DETROIT – Andrej Nestrasil was thrilled beyond belief Tuesday afternoon. And that was prior to him learning that he made the Red Wings’ opening-night roster.
“I’m more than pleased,” said Nestrasil, who hopes to make his NHL debut Thursday when the Red Wings opener against Boston at Joe Louis Arena.
“If you would have asked me a couple weeks before the camp I would tell you 99 percent they would send me down,” he said. “I thought I was going to get two exhibition games and I ended up playing five. Camp was really and I’m glad to still be here.”
Nestrasil had an outstanding camp and five preseason games, making the final decision a tough one for the Wings coaching staff and management. He produced two goals and four points, which was second on the team behind Riley Sheahan’s five points.
“I think my confidence level is way higher than it used to be because the second half of my (AHL) season last year was really good,” Nestrasil said. “Gaining confidence is the biggest thing. If you want to play here you have to be confident.”
Clearly, the Red Wings have confidence in the 23-yer-old from Prague, Czech Republic. It showed in the coaches putting him on the team’s top power-play unit during practice Tuesday.
Nestrasil said he felt comfortable during camp, but whether he made the Wings’ roster or was send back to Grand Rapids, he was determined to have a positive outlook.
“I’ve done the most I could during camp. I did even better that I expected to do,” he said. “If I stay here and play with the Red Wings or if I’m going to go down and play 20 minutes a game in Grand Rapids I’m still at the age where I’ve got to get my game better. I still have to get better every year. Either way is going to fine with me.”
But it wasn’t until the preseason finale in Boston last Saturday that Nestrasil had an inkling he had made the final cut.
“It was before the game in Boston,” said Nestrasil, who provided the deciding shootout goal in the Wings’ 4-3 win against the Bruins. “This time I sensed it might work out because before that I was 100-percent sure I was going down. That game I had some info that if I’m going to do well they might keep me up here.”
With Pavel Datsyuk starting the season on injured reserve, the Red Wings elected to go with 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. Nestrasil and fellow forward Tomas Jurco made the final cut, while goalie Petr Mrazek and defenseman Xavier Ouellet were reassigned to AHL Grand Rapids.
For Ouellet, who led the Red Wings with 16 shots on goal and a plus-3 rating in the preseason, he won’t let Tuesday’s roster move bring him down.
“You have to try not to understand it, actually,” Ouellet said. “You just have to go with the flow and see what happens. It’s a big business. There’s a lot of stuff as players that we don’t know. All you can control is your game and as players that’s what we’re trying to do.”
A third-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft, Nestrasil has bided his time while learning the North American style, first in the QMJHL before transitioning to the Red Wings system, first with ECHL Toledo. Over the past three seasons, Nestrasil bounced between Toledo and Grand Rapids, amassing a combined 40 goals and 116 points in 211 games.
“I just feel I had to wait for my opportunity a little longer than some other guys,” Nestrasil said. “I just held it together, waited, waiting, kept working hard and it eventually paid off.”