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Nestrasil finds support in fellow countryman

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings
DETROITAndrej Nestrasil almost chose not to attend the NHL draft in Monteal last month because some people told him that he might not be selected. But his billet family encouraged him to go and since he’s not the type to shy away from anything, he went and couldn’t be happier that he did when the Red Wings selected him with the 75th overall pick.

Andrej Nestrasil

The native of Prague, Czech Republic, spent the rest of the day shaking hands, posing for pictures, fielding questions from the media, and meeting people.

“After pictures with family, went to the suite to set-up some development camp and plane tickets and stuff like that,” said Nestrasil in broken English. “After I had rest, at night we went with all of my family, my Victoriaville (Quebec) family with my girlfriend, we went to dinner with the team stuff and drafted players.”

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right winger isn’t afraid to use his body, dishing out 89 hits last season for the Tigres in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Nestrasil’s big frame enables him to hang onto the puck even in corners and traffic. If he can improve his skating, the Wings believe he could be a top-six power forward on the team.

Nestrasil, 18, believes his game mirrors that of Detroit’s Johan Franzen.

“Kind of my play is Johan Franzen,” Nestrasil said. “He’s big, strong on the puck, strong in the corners. He can make a play also. His game is something that I like.”

Nestrasil started playing hockey at the tender age of three and it has been his dream to play in the NHL ever since. Nestrasil and his older brother competed against one another with the winner taking home three NHL players’ cards.

“We played every single day at home,” Nestrasil said. “My father made a goalie and I was against my brother. The guy who won, the guy get the three cards of NHL players and the other guy was just one. I always lost because I was two years younger so I always had just one card.”

After recording 28 points (12-16-28) in 40 games as a 16-year-old in a Czech U-20 league, Nestrasil was selected by Victoriaville in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.

Nestrasil moved thousands of miles away to start his North American career. He had to deal with the language barrier, struggling with both French and English. In time, his speaking improved and he’s even assisted fellow draft pick Tomas Tatar with media interviews during the Wings’ development camp this week at Joe Louis Arena.

It doesn’t hurt that the Tigres’ owner was also his billet family so they were able to really help Nestrasil adjust to the new surroundings.

 “I talked to Andrej and I actually met his family that he stays with, his billets in Victoriaville,” Red Wings’ director of player development Jiri Fischer said. “The main thing is when guys are coming over here, they are coming here to play hockey so this family is really taking care of him well. Actually the couple he stays with, they also have three kids of their own and they also happen to own the team that he plays for, so I think it’s a perfect fit and they really treat him well.”

Not only did he have to face a major culture shock off the ice away from the comfort of friends and family, but Nestrasil also had to adapt to the North American style of play.

“It’s a more physical game,” he said. “It’s a smaller rink. It’s good for me because I’m not that fast guy and I need to play more strong game. You can shoot from everywhere in offensive zone because offensive zone is like wider and bigger so that’s the biggest difference for power plays and PKs.”

Even with the new environment, Nestrasil finished second on his team in scoring and fourth overall among QMJHL rookies. In 66 games, he registered 22 markers and 35 assists. He closed out his rookie campaign on a hot streak, notching 15 points in the final 11 games.

The league commonly referred to as the ‘Q’ housed NHL offensive stars in the early stages of their career, including Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Brière. Fischer made the transition from the Czech Republic to Quebec when he started his major junior hockey career in 1997. As a result, he understands what Nestrasil is going through and has already been a big help to his fellow countryman.

“He’s from Czech Republic like me so in that case it will be way easier for me,” Nestrasil said. “We spoke right after the draft and at the dinner for team stuff. Here, when he saw me on the ice and do something wrong, he come up and tell me how to do it right.”

Both Fischer and Nestrasil look forward to working together over the next few years as Nestrasil works to develop into an NHL player.

“I’m really excited to work with him next year and work on his skating,” Fischer said. “He needs to work on taking pucks to the net and just on every young guy, living hockey and being professional, being ready, and having good habits all the time.”

This week’s development camp is all about new experiences and that extends to the fun activities as well. Nestrasil will attend his first baseball game Wednesday night when the players go to the Detroit Tigers’ game at Comerica Park.

“I’ve never seen it on TV so it’s my first,” Nestrasil said. “I know what it is. I know the rules, but it’s not that popular back in Czech Republic and I don’t watch TV much. So it will be my first experience.”

Christy Hammond is an intern in the Red Wings' New Media & Publishing Department at Joe Louis Arena.

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