When Radek Faksa was 11-years-old he left home to pursue a dream. He went to play for the Trinec hockey team, living in a hotel room alone in his native Czech Republic. He’d get two meals a day to play.
It was a tough choice for his then struggling family, but it was the best chance for the young Faksa to have a shot at advancing his hockey career.
“It was hard living alone, but it was great for my future,” Faksa said. “When I left home I was dreaming of the NHL.”
Friday night, Faksa moved one step closer to that dream. The Dallas Stars selected the 18-year-old center in the first round (13th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
“It was amazing. I feel very good. I am surprised I went so high,” Faksa said after his selection. “I am very excited that one day I will play in Dallas.”
The Stars headed into this year’s draft looking to beef up their depth at the center position.
WATCH: The Radek Faksa Story
“It’s no secret that we’ve been depleted in that area organizationally,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
When eight of the first ten picks were defensemen on day one of the draft, the chances of landing one of the centers they had their eyes on started to look pretty good.
“(Filip) Forsberg (selected 11th overall) was an intriguing pick, but when Faksa fell to us it was a no-brainer,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s a big, strong kid. He’s a character kid.”
Faksa lived for five years in that hotel in Czech Republic – working his way up the ladder in the Czech junior system – and then made another big move, coming to North America to play for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League this past season.
He played 62 games and led all OHL rookies in goals (29), assists (37), points (66), plus-minus (+19) and game-winning goals (6).
“It was good for my future. The game is more like the NHL,” said Faksa. “We had a great group of guys. It was great.”
“He’s been through a lot. He taught himself English while living in Kitchener,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s just a remarkable kid, and a good player to boot.”
There didn’t seem to be much of a problem when it came to adjusting to the North American game.
“He fit in real quick,” said Stars scout Jimmy Johnston. “He was a guy they used a lot. He just fit right in and he got better and better all season.”
Johnston, who tracked Faksa’s progress in the OHL this past season, said there is a lot to like about the 6-3, 202 pound forward, who is a left shot.
“He’s a center. He’s got good size; he’s a smart kid on both sides of the puck,” said Johnston. “He’s good in the defensive zone, he’s good offensively. He can create offense and he can understand the other side of the game, too. He’s just a real good two-way player.
“He might be one of the best players this year in protecting the puck with his body. He uses his legs really well. He has the size and the reach. He played on the first power play and he played the point on the power play.
“There is a lot to like about him. He’s young and he’s got lots of growth left in him. He’s a big kid with lots of improvement potential. Plus, it’s an area we need.”
The Stars put a lot of emphasis on character when assessing potential draft picks, and Johnston said Faksa scores high in that category.
“He is a character kid with everything he has gone through,” Johnston said. “He is a great team guy.”
Asked to provide a scouting report on himself, Faksa said he’s a two-way player who likes some of the physical parts of the game.
“I have a big body, so I play a physical game,” he said. “I can play offense and defense, too. I like puck protection in the corners and battles.”
When it comes to players he models himself after, Faksa rattled off a few names.
“I really like Pavel Datsyuk, but I think I play like Eric Staal,” he said.
He’s also a big fan of Stars forward Jamie Benn.
“It’s awesome watching him,” Faksa said.
And it was an awesome night for Faksa, whose family was on hand in Pittsburgh Friday night as Nieuwendyk called out his name as the Stars’ first round pick in the 2012 draft. Among those sitting with him was his mother, who helped make that decision that allowed him to leave home at a young age to pursue his dream.
“It was great to have my family here. It was their first time in the U.S.,” Faksa said. “My mom was proud of me.”