Excelling in the Czech Republic at a young age and then impressing in his rookie pro season in North American as a 19-year-old, Detroit Red Wing prospect Jiri Hudler is back on track this season after a difficult lockout year.
The 2002 second round draft pick, Detroit’s first in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, currently lies third in AHL scoring with 25 goals and 40 assists in 47 games, behind only the Houston Aeros duo of Erik Westrum and Kirby Law. The 22-year-old forward started the season strong by scoring two goals and two assists in Grand Rapids first game of the season, a 6-3 victory over Milwaukee. The following week, Hudler was named the AHL Player of the Week after scoring four goals and two assists in three games. His season has continued down that high scoring path, all the way to the AHL All-Star Game in Winnipeg Feb. 1. The 2006 AHL All-Star Game was Hudler’s second playing for PlanetUSA after skating in the 2004 edition.
While putting up big numbers in the AHL, Hudler failed to tally in a four-game stint in Detroit in December. The cup of coffee was his third after two early in the 2003-04 season. His 17 goals and 32 assists in 57 AHL games in his rookie pro season was a strong start, but the 2004-05 season proved to be Hudler’s first major setback. His father became seriously ill and the Czech returned home to his family and continued playing by suiting up for his old Czech Extraleague team Vsetin.
Hudler had skated his first Extraleague games for Vsetin as a 16-year-old, two games during the 1999-00 season. He split time between Vsetin and Havirov in 2000-01, but he was back to Vsetin full-time in 2001-02, and proceeded to lead the team in scoring with 15 goals and 31 assists in 46 games, starting the season as a 17-year-old.
The young Czech prodigy dominated the Czech Extraleague in 2002-03 and decided to try his hand in the aptly named Russian Super League. It didn’t turn out so super for Hudler though, as he was limited to 11 games with Kazan and the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. However, the 19-year-old Hudler was still called upon to play for the Czech Republic at the World Championships. Hudler has also played in three World Junior Championships and to U18 World Championships, including an incredible seven-goal, seven-assist 2002 tournament.
The 5’9, 180-pound Hudler may be small, but his prospects are large. Hockey’s Future recently managed to catch up with the Griffins leading scorer as he continues his efforts to crack one of the most difficult rosters in the NHL.
HF: You’ve been named to the AHL All-Star Game for Planet USA, are you looking forward to the game in Manitoba?
JH: Yeah for sure. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. These players, they’re great players, among the best in the league. It’s kind of rest, four days. It’s going to be lots of fun.
HF: You’re lighting up the AHL again, but are you disappointed not to be in Detroit instead?
JH: Like, I can be disappointed, but I’ve got to wait for my chance and see what’s going to happen. There’s 30 games left, I’ve got to play hard and we’ll see.
HF: Your production was down last season, tell me about your difficulties last season.
JH: I went home for two months because my dad was sick. It was kind of tough. I had ankle surgery. So, it kind of stopped me, but I’m ready for this season and next season, and everything is alright back home. Family is important for me.
HF: You averaged a point per game as a 17- and 18-year-old in the Czech Extraleague, what allowed you to do so well so young?
JH: I don’t know. I had a lot of great coaches. My dad played hockey, so he helped me a lot. Then I started playing professional hockey back home when I was 16 and I had a great coach, I was on a great team, with great players. These guys helped me a lot.
HF: How would you say the AHL compares to the Extraleague?
JH: You know what, it’s different. There, there’s a bigger rink, bigger ice, so you have more time than here. But with the new rules, it’s fun to play in this league right now and hopefully there’s no difference. It’s hockey.
HF: You also played in the Russian Super League in 2002-03, what made you decide to leave Vsetin and play for Kazan?
JH: I went to World Junior and my agent Petr Svoboda called me, and I had like 46 points in 30 games back home in the Czech League, and he was like, “You’ve got move up a little bit.” I played like 30 minutes a game in the Extraleague, so he saw me play there and he said, “There’s no reason to play here, right now, for you. You’ve got to try something else.” Then I went to Kazan and I got injured, that slowed me down, and we lost in the first round of the playoffs, so it was kind of bad.
HF: How did the Super League compare to the Extraleague?
JH: The Super League, I think, is one of the best in Europe, probably the best in Europe. Russian players are great, they skate well, they move the puck. It’s such fun to watch.
HF: How much did playing in the Extraleague at a young age help prepare you to dominate the U18’s and the World Junior Championships?
JH: I don’t know. Like I said, I played a lot. I was 17, 18, I played 30 minutes a game. It’s different when you play 10 minutes from 30. You get a lot of confidence, confidence with the puck, without the puck. I played three World Junior Championships and the best one was probably Halifax.
HF: How did it feel as a 19-year-old to play for the Czech Republic in the World Championships, with the senior team?
JH: It’s a great experience. Lots of NHL guys came. It’s a great tournament. Maybe I’ll be there again, sometime.
HF: What do you feel are the strengths of your game?
JH: I don’t know. It’s not a question for me, probably.
HF: What are some of the things you’re working to improve on so you can stick on Detroit?
JH: I work on my defensive play in our zone. It’s what I want to work on. I think I got a lot better than my first year, two years ago.
HF: Who were some of your favorite players growing up and why?
JH: I don’t know, I’ve hundreds of them. I would say Czech players, like Jagr, Straka. Canadian players, Yzerman. And Lang. Like all the kids, Gretzky and these guys.
HF: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
JH: Play well, play hard, get good position for the playoffs. I think with this team we can go far in the playoffs. So, it’s what we want, all of us in the locker. So, the playoffs is our goal.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.