February 29, 2020

Pytlik feeling at home with Greyhounds

Jaromir Pytlik is a long way from home.

But his decision last season to leave the Czech Republic to further his hockey career is one that has been validated to date.

For Jaromir Pytlik, while coming to Canada to further his career took his game to another level, playing at the World Junior Championships in his home country of the Czech Republic vindicated that decision.

“When I played in the Czech pro league it was kind of hard because I was only playing two minutes, or just practicing,” said Pytlik, who joined the Grehounds midway through the 2018-19 season and finished with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 26 games after amassing one assist in 26 games with Vitkovice of the Czech league.

“When Kyle [Raftis], our manager, called and asked if I wanted to come and get lots of ice time. And there was Barret Hayton and Frosty [Morgan Frost] and I could play with them, I was like ‘Yeah.’ I was happy.”

It wasn’t an easy transition at first.

“It was really hard because I didn’t speak English at all, so it was really tough. It was hard to talk to the boys and the time change,” said Pitlyk, No. 34 in Future Considerations’ Winter ranking for the 2020 NHL Draft. “It’s a small rink so it’s faster, you have to be smart. It was kind of different.

“But I really like it now and when I look back it was really the best decision to make to come here to Canada.”

That’s reflected in both his statistical play — Pytlik has 20 goals and 46 points in 51 games so far this year — and the fact that he’s been named an assistant captain.

“Just from observations, he’s really opened up,” explained Greyhounds head coach John Dean. “He’s a fun personality to be around. He has the luxury of having his good friend Nick Malik here. That helps the transition as well. But even before Nick got here, just his personality — we named him an assistant captain, which speaks to how much more vocal he is in the room and how he leads by example.

“He loves being around the guys, he loves being at the rink. I think that was the same last year, but with the language barrier, being new, and coming in at the time he did couldn’t have been easy on him. Now you’re really seeing his personality come shining through.”

Pytlik admitted that he had some trepidation about being named an assistant captain this year.

“It was something special. I was thinking about it — if I could really be an assistant, because I come here, with no English, a Czech boy… I was like, ‘oh my god,’” he said. “Now it’s good. I’m happy I’m an assistant. It’s great.”

Between his chance to play at the World Junior Championship and the arrival of netminder Malik, Pytlik has been able to experience the comforts of home more regularly.

“[The WJC] was my first time back [in the Czech Republic] so it was really nice. I got to speak Czech and stuff like that,” he said. “And now Malik has now come, so we get to talk about the Czech [Republic]. It’s kind of better because nobody in the Soo is Czech. We are now roommates at the hotels and we get to speak Czech and make jokes.

“It’s better.”

So too is his game.

Dean said it’s hard to find something that Pytlik really needs to work on, as he’s developed into a complete player.

“Pitter’s another tough one,” Dean added. “He already plays like a pro. He’s a 200-foot player, north south. I don’t have much to tell you. He’s a pretty polished player. It’s one of those things that I wish I had a better answer for you, but I guess that’s a good thing.”

Pytlik said his game has been compared to some heady company.

He’s quick, though, to add that he doesn’t think he’s earned the comparison.

“People say I’m kind of like Evgeni Malkin — it’s a really good compliment. I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ but I don’t know,” he said. “I need to work on just playing every time really well and play with more confidence.”

Many players, coming back from the World Juniors, experience a confidence boost that comes from playing at the highest level of competition. Dean explained that Pytlik’s confidence was already there — and it’s been well-earned.

“He’s a very confident guy already,” Dean said. “He really believes in his skillset. I think he was disappointed in the world juniors — not necessarily in his quality of play, but these guys all think they’re going to win gold.

“In his home country, I think that’s a really difficult situation for a young guy but I think he handled it really well. I thought he was very good over there. When he came back, you always hope that they’re going to have an extra step, and I really think he has.

“He’s been snake-bitten offensively here a little bit, but he really drives our game every night. Since he’s come back from World Juniors, I don’t want to say that his game has exploded by any means, but he just continues to be the dominant force he was before he left.”

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