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Sens third-rounder savours next step toward dream

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Czech forward Jakub Culek showed his commitment to his hockey dream by moving to North America to play for the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic last season (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

In a city filled with dreamers, Jakub Culek took a big step Saturday toward living his own.

After dealing away their first-round selection the night before, the Ottawa Senators finally got into action at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft on Day 2 in Los Angeles. And they figure they've landed a good one in Culek, a centre/forward who toiled last season for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Culek couldn't mask his excitement after making his way to the Senators' draft table at the Staples Center and putting on a team jersey and cap. Not that he had any reason to try.

"It’s very good," said the 17-year-old native of tiny Plzen in the Czech Republic.  "This team is very good. This is my dream ... Every team (in the National Hockey League) is very good. This team, for me, is maybe better."

Perhaps the biggest statement about his commitment to a future in the NHL came a year ago, when Culek made the decision to move to North America. The culture shock was doubly tough in Rimouski, a mainly French-speaking town located near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.

"It was good for me," said Culek. "Good people in Rimouski ... every time (I asked), they helped me. The guys on the team speak French, so it was a little bit tough for me. But the guys teach me. I was very happy with the coach. Everything was very good."

Culek's determination clearly impressed the Senators, who envision him as a solid, two-way player who can fit in on their third line. He produced 28 goals and 64 points in 62 games for an Oceanic team that included fellow Czech Petr Straka, a second-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in this draft. Both could play for their homeland at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo.

"For a kid like Jakub, as a Czech, to come to Rimouski shows his commitment to hockey," said Senators scout Greg Royce. "He’s from a small town in the Czech Republic and his willingness to come to Rimouski — where he does not speak the language, and there’s a new culture and everything — shows me that not only does he have the talent, he wants to be a player."

"Jakub is a big, tall kid whose frame hasn’t filled out yet. He’s still very thin. He sees the ice very well, he’s a playmaker. I foresee him being a third-line guy down the road. His vision and ability to make plays are second to none ... With his size, he’s going to be able shut down opposing forwards."

Added Vaclav Burda, the Sens' chief European scout: "Eventually, this kid might be 6-4 and if we work well with him, he’s going to be 200 pounds. He might be a strong, third-line, two-way (player) who can play both centre and winger. We believe in that. His frame is very raw right now. If everything works well for him, he should become what we think he can be."

The Senators dipped into the European market again during the fourth round, making right-winger Marcus Sorensen of the Sodertalje juniors the 106th overall selection. Ottawa fans shouldn't expect to see him here anytime soon.

"He's a long-term project," said Anders Forsberg, the Senators' Sweden-based scout. "He's a good skater with good hands. He plays hard, but he's still just a boy. He’s a character guy who sticks his nose eveywhere he goes. He battles, he hits ... He just needs to put muscles on his body to step up at senior level. He’s just a raw, raw kid.

"We believe if we work with him well, we might get a home run. He has the potential to be a very good player."

Wrapping up their day's activities, the Senators added right-winger Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) in the sixth round (176th overall) and defenceman Bryce Aneloski of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL) in the seventh (196th).

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