between that winter day in Calgary and exactly 18 years later on January 2, 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers claimed him off re-entry waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers, Nedved lost that confidence.
After tearing up the Western Hockey League the following year with 65 goals and 145 points in 71 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Nedved was drafted by tonight's opponent when the Vancouver Canucks took him second overall at the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Less than 18 months after his defection, he was living out his dream and skating on NHL ice.
Two seasons later, Nedved was not only playing in the NHL he was dominating. He exploded for 38 goals in 1992-93, ranking second on the Canucks behind Pavel Bure.
1993 proved to be a memorable year. The Czech native obtained Canadian citizenship and then elected to suit up for Canadas entry at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lilehammer, Norway. Nedved scored five goals in eight games as Canada won the Silver Medal. It was at this time that Nedved changed his uniform number from 19 to 93.
The 63" centre went on to have some more very productive seasons in the NHL, particularly with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. His 45 goals and 99 points during the 1995-96 campaign still stand as career marks.
However, things have not quite gone as well over the past several seasons. Coming out of the lockout, it took him some time to get adjusted to playing with the Phoenix Coyotes and he only had two goals in 25 games in the desert before being dealt to Philadelphia.
"You get some bumps on the way, its been a pretty bumpy ride the last little bit but thats life," he remarked.
The road got even bumpier this season. Nedved had only one goal and seven points through 21 games with the Flyers. His time in Philadelphia was split between two stints with the Flyers farm club in the American Hockey League.
"Maybe I just didnt find the chemistry out there and maybe it wasnt the right fit for the team and vice versa," he mused.
If there was a place that could be the right fit, however, it would be Edmonton. During his last time spent with the club he racked up 15 points in 16 games and endeared himself to the Oilers faithful for his ability to come off the side boards and fire the puck top corner with ease.
"Hes young enough that its not a question of whether hes lost his game. We think that the game is there," remarked Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish on the day of Nedveds acquisition. "We really feel like we have the right fit for him here."
Adding to the fact that Edmonton is a great fit, Nedved has always seemed to play better with fellow Czech mates – Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka in Pittsburgh, Radek Dvorak, Jan Hlavac, Martin Rucinsky and others. Nedveds eyes lit up when he heard there was a chance he could play with Petr Sykora and Ales Hemsky
"I always have better success with the countrymen so well see how this is going to work out," he said. "Theyve been playing very well and both of them are very exciting players."
Nedved was also quick to praise Hemsky, a player who has moved his way towards the NHLs elite class since the last time #93 was here.
"Hes probably one of the most exciting players in the National Hockey League."
Sykora was equally excited at the opportunity to skate on a line with Nedved.
"Both of us being left-handed shots, we can really get open for the one-timers," Sykora noted. "Petr can find us in the breakouts and push it to the right side to Hemmer (Hemsky). We can really create the scoring chances."
It took Nedved until his third game to score his first goal as an Oiler last time out but this time he scored in his first game.
"It's nice to have the monkey off my back, come in here and score the goal. Hopefully many more are coming," he stated, although quick to point out that he feels theres still some work needed in his game.
"It was all right. I think I still need to improve my game and it's going to get better and better as far as conditioning," said Nedved. "It's going to take me another couple more games but I should be feeling normal in a few games.
"We would have liked to generate more chances than we did but I'm sure it's going to come."