One look at the way Hershey Bears forward Jakub Klepis plays the game of hockey, and it’s clear he has an abundance of talent.
One look at his numbers, however, would suggest differently.
Klepis is an offensively gifted player. He possesses smooth puckhandling skills, can pass the puck effortlessly, and he’s got the ability to slow the play down at will.
“I think I’d describe myself as a playmaker,” the young right winger told Hockey’s Future after a game against the Philadelphia Phantoms on Feb. 3. “I have good vision on the ice. Everyone tells me I’m a good skater, but I’m not sure about that. I don’t feel that way.”
In addition to his skating, the talented forward admits he could also work on being stronger on the puck and should shoot more often. While trying to make those adjustments, he is struggling to find consistency in this, his second season of North American professional hockey, as he’s compiled only 19 points on 6 goals and 13 assists in 36 games so far for Hershey.
Two of those goals — one in a shootout — came in that game against the Phantoms. He also added an assist in the contest, leading the Bears to a 4-3 win against their cross-state division rival.
Head Coach Bruce Boudreau sees plenty of promise in Klepis, but acknowledges there is still work to be done if the talented rookie is to reach his full potential.
“I think he’s got to be more consistent,” he said. “You see him have a game like tonight, and you say, ‘wow, that guy should be in the NHL.’ If he could do that and bring that every night, then all of a sudden, things are going to happen for him. I mean, he’s only 21, so there’s still room for him to grow, but, especially lately, he’s shown some great signs of coming up and being the player everyone expects him to be.”
Klepis honed his hockey skills playing most of his amateur career in his native Czech Republic. His lone year of junior hockey in Canada came in the 2001-02 campaign, when he skated with the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks at the urging of his agent.
“I didn’t even want to go to juniors, but my agent told me it would be good for me before the draft,” he said. “It may have helped me, I don’t know if it did or not, I just didn’t want to stay there more than a year in junior, so I decided to go back to the Czech Republic and play for a men’s league team.”
His year spent in Portland seemed to pay off draft-wise as he ended up being selected 16th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2002.
“Actually, my agent told me I should expect to get drafted in the late first round or maybe the second round. When they said my name at No. 16, I was pretty excited. It was a good feeling.”
The skilled winger is still making the transition to North American hockey, a different, more physical style of play than what he was used to in Europe.
“It’s way tougher over here,” he said in contrasting the two styles. “In Europe, and in the Czech leagues especially, all the guys play with soft passes and make plays – there are no dump-ins. It’s also faster here, which is probably the biggest difference.”
Boudreau likes what Klepis has to offer, and knows that he can be a very important part of his team’s success.
“He has speed and flash and finesse. He’s a skill player,” he said. “I guess ‘finish’ is a big word because you look at his totals and say ‘how can a guy be so good and have only that many points.’ I mean, he gets his opportunities, and if he continues to get them and he finishes them, good things will happen for him.”
Good things did happen earlier on this season when the 6’0, 185-pound native of Prague got his first taste of the NHL when the Capitals called him up in early November. Klepis spent 13 games with the big club, collecting three points, including his first NHL goal in his first game played.
By his own admission, however, Klepis did not play to his potential, resulting in a limited opportunity to show what he could do.
“I played about 10 games [in Hershey], then I got called up and spent a month in Washington and I didn’t really play very well, so, because I didn’t play good, I didn’t get much ice time, but I think that’s getting better now.”
Klepis is skating major minutes now that he’s back with the Bears, and earned himself another brief one-game call-up for a game against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 7 before being sent back after the game.
For now, Klepis is looking to help the Bears attain as much success as possible this season, and he thinks the team can go a long way if they all stay focused.
“When I came to Hershey, and saw the guys we have in the locker room, I was pretty impressed because I knew we had a good team and a lot of good players and the only thing we want is to win. All season long, that’s our goal – to win the Calder Cup.”
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