Toni Lydman noticed it the first day of training camp - something was different about Andrej Sekera.
Maybe it was the weight he added in the offseason, or the conditioning he put himself through to prepare for the year.
“Or maybe he was just getting cocky,” Lydman joked.
Whatever it was, the 22-year-old defenseman began to surprise his teammates with his poise on the back end.
“He’s always had the talent, but now - I don’t know if it’s because he’s played quite a few games last year or not - he has that confidence.” Lydman said. “Coming into this year’s training camp he looked comfortable in the scrimmages and exhibition games and now he is carrying that into the regular season.”
Sekera has not only evolved into a full-time player, but has taken a role as part of the team’s top defensive tandem alongside veteran Jaroslav Spacek. His steady play has earned an average of nearly 23 minutes of ice time each game – including Oct. 25 against the Avalanche when Sekera played a career-high 30:44 minutes.
Currently ranked 44th this season among NHL defenseman in that category, Sekera is one of the youngest players to merit the ice time. Only San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 21, is younger than Sekera and averages more playing time (24:27 TOI/G).
“I was a little surprised at first at how much [responsibility] I was getting,” Sekera said. “But if you play well you will get those chances… you just have to be ready for every single game and the opportunity will come.”
“After seeing what he did last season, I expected a lot from him this year,” Lydman said. “And he certainly hasn’t disappointed.”
Part of Sekera’s success can be attributed to his partner in Spacek. The veteran has been crucial in his development, particularly on special teams.
“He teaches me a lot of things, he talks to me on the ice and off and just makes my life easier out there,” Sekera said. “I’m glad to be his partner.”
“[Sekera] is in a tough spot on the right side too as a left-handed shot,” Adam Mair said of the pairing. “That makes it a little bit more difficult… but he’s done well for himself.
“I think he’s a pretty confident guy now and hasn’t felt out of place this season. He carries the puck well, skates with it and isn’t afraid to try to make plays… Seeing that out of a young defenseman is good.”
Sekera believes it is their style of play that complements each other as he is more inclined to join the rush while Spacek acts a stay-at-home defenseman.
“But more than that, they are countrymen,” Mair said.
Sekera is from Slovakia while Spacek was raised in the neighboring Czech Republic.
“They are able to talk about plays and have a good rapport and good chemistry that way,” Mair said. “[Spacek] is able to mentor Rej a little bit and show him the ropes so to speak.”
“I feel more confident every single day, every single practice, every single game,” Sekera said. “I just want to keep doing every single thing I can to get better and prove that I belong here,”