RALEIGH, N.C. — Is this the year for Martin Necas?
Is this the year the Carolina Hurricanes forward, a former first-round draft pick, finally combines his offensive cleverness and creativity, his slick hands and his innate speed with some dogged 200-foot intensity and determination all over the ice to make himself a full-time NHL player?
Necas would like to think so. He’s 20. He has had a taste of the NHL, brief as it was. He wants more.
“I feel pretty good on the ice,” he said in an N&O interview Monday. “I feel like I’m a little stronger than last year. I feel ready but now I have to show it in the game, on the ice.”
Show it to Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour. While admiring the speed and skill that Necas can bring to the game, Brind’Amour wants a better-rounded player willing to do the dirty work on the ice as well as score pretty goals.
Asked Monday if he liked what he has seen out of Necas in the first four days of training camp, Brind’Amour said, “No.”
Brind’Amour didn’t elaborate and then said more good things than bad about Necas, the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
“He looks like he’s more mature,” Brind’Amour said Monday during his camp press conference. “He’s certainly more mature than he was last year on the ice. And off the ice he’s physically more mature. But again, we’ll see how it all comes together when he starts playing for real.”
The Canes play their first preseason exhibition games this week — at Tampa Bay on Tuesday, against Tampa Bay in Raleigh on Wednesday and then at the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Necas has been used on the right wing on Erik Haula’s line in camp opposite winger Warren Foegele, and the three could be used as a line in an exhibition game or two.
Necas made the Canes’ opening-night roster each of the past two seasons. He had a one-game cameo in 2017-18, making his NHL debut at Edmonton early in the season before returning to HC Kometa Brno in his native Czech Republic to finish out the season, also competing in the World Junior Championship and later the World Championship for the Czechs.
A year ago, he put in a full season on North American rinks that are smaller than the European ice. Again, he made the Canes’ opening-night roster. Again, he did not stick with the big team. After seven games, he was sent to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Necas expected to be recalled by the Canes last season. He tried to stay patient. That call never came.
“It was tough,” he said. “Some (Canes) guys are injured and sometimes you’re waiting (for) the call up and you’re feeling good on the ice but it doesn’t come. But that’s hockey. That’s hockey in the NHL.”
Necas tried to make the most of his time with the Checkers. Drafted as a center, he spent most of the season on the wing. He adjusted to the more confined rinks, which call for quick plays in tight spaces, finishing the regular season with 16 goals and 52 points in 64 games.
“The biggest thing was probably those little battles around the net, around the corners, and play more defensively,” Necas said. “It was hard the first couple of months but then I get used to it and I felt pretty good out there.”
And won a championship. The Checkers swept through the Calder Cup playoffs for the first AHL title in franchise history, beating the Chicago Wolves in the Cup finals. Necas had five goals and 13 points in 18 playoff games, including a team-high three power-play goals.
“It was a great run for us in the playoffs,” he said. “We had a really good team on the ice but also off the ice, which is really important, especially in the playoffs. That was cool. I really enjoyed it. It was great to win it.”
But that was last year. What Necas wants is to spend a full season with the Canes in the NHL.
When Carolina reached the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, Necas could only watch as a few of his Checkers teammates — Greg McKegg, Saku Maenalanen, Clark Bishop — all got their chances in the Canes’ lineup, in playoff games. The Checkers’ Calder Cup run didn’t end until early June, cutting into his offseason recovery time in the Czech Republic.
But Necas again threw himself in his conditioning workouts. He said he reported to camp at 195 pounds, about 20 pounds heavier than he was two years ago when the 6-2 forward was so slender, all arms and legs.
The Canes are overloaded with left-handed shooting forwards and Necas would give Brind’Amour a right-hander in the lineup. That also could be beneficial on the power play.
Necas scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 16, 2018 against Tampa Bay, with a one-timer off a Foegele pass, the force of his shooting motion causing him to pitch forward on the ice. The Canes lost 4-2 and Necas did not play another game for Carolina, being sent down to Charlotte the next day.
And this year?
“I want to spend the whole season here,” Necas said.
In Raleigh, with the Hurricanes, showing why Carolina made him a first-round pick.
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