Marek Hrivik not only had the most productive minor league season of his career a year ago, he also got a taste of playing in the National Hockey League by appearing in his first five games for the Rangers. Now the 24 year-old forward from Slovakia is aiming for bigger and better things in 2016-17.
"I hope they liked what they saw," Hrivik said of the Rangers decision makers in a phone conversation with BlueshirtsUnited.com earlier this week. "From the discussion I had with them, they said I was on a good pace, that I should step it up even more, and that I am close. I have to make sure I'm ready for training camp because there are going to be a lot of guys there battling for a spot, too, good players. This is going to be a big challenge, but it is my goal and my dream to play in the NHL with the New York Rangers, and to stick there."
Hrivik's fourth pro season with the Hartford Wolf Pack actually got off to a slow start statistically last year. However the mid-season acquisition of Nicklas Jensen from Vancouver got Hrivik going in the right direction as the two clicked immediately as linemates, with both eventually establishing career-best offensive numbers.
In 68 games with Hartford in 2015-16, Hrivik established career-highs with 41 points and 29 assists. He finished as the team's third-leading scorer and tied for the lead in assists, while also playing a solid two-way game.
"Things really picked up for me when Jenner got traded to us, it just sparked both of us," explained Hrivik. "It was a great thing to play with someone and have real good chemistry. That was a turning point for me and then I got my first call-up and it gave me the chance to measure myself against the best players in the world, and I felt pretty good about my game up there."
Hrivik was called up from the minor leagues in time to make his NHL debut on February 21, what turned out to be a memorable 1-0 Rangers victory at The Garden in which Kevin Klein netted the game-winner 1:59 into overtime.
"The first game was against Detroit and it was a good test for me, all those great players with all of their experience," recalled Hrivik, who logged 7:32 worth of ice time in his debut. "The atmosphere was unbelievable, Kleiner scored that overtime goal. I was so happy to be there. Your first game, you want to win it. That was a perfect first game the way we won. Maybe perfect would have had me scoring a goal, too, but this was still great!"
Appearing in the next three Ranger games, Hrivik continued to skate on the team's fourth line along with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass, a completely different role and level of ice time from what he was used to as a top six forward with the Wolf Pack.
Still Hrivik received praise from head coach Alain Vigneault for his strong work along the boards and in front of the net, and he even picked up his first NHL point on February 23, assisting on a first-period goal scored by Moore.
"I was put in a different role and it's a hard thing to adjust after you've been playing more minutes in a bigger role with Hartford" explained Hrivik. "My goal is to get to a point that I can play a similar big role up there (in New York) that I was playing in Hartford, trying to be a guy that makes a difference. Obviously that's something which is still a little ahead of me, but that's my goal."
After being returned to Hartford and continuing his strong play alongside Jensen, Hrivik was called up to appear in the Rangers regular season finale on April 9, once again against the Red Wings at MSG. Hrivik played an NHL-high 18 minutes 18 seconds and recorded two shots on goal.
In total Hrivik appeared in five NHL games a year ago, finished a +3 and had the one assist.
"Those five games were a huge experience for me," stated Hrivik.
Now the chiseled 6-foot-2, 205 pound Hrivik heads to training camp next month trying to make a big impression, perhaps as a center--the position he played in Hartford a year ago--or as a wing--where he might just have to battle his good friend Jensen for a roster spot.
"That's not something I am really focused on, Jenner going for the same spot or any of the other guys, I am just going to play my game," offered Hrivik. "What decisions are ultimately made are out of my control. I just need to make sure to take care of my game."