EDMONTON, AB - Andrej Sekera knows what it takes to be an NHL defenceman.
He took the tried and true development model after being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2004 NHL Draft. Sekera finished a two-year career with the Owen Sound Attack, winning the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League’s most outstanding defenceman for the 2005-06 season.
When he made the jump to the pros, Buffalo didn’t rush him into action. He played just two NHL games as a rookie, spending the rest of the season in the American Hockey League. The next year he got a bigger taste, playing 37 games for the Sabres. But again, he split the season in the minors. In his third year, Sekera became a full-time NHL blueliner and he hasn’t looked back since.
Sekera, 29, signed a six-year deal with the Oilers when free agency opened on Wednesday. He has played 486 games in his NHL career for the Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings, recording 159 points (31-128-159). Throughout his career, the lesson that sticks with Sekera is how to conduct himself on the ice.
“The first thing that comes to mind is hard work,” said Sekera. “Play an honest game for 60 minutes and leave it all out there. Be consistent and keep it simple. You have to play a simple way. Simple and hard.”
Off the ice, Sekera has learned how to be a good teammate. He says all of his coaches throughout the years have taught him different things on that topic, but it all comes back to treating teammates with respect.
Sekera now heads to Edmonton, which is a team that has youth on their blueline. As it stands now, Sekera would be the second-most experienced defenceman on the Oilers, behind Andrew Ference (901 NHL games). While Sekera is more of a quiet type, he’s expected to be a bit of a leader on the backend.
“I’ll try to do my best,” said Sekera. “I don’t talk too much off the ice or yell at people. I try to be polite to everybody and try to explain the right way. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody wants to make them. But it’s life and it’s a game, somebody has to make mistakes. I will try to be a leader on and off the ice and try to do my best to show the guys and maybe help them. Maybe that will help me. It will go both ways.”
The Oilers targeted Sekera right from the start of free agency’s negotiating period. He was considered one of the top defensive free agents and had a few teams make him offers. In the end, Sekera chose Edmonton.
“I looked at the roster and saw the players they have. I pictured myself with some of the players and what would be the best fit for me, hockey-wise. I chose Edmonton,” said Sekera.
Photo by Getty Images.
“I’m really excited. I’m really thankful and excited. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really happy that I chose this team. I think it will be a good fit for me. There are a lot of good, young players and I’ll just try to play my game and help the team get some more wins and do good things.”
Sekera says he’s at his best when he plays to his strengths, which is a simple but solid two-way game.
“I like to skate, I like to join the rush. I’m smart positionally. I like to play with the puck. I take pride in that first outlet pass, getting out of the zone and making the right plays at the right time. Also, just being a good teammate and helping the other four guys on the ice who are with me to be better hockey players. It makes life a lot easier,” said Sekera.
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli notes that Sekera could come in and play on the team’s top pairing if needed. He’s got enough versatility that they can move him around.
“You’d like to spread it out a bit so he could be kind of the linchpin on the second pair,” said Chiarelli. “He plays both sides. He played most of his year on the left but once he was traded he went to the right. Very versatile. He plays on the first power play, the second power play. Probably naturally a second power play guy but he can complement a first power play. A lot of options with him.”
Adding Sekera gives the Oilers a bonafide top-four NHL defenceman who can come in and provide organizational depth for the next several years. He could also become a leader by example for some of the younger defencemen who are a few years behind the veteran, still developing.