|Forward Kamil Kreps |
Kamil Kreps allowed an easy smile to crease his face when recalling his first trip to North America.
Just 16, a kid from the town of Litomerice, Czech Republic, Kreps jumped on a plane in the summer of 2001 bound for Brampton, Ontario to play hockey. In the morning, he was in a town of 25,000 known as the ‘Garden of Bohemia.’ In the afternoon he was disembarking into one of Canada’s fastest growing cities.
And he didn’t know a word of English.
“I actually remember that whole day,” said the Panthers’ 22-year-old forward. “I was pretty nervous. You know, it was a little scary. But I was 16, I really didn’t know what (the significance) of what I was doing, and my agent told me it would be good for me. I said, ‘Fine. Sure.’ Why not. I have nothing to lose.”
Six years later, Kreps finds himself with an opportunity to take another significant step in his career. He has come to training camp in Vail, Colorado this season as one of several young forwards attempting to earn what could be the 12th and final forward position on the Panther roster.
And Kreps is taking the opportunity serious.
After spending the summer working out back home in the Czech Republic, Kreps was one of several Panthers to arrive in South Florida three weeks ago to participate with captain Olli Jokinen and others in morning practices at IncredibleIce.
And the 6-2, 200-pounder looked quick and his shot looked good.
“The roster is packed like every year,” said Kreps of his chance of making the team out of training camp. “There’s a lot of guys and everyone wants a spot. But there’s always a chance. You battle for it and you hope for the best.”
Kreps hit the radar of NHL scouts his second season in Brampton and the Ontario Hockey League when he scored 61 points (19 goals) in 53 games and added eight points in 11 playoff games. After taking Nathan Horton and Anthony Stewart in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft, the Panthers settled on Kreps with the 38th overall pick.
After spending much of the past 2 ½ seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL), Kreps got his first chance Jan. 7 to play in the NHL when he got called up by the Panthers from their AHL affiliate in Rochester. Called up on three different occasions, Kreps had a goal and assist in 14 games.
While Kreps isn’t exactly a seasoned veteran, the 14 games gave him a taste of being in the NHL.
“I got my first ones out of the way; I got 14 games,” he said. “I got the pressure off my back a little bit. I got a little experience, which is important, and now I want to play more games this season.”
The Panthers have gone into training camp this year with more depth than they have the past seven years. At the forward position, they have Jokinen, Horton, Jozef Stumpel, Stephen Weiss
, Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak, Rostislav Olesz, Brett McLean, David Booth, Ville Peltonen and Gregory Campbell.
If those 11 make the squad, coach and GM Jacques Martin could be looking at only one vacant forward position. And that spot could come down to Drew Larman, Rob Globke, Stewart and Kreps. There’s also the possibility Martin’s moves keeps eight defensemen and moves Steve Montador to forward.
Whatever he ultimately decides, Martin believes this is a key camp for Kreps.
“Kamil has been with the organization for three years now,” he said. “The last two seasons he’s been in Rochester. He’s a kid who’s a good skater, has good ability, he’s got a good shot, and has a good understanding of the game.
“But this is an important training camp for him. He was a fairly high pick and he’s getting to the point where this is a big year for him. He’s a player who either makes it or is a good depth player for the team.”
And Kreps wants to be more than a player who gets shuttled during the 2007-08 season between Rochester and South Florida.
“Rochester was a lot of fun,” he said. “I have great memories there. But now I think it’s time to move up.”
And Kreps will determine whether he makes that move in the next three weeks.CLICK HERE
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