It was the opening minute of the third period in a Friday night tilt against the Portland Pirates. Providence Bruins rookie Martins Karsums managed to get a shot off as he was tumbling to the ice, a shot that met the stick of teammate Petr Kalus and found the back of the Portland net. Only seconds after scoring a goal, the 19-year-old rookie flung his gloves to the ice, trying to engage an unwilling Pirate player in a little one-on-one match.
It is the fire, and the passion with which he plays that makes Kalus such an exciting player. His dedication is apparent with every shift, and as his first professional season wears on, so are the improvements he’s made in his game. He carries himself with such confidence on the ice, that at times, it is easy to forget he is still so young.
Kalus was brought into the fold of the Bruins organization in the second round of the 2005 draft, having just turned 18. From there he attended his first camp with the Bruins, and while he left a favorable impression, it was decided that the best course of action for his development would be to gain experience playing North American hockey at the junior level. The Czech native would spend 2005-06 playing for the Regina Pats of the WHL.
"It was pretty hard because the language and that stuff, I didn’t understand it that good," Kalus told Hockey’s Future. "I had a tutor in Regina and I just work on my language. It was a pretty tough time."
Aside from the language barrier, players coming over from Europe often need to adjust to the smaller rink size and different style of play. Kalus was no different in that respect, but he proved to be a hard worker and eager student, and he quickly fit in with the Regina team. He finished out his rookie season in 60 games with a total 58 points, tied as the top scorer for his team and second among all rookies in the league.
Kalus has the skillset and the work ethic to man one of the top two lines at the NHL level. Best described as a power forward, he’s a combination of superb skating ability, a lethal shot, and tremendous strength. In short, he’s the type of player that finishes his checks then drives to the net and scores. An exciting prospect for the Bruins, his development has been right on target, and he remains in the forefront among a group of young forwards who could soon make an impact in Boston.
In training camp 2006, once again Kalus impressed, and he remained in Boston until the final round of cuts, but the Bruins would instead send him to Providence to begin his pro career in the AHL. Despite scoring a goal in his first professional game, his impact on the score sheet would be limited early in the 2006-07 season, and he registered only six points in his first 16 games.
"I had kind of a slow start because everything is changing, the system," admitted the rookie. "Coach worked with me, I was just learning that and focusing on my game."
His second consecutive year as a rookie playing in North America, Kalus has once again been put in the position to make considerable adjustments to his game. The unfortunate thing about stats, however, is they only tell part of the story. While his performance may have looked somewhat disappointing on paper, his growth as a player and improvement on the ice have been anything but.
"With Petr there were a lot of things we had to throw at him as far as team play, consistent play," said Providence Head Coach Scott Gordon. "Sometimes I think he got to the point where he was overloaded, where he’s probably thinking too much. I expected, at least from my experience, players like that usually take two or three months [to adjust] and prior to his injury he was starting to come around."
The knee injury came in late November, and with other players missing from the roster as well, Providence went through a rough patch that sent them spiraling from the top of the standings to the bottom. The team maintained a high level of competition, but wins became harder to find, and they went 6-12-0-2 between late November and early January.
"We had a real small team, we were missing Petr Kalus and Nate Thompson, and for a while Jeremy Reich was out, so our team didn’t have the same make-up it has now," Gordon explained. "You have to have balance, you can’t just have all small, quick, skilled guys, you have to have some guys that are going to finish their checks."
Kalus missed about 20 games, but his efforts remained focused on getting back on the ice. Providence looked to stop its skid, and slowly replenished its roster; by the second week of January, things were looking up again.
"It’s kind of hard, because I was out like almost two months," said Kalus. "I was working hard and I started skating, working hard on the knee with Mike Poirier [Providence Bruins trainer] – he did a great job just getting me back on the ice and feeling good."
He returned to the lineup on Jan. 12 in a game versus the Springfield Falcons, completely recharged, and the difference from where he was at the beginning of the season was significant. His confidence appeared magnified, and while the physical aspect of his game had been a constant, his offensive production prior to his injury had not. The result has been a much more complete player that is now contributing more than a point per game since his return.
"I think when he got back from the injury, mentally and physically, he kind of had a chance to catch his breath, sit back and watch a little bit," explained Gordon. "Now all of a sudden, the things that he struggled with, as far as just being a half step behind and thinking too much, have been pretty much eliminated. He’s now on the same page with everybody else. We always knew with the puck he was going to be fine, it’s getting him to think the game better without it."
The P-Bruins, meanwhile, have not had a regulation loss since Jan. 6 in Manchester. Kalus has taken a more pronounced role on the Providence offense, but shrugged at what he has been able to accomplish so far this
"I feel pretty comfortable," he said. "We got a pretty good winning streak here and we just want to keep it going and focus on our job."
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