Radek Faksa was preparing for his second game of the season in the AHL when word came he was getting called up to the Dallas Stars, and he wasn’t going to be an extra body. He was expected to play.
“I had goosebumps right away when they told me that,” Faksa said.
Four games into his first NHL stint, the goosebumps don’t seem to have faded for Faksa.
“The first few games have been amazing,” he said. “I appreciate every game, every shift in the NHL. It is a pleasure to play here. I am very happy to be here.”
Faksa’s journey to the NHL has been well-documented. He left home at 11-years-old to pursue his dream of a hockey career, living in a small dorm room and getting two meals a day to play for the Trinec hockey team in his native Czech Republic. He stayed with Trinec for six years before coming to North America to play junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League.
“I did all that just to get here,” Faksa said as he sat in the Dallas Stars locker room after a recent practice.
Cheered on and encouraged by his family back home.
“We are texting every day and Skyping. They are very excited for me,” Faksa said. “All my friends, girlfriend, family are cheering for me. It helps always.”
The Stars drafted Faksa in the first round (13th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. It came after Faksa’s first season in the OHL. A season that saw him lead OHL rookies in goals (29) and points (66) in 62 games played for the Kitchener Rangers.
“I am surprised I went so high,” Faksa said back in 2012 after the Stars selected him. “I am very excited that one day I will play in Dallas.”
But that path to the NHL had its ups and downs. The first season after he was drafted, Faksa missed considerable time with Kitchener due to illness and a knee injury. After he wrapped up his junior career, he joined the Texas Stars late in the season and centered the fourth line as Texas made its run to the Calder Cup in 2014. But the next season – his first full one as a pro – he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, and he missed the last half of the season.
“It was very tough,” Faksa said. “It was my first surgery, my longest time without games. It was very difficult for me to just watch the games. … But I tried to take advantage of it and train every day to get stronger, and I think it is paying off now.”
Faksa played his first game in eight months when he suited up for the Stars at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City in early September, and that gave him a head start on getting ready for Dallas’ training camp. He had a strong camp with the Stars and was among the final group of players assigned to Texas of the AHL as Dallas finalized its roster.
But he wasn’t in the AHL long. And it was one week after he scored two goals in Texas’ season-opener that he found out he was getting his first shot at the NHL.
“I was so happy,” he said. “The five preseason games helped me a lot. I was more comfortable on the ice; I wasn’t that nervous”
And adding to the excitement of that first NHL game was that it would come against Florida and fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr, whom Faksa called his “idol and hockey god.”
“I wish to play with him one day, but it won’t happen I don’t think,” Faksa said. “But it’s great to play against him at least.”
Faksa has played against some other top players in his short NHL stay. Stars coach Lindy Ruff has played Faksa more than 11 minutes in three of his four games and given him some time on the penalty kill as well.
“I want to make him feel important right off the start and give him a role where he feels like he is going to play,” Ruff said. “He played head-to-head with [Sidney] Crosby and head-to-head with [Evgeni] Malkin and he did a real good job.”
That was Faksa’s third game, which was last Thursday in Pittsburgh.
“When I was younger I couldn’t even imagine playing against them,” Faksa said of going up against Crosby and Malkin. “It’s a dream to play against them. I enjoyed it.”
There’s nothing fancy about Faksa’s game. He is a solid two-way player, strong defensively, tough to knock off the puck, good at faceoffs and he can kill penalties. At 6-3, 215 pounds, he brings size to the lineup as well.
“I’ve really liked his play in his own end. He’s been real heavy on the puck, which means he has been winning a lot of the battles, and he is coming up with those 50-50 pucks,” Ruff said. “[Thursday night in Pittsburgh] he was good on faceoffs, and I stuck him out there for a key faceoff draw, so those areas have been real good. For any young player, he’s got to be able to play in his own end, and Radek has done a real nice job for us.”
He’s impressed his teammates as well.
“He’s been real responsible. He’s big, skates well and is hard on the puck,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “I don’t think he is going to wow you with anything individually, but he does everything really well. To be a young player and show the maturity he has in his game is a lot of credit to his hockey sense.”
Faksa has seen fourth line duty in his four NHL games, and he is often projected as a bottom six, defensive forward. Faksa isn’t into labels and hopes to develop into more than that as he continues his pro career.
“I want to be a good player in the offensive zone and defensive zone, be a 200-foot player,” Faksa said. “I want to play power play and penalty kill, too. I want to be the type of player the coach can use me everywhere.”
For now, though, he is just happy to be in the NHL playing any role, and he is relishing every game, every shift and setting his sights on getting as many games as he can.
“I just have to keep working hard to get more chances, play some more games,” he said. “I am happy for every game.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.