A youthful Ondřej Pekárik in his junior days.
Stars announced yesterday that Czech import Ondřej Pekárik had joined the club.
The 25 year old forward, originally from Pribram in the Czech Republic has spent the majority of his hockey career in his home country but has also had spells in Ukraine and Slovakia. The highlights of his career are from his junior days – where he represented his country at U16 and U17 level (sharing the ice with NHL player Thomas Vincour) before being selected as a 17 year old in round 1 (53rd overall) of the Canadian Hockey League import draft in 2007 which resulted in him playing for a season with OHL team Owen Sound Attack. To give some context, approximately 54% of current NHL players are alumni of the CHL (and over a third of these are from the OHL).
Pekárik only spent the one season in Canada, playing 48 games for Owen Sound Attack before he was released and returned home to play in the Czech U20 league. Mark Reeds, Owen Sound coach, said in an interview “Ondrej is a big, strong kid and in the system over there he didn’t have to forecheck or backcheck and just play. We needed a little bit more out of him and we weren’t getting what we needed which made him expendable.”*
Obviously these words aren’t great – but this was said about an 18 year old in probably the best junior hockey league in the world! What we know since then is that he has played in the Czech 3rd and 4th division as well as in the Ukranian top division. What may be concerning to Stars fans is the amount of hockey Pekárik has played in the last few years. He has not iced in the an accredited league for 2 seasons and since leaving Canada he has not played more than 21 games and no more than 16 games for a single team.
However, to have been drafted to the OHL and have represented a top nation like the Czech Republic as a junior, he is likely to be a player who could make a major impact in a league at the level of the NIHL. At 6’3”, he will add size to the squad and if he settles into the team well he could be a major asset. One thing is certain – this is a major punt by coach Simon Anderson. But then Simon has taken risks in the past that have proved very successful (Evan Mackintosh) as well as those which have been less so (Michal Tomasik), so here at 482 days, we will reserve judgement until we have had a chance to see Ondřej play. If he lives up to his junior potential and beds down well with the team he could be amazing at this level, but if his games played are an indication of attitude problems then the team could see another import walk out after only a few games in the way that Tomasik did last season. Hopefully, having played a year in Canada, his English will be at a reasonable standard which should help with team integration and being able to express any issues he has on arrival. Only time will tell – but I do like the ambition that Simon and Oxford are showing with this signing.
Simon Anderson has this to say: “I’m excited to see what Ondrej can do for us. I appreciate some people may see this signing as a bit of a punt, with regards to his lack of playing time in the last few years. He has had an injury which he has needed to get sorted to enable him to play at the pro level and that’s what he has been getting right in the last couple of seasons. He is 25 years of age, he is hungry to get his pro career back on track and if we can get half the player he was when he was drafted and played in the OHL then we may have a player on our hands. I’m happy to give him that platform to show us and others what he can do.”
Oxford City Stars have said that Ondřej will train with the team tonight and be available in time for this weekend’s away double header against Bracknell and Milton Keynes.
*Sun Times, Owen Sound: Sept 27, 2008
Pekárik’s statistics: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=14438