‘Lucky’ Krajicek a mainstay on Panthers blue line

By EM Brown

Florida Panthers defenseman Lukas Krajicek figures luck is equally important to skill when trying to break into the National Hockey League.

Projected to start the season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans due
to a crowded Panthers blue line, Krajicek earned a slot on Florida’s
opening night roster when Eric Cairns and Alexander Karpovtsev went
down with injuries.

“It was a surprise for me that they let me play and they let me play
so much right from the start,” Krajicek said. “I was kind of lucky.
There were two guys that were injured. I guess you have to have a
little bit of luck in life.”

Ranked highly going into his draft in 2001, the native of
Prostejov, Czech Republic received a stellar scouting report. Aside
from concerns over his 6’1, 183-pound frame, scouts commended all
areas of Krajicek’s game, from his stickhandling and passing skills to
his hockey sense and strong work ethic.

It was more than enough to convince the Panthers to send a pair of
second-round picks to with the New Jersey Devils and select Krajicek
24th overall out of the OHL.

During the 2004-05 lockout, Krajicek completed his third AHL season,
posting two goals and 22 assists in 78 games with the cellar-dwelling
San Antonio Rampage.

Florida’s Joel Kwiatkowski, who began the season as Krajicek’s
defensive partner and was also a teammate of his in San Antonio,
says the experience only helped speed the 22-year-old’s development.

“I thought he played a lot last year and we weren’t successful as a
team, but we got a lot of ice time, He’s shown a lot more confidence,”
Kwiatkowski said. “He’s obviously a young, skilled defenseman. It’s
actually a pretty easy to play with him. He just does his job, it’s
nothing flashy.”

Despite playing a predominantly defensive style, Krajicek has managed
to chip in on offense as well. In 30 games, he has registered a pair
of goals — both coming on the power play — and nine assists. In
November, he posted a four-game assist streak.

The all-around solid play has not only led to an increase in ice time,
but earned him job security as one of Florida’s top-four defensemen.

Still, Krajicek has remained focused on goals set forth by Panthers
head coach Jacques Martin to “get better defensively and help out the
forwards with offense.”

“It’s a learning experience for him every day, especially in the
defensive zone,” Kwiatkowski said. “With the new rules it’s even
harder now. You’ve got to have good sticks and get smarter. I’m sure
he’s only going to get better.”

Olesz returns

Rookie Rostislav Olesz returned to the Panthers lineup
on Nov. 26 after missing 15 games with a sprained MCL. The 20-year-old
registered a goal in his first game back, a 7-4 loss to Atlanta, and
has since logged between 15 and 17 minutes of ice time.

“After [coming back from the injury], I’m glad I am getting more ice
time, helping the team,” Olesz said. “For me, it doesn’t matter what I
play. But I’m happy that I can help the team on the penalty kill.”

Johner a cat (again)

Florida re-acquired the rights to Dustin Johner as part of a three-player deal which sent winger Kristian Huselius to
Calgary on Dec. 2. The Panthers assigned the forward to the Florida
Everblades of the ECHL.

In his first game with the Everblades on Dec. 3, Johner picked up two
assists, just 12 hours after flying in from Las Vegas.

“We’re just fortunate that Florida sees a lot of potential in a kid
like Johner,” Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming told the Naples
News
. “I think if he comes down here and plays the way he’s
capable of playing, he may be up in Rochester, but for now he’s on his
way here.”

Johner tallied a pair of goals, two assists and eight penalty minutes
in eight games with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. The 22-year-old
also appeared in five games with Omaha of the AHL.

The Panthers selected Johner with their sixth-round pick of the 2001
NHL Entry Draft. He signed with Calgary as a free agent in 2004.

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