July 28, 2016

Jakub Petruzalek

Jakub Petruzalek came to Canada with a dream - to play in the National Hockey League.

Though he would play in just two NHL contests in an otherwise long hockey career, his dream did come true.

Petruzalek was a small but speedy winger out of Litvinov in the Czech Republic. But he felt his best chance to the NHL was not to play limited minutes in the top Czech pro league but get lots of ice time playing in the top Canadian junior leagues. He and his agent put out the word that he wanted to come to Canada.

The Ottawa 67s ended up drafting Petruzalek 23rd overall in a special import draft that welcomes players from all around the world. It did not hurt that the New York Rangers - who drafted Petruzalek 266th overall weeks earlier, helped pull a few strings.

Petruzalek played for the 67s in the 2004-05 season. He helped the top seeded OHL team reach the the Memorial Cup finals. The 67s liked Petruzalek's ability but perhaps they also wanted him simply to help countryman Lukas Kaspar - who knew less English than Petruzalek - adjust. The two Czechs came to Canada together. While Petruzalek was a NHL long shot at best, Kaspar was a first round pick of the San Jose Sharks and a prized addition to the 67s.

The 67s ended up just shy of winning the Memorial Cup that year. Both Kaspar and Petruzalek left the team after just one season.

Short on options of where to play in the 2005-06 season, Petruzalek actually returned to Litvinov for a season to play in the top pro league, but was unhappy with his ice time. Petruzalek jumped at the opportunity to return to the OHL in 2006-07 and play as a 20 year old overager with the Barrie Colts.

"He's a high-end playmaker - he's a really skilled player. He can score goals but he's also a really good passer. He'll make players around him better," said Barrie coach Marty Williamson.

Petruzalek finished the year strongly and then was signed by the Rangers to play in their farm system beginning the next season. But the Rangers were never serious about his future. A few games into his pro career he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes organization.

It was a good move for Petruzalek. Over the next three seasons he got to- play solid minutes for the Hurricanes farm team. He even got called up for a two game stint in the 2008-09 season and recorded an assist.

The next year Petruzalek's dream of playing in the NHL was over. He returned to Europe to play for many more seasons, mostly in the Russian KHL.

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