Back in September, before training camp had officially opened, Kamil Kreps was already planning ahead.
After getting a taste of the NHL last year after spending two years in Rochester, N.Y., and the American Hockey League (AHL), Kreps was asked if he was ready to permanently leave upstate New York for South Florida.
“Rochester was a lot fun,” said Kreps one morning in September at IncredibleIce. “But now I think it’s time to move up.”
Although Kreps was one of the Panther’s final cuts coming out of training camp, the 22-year-old native of the Czech Republic has been one of their most consistent performers since being recalled Oct. 22 from Rochester.
And Kreps hasn’t seen Rochester since.
In his last nine games, Kreps has scored three goals and added an assist. The 6-2, 194-pound center has played on the power play, killed penalties, and, some nights, been a force in the faceoff circle.
On Nov. 19 against the Capitals, Kreps scored a goal, killed penalties, played a bit of the power play and won of eight of 10 draws in the faceoff circle. On Nov. 3 against Carolina, Kreps won 12 of 17 faceoffs.
Not bad for someone who’s resume coming into the season was 14 NHL games, one goal and one assist.
“Those 14 games last year helped a lot,” Kreps said.
Indeed. And Kreps is earning praise from Panther veterans who have played alongside him the past six weeks.
“You could see last year he was a smart player, but now he’s bringing more confidence,” said Ville Peltonen.
“He’s what you’re looking for in a young guy,” adds Radek Dvorak. “He’s good at both ends of the ice, is good defensively and provides offense, and he tries to create something all the time.”
Kreps is not by a longshot a diamond in the rough. The Panthers thought enough of Kreps to select him in the second round (38th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. And after careful nurturing, Kreps is becoming another in what is becoming a long line of Panther draft picks to have success with the big club.
“It’s nice to see from the standpoint of here’s a kid we drafted, developed, and who spent three years in the minors who’s now with us,” Martin said. “A lot of other organizations might have given up on him because he didn’t put up stats. But what I liked about him is that he brought speed to our team and he’s responsible. When we brought him up last year I was impressed with how he played defensively and how he competed hard every night.
“You look at him this year…I remember the game at home (Oct. 31) against Carolina. He went all night against (Rod) Brind’Amour, which is not an easy task. He won in the faceoff circle against Rod and competed hard. I think that’s why he’s having success, he’s working hard and competing.”
After spending more than two seasons in the Panthers’ AHL affiliates in San Antonio and Rochester, the Panthers called Kreps up on two different occasions last season. It was enough of a taste to make Kreps wanting more.
“I got the pressure off my back a little bit,” Kreps said of the 14 he played last season. “I got a little experience, which was important.
Assistant coach Guy Charron said this is Kreps best shot at sticking with the team.
“Guys have so many opportunities and eventually they have to take advantage of them,” Charron said. “I told him when we were having player meetings, ‘You played well last year and you went down and continued to improve. But now you have an opportunity to stay and you can’t allow us to find a reason to send you back.’ As a player you have to establish yourself as a hard worker and consistent player. Those are the players who stay around.”
A player, for now, like Kreps.
“I’m feeling more comfortable every game,” Kreps said. “Hard work and competing is the biggest thing. I’m starting to play more of my game. Every game I’m getting more shifts, more time on the ice.”
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