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NHL challenge awaits Oilers' Jan Hejda

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers

Defenceman Jan Hejda (left), acquired from Buffalo last week, is a good bet to crack the Oilers' lineup this upcoming season.

It was quite obvious Jan Hejda would be headed to Western Canada when the Edmonton Oilers announced they traded for him and the Buffalo Sabres got a seventh-round pick in next years draft. The only thing that remained was to dot the is and cross the ts and wait for a fax from Edmonton so Hejda had a piece of paper to sign.

  • Oilers assistant GM Scott Howson talks about the acquisition and signing of defenceman Jan Hejda.

  • "It was relatively fast, we had our first contact about a week ago," Hejda told the Czech hockey associations official site, on Tuesday.

    The 2005 world champion became an NHL commodity in 2003, when the Sabres selected him. But Buffalos offer wasnt to Hejdas liking, so, he continued to play in the RussianSuperleagues CSKA Moscow and, later, at Khimik.

    The Sabres interest this season wasnt much, either, the defenceman told "Actually, there was no negotiation," Hejda said. "They said the club went quite deep into the playoffs, and they would rather re-sign players they had on their roster."

    Hejdas agent Larry Kelly started looking elsewhere. "It looked promising with Nashville," Hejda said. "It looked as if we were close to agreeing. But, eventually, it fell through, and right at that moment, Edmonton appeared on the scene. It was quite fast, we had an agreement within a week of the first contact."

    While its not unusual that contract negotiations can get tense, it wasnt the case for Hejda. "Sure, I did feel some nervousness. But we had an agreement on the substantial parts right away and all that was left were details," Hejda told

    As soon as there was a verbal agreement, the Oilers went ahead and traded for Hejdas playing rights.

    With the news that the trade had happened, everything was clear. "If there was no agreement, the trade would have been useless," Hejda said.

    The Oilers are looking for a replacement for Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek. With Dick Tarnstrom also likely gone, that opens a promising perspective for Hejda.

    Because of his age (Hejda is 28), the new CBA stipulates that he could only sign a one-year, two-way contract. "The length of the deal doesnt bother me at all, the fact its two-way does a bit," he said.

    Still, Hejda decided to pursue his dream. While finances are quite important, he said he was willing to risk it. "Sure, it can happen they could send me to the farm," Hejda said.

    "Ive got to keep that in mind. But I had no choice. I want to play in the NHL, and this was one of my last chances. Who knows what happens in a year or two."

    Hejda said he wanted to know what he was going to do in the upcoming season by the end of this week. "I made it my deadline," he said. "If it didnt work out in the NHL, I would have stayed in Europe."

    His first choice would have been his Alma Mater, Slavia Prague. In fact, as soon as hes got the news that the deal was done, Hejda called Slavias GM and head coach Vladimir Ruzicka to ask him about the Oilers – after all, thats where Ruzicka started his NHL career in the 1989-1990 season.

    There were more offers on his table, Hejda told "Beside Slavia, there was another Czech club, and there was something in Sweden."

    Thus far, Hejda has played only in the Czech Republic and Russia.

    "I talked to Frankie Musil about Edmonton, he told me a lot about it. I havent had a chance to talk to other Czech players whod been there yet."

    Meanwhile, hes practicing as hard as he can. "Slavia has got team vacation right now, so, I have to practice alone. I would have rather skated with them. Its better when there are more people in the gym or on the ice," Hejda said.
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