Before embarking on his first extended road trip with the Panthers, Michael Frolik was asked if he thought he was ready to make the jump from junior hockey to the NHL.
Frolik exhaled and smiled. “Well,” he began before pausing for several seconds. “I hope so. I know I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.”
Frolik, who impressed during scrimmages earlier in the week, made his first impression in a preseason game a good one Tuesday evening in Calgary when he had a solid game in the Panthers’ 3-2 victory over the Flames.
Playing alongside Stephen Weiss
and David Booth, Frolik was involved throughout. He assisted on Booth’s goal, had four shots, and played nearly five minutes on the power play.
The Panthers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft, Frolik has been on the team’s radar since the day he was drafted as a top prospect. A 6-1 native of the Czech Republic, Frolik had 65 points (24 goals) in 45 games last season with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. That came after being one of the top rookies in the league in 2006-07 with 73 points (31 goals) in 52 games.
Frolik has also stepped up in international competition. He had five goals in six games in the World Juniors last season and six points (four goals) in six games in 2006-07.
Frolik knows he’s in a battle for a roster spot with a list that includes Shawn Matthias
, Michal Repik
and Anthony Stewart. But he feels he prepared over the season, working out during the course of the summer including a stint in Toronto for a month with several NHL players, including teammate Rostislav Olesz and Blackhawks’ forward Martin Havlat.
“Mornings at the gym, afternoons on the ice,” Frolik said. While he wasn’t satisfied with his play during the Panthers’ rookie camp, he thought he got “better and better with every game.”
So the question remains: Is Frolik ready for the NHL?
“It’s hard to say,” he replied. “You’re just trying to do your best, whether in rookie camp or here. You have to play hard. But everyone has the same chance to try their best and do what they can to make the team.”
GM Jacques Martin and coach Peter DeBoer have reiterated during training camp room will be made on the roster for any player who deserves to be on the roster regardless of experience.
“I’ve never been a coach who cut or kept players because of their age or inexperience,” DeBoer said. “We want to win every night. If I feel Frolik or Matthias or any of the young guys can step in and help us win on night one of the season, they’ll be in the lineup night one.”
Frolik’s first impressions have been positive. Playing alongside Matthias and veteran Ville Peltonen during scrimmages earlier in the week, he was strong and aggressive. He played similar Tuesday evening against the Flames and hopes to continue doing so during the remainder of the week during the Panthers’ six preseason games in six days.
“In my head, my goal is to try hard and push hard and make the team,” Frolik said. “(DeBoer) doesn’t know me. I have to show him I’m a good player and I can make the team.”