Radek Faksa has done a lot of good things for the Dallas Stars this season, and he’s started to do a little more recently. After scoring just one goal in his first 36 games, he’s scored twice in the past four games, including his first goal at American Airlines Center Tuesday night.
It ended a frustrating stretch for Faksa, who was getting some great opportunities, but he just couldn’t find that finishing touch.
“I was very frustrated, for sure. I would lie if I said no,” Faksa said. “But I was patient, and I knew they would come. Hard work always pays off, so I'm glad I got one [at home].”
Faksa scored by driving the net off the rush and putting home the rebound on Antoine Roussel shot to give the Stars 2-1 lead in the game they would go onto win 5-2 over Nashville.
“It was just sheer determination. He’s had some great looks,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “He scored a heck of a goal in Chicago [last week], the short side shot. If you keep getting the opportunities, sooner or later they are going to go in. I think he is getting to the right places.”
Getting some goals from the defensive-minded Faksa is a bonus for the Stars, who are thrilled with the contributions the 22-year-old center has been making this season, his first in the NHL.
“He’s come in and played the way everyone envisioned him to play,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “He’s a big, heavy body. He plays the right way. He’s strong on draws. He’s strong down low. I know Lindy can trust him playing against anybody.”
Against the New York Islanders, Faksa went up against the Islanders second line that featured Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo and he got high marks from Ruff. A few games earlier, Faksa went head-to-head with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews when the Stars opened a key five-game homestand against the Blackhawks. Again, praise from Ruff.
“I thought he did a heck of a job,” Ruff said. “I know that’s putting a lot of trust in a young guy, but he’s a very responsible centerman.”
As for Faksa, he relishes the opportunity to play against top players.
“To play against them it’s a dream come true, but It’s a big responsibility to play against players like that,” he said. “You have to play an honest game. I am really enjoying that.
The Stars have shown trust in Faksa on special teams, where he has become a mainstay on the penalty kill that has been on a good run, killing off 36 of 38 (94.7 percent) opposition power plays over the past 13 games.
“I’d like to give him a lot of credit for helping out our penalty kill,” Ruff said. “He’s got a big body with a long reach. He’s doing a good job of getting in the shot lanes. With him consistently playing it has been better and I think he’s a big reason for that.”
Faksa has played 40 NHL games this season, registering eight points (three goals, five assists) and a plus-six rating. He’s averaging 12:10 of ice time for the season, but it’s gone up to 14:08 during March.
The Stars drafted Faksa, a Czech native, out of the Ontario Hockey League in the first round (13th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He was one of the great stories of the draft that year. He left home in his native Czech Republic at 11-years-old to pursue his dream of a hockey career. He lived in a small dorm room and received two meals a day to play for the Trinec hockey team. He played six years for Trinec before coming to North America to play junior hockey in the OHL with the hopes of making it to the NHL.
His path to the NHL since being drafted had some ups and downs. He struggled through some injuries and illness during his OHL career. He joined the Texas Stars late in the 2013-2014 season and was a key part of their run to the Calder Cup Championship, centering the fourth line. Last season – his first full pro season – he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and he missed the last half of the season.
“It was so tough physically and mentally for me,” Faksa said. “I couldn’t play, and it was so difficult for me, but I tried to think positive and tried to take advantage of it. I spent lots of time at the gym and got stronger. I had a great summer and a great rehab. Maybe that actually helped me.”
Faksa started the season in the AHL, scoring two goals in the Texas Stars’ season opener. He got his first NHL call-up and made his NHL debut at Florida on Oct. 17. He went down, came up and went back down before sticking on the roster since the All-Star break.
Recently, he has settled in as the third line center with Antoine Roussel and fellow Czech Ales Hemsky as his linemates.
“It’s great to play with guys like that,” Faksa said.
“He’s playing really good,” Hemsky said of Faksa. “He actually surprised me. He can play on the penalty kill and all the situations. He works hard. He’s good on faceoffs. He’s strong. He can only improve, too.”
Hemsky has been more than just a linemate for Faksa; he’s been a mentor as well.
“He’s got so much experience and can show me what to do and how to act,” Faksa said. “It’s great to have a guy from your country who speaks the same language.”
That’s helped with Faksa’s comfort level and confidence, which grow each day he is in the NHL.
“Every game I feel better and better. I am getting more experience and know what to do now,” Faksa said. “I'm getting more chances, and I appreciate every shift, every minute because we've got a very good team.”
And Faksa has become a key part of that very good team.
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.