To suggest that Andrej Kudrna has supplied the Red Deer Rebels with everything head coach Jesse Wallin expected — and more — when he dealt for the Slovak forward in early October, would be an understatement.
Since coming over from the Vancouver Giants in a trade for power forward Cass Mappin, the six-foot-two, 193-pound Kudrna has scored 12 goals and collected 25 points in 21 Western Hockey League games.
His production didn’t go unnoticed by the Slovakia junior national team, which will employ the 18-year-old during this year’s world junior hockey championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Saskatoon and Regina.
“I an going to training camp which starts Dec. 15 in Prince Albert, so it’s pretty nice to hear it,” Kudrna said on Thursday, just prior to a Rebels practice session at the Centrium in preparation for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. meeting with the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors and a home date with the Medicine Hat Tigers 24 hours later.
Kudrna has represented his country in various international tournaments as a member of the under-16, under-17 and under-18 national squads.
“But this is the biggest one,” he said.
The news regarding Kudrna’s selection to the Slovakian junior team didn’t take Wallin by surprise.
“Andrej has come in and played quite well for us,” said the Rebels bench boss.
“He’s certainly been productive and he was what we were hoping and expecting to get back (in the Mappin trade).
“We needed a guy who could play in our top six (forwards) and provide some size there as well.
“For him, it’s just about finding that consistency and his work ethic. When he’s at his best is when he’s moving his feet and when he’s using his size to advantage, creating space in the corners and being strong on the puck and being first to the puck. Like lots of young guys, he’s got to be pushed to do that consistently, but when he plays like he has to — and for the most part he has — he’s very effective.”
Kudrna credited his teammates for much of the success he’s enjoyed in Red Deer.
“I’m very happy with the way everything goes, my season looks to be good,” he said.
“These are good guys, good teammates. They are good players. Everything is working good for me and if we just win some more games and get some more points, everything will be OK.”
After notching 18 goals and accumulating 38 points in 67 games with the Giants last season, Kudrna was passed over the in 2009 NHL entry draft. But he could certainly be selected next year.
“For sure, everyone wants to be drafted, so hopefully I get picked (in 2010). I just try to play my best every night, do my best,” he said.
In order for Kudrna to be productive at the next level, he’ll have to improve at least one aspect of his game, Wallin noted.
“In talking to (NHL) scouts, the knock on him is his skating. His foot speed is something he has to continue to work on,” said Wallin.
“But I think there’s certainly lots there to like as far as being a pro prospect. He’s got great hands, a good head for the game and has the ability to put the puck in the net. A lot of the things he has are not teachable. His foot speed is something that he has to continue to improve, but I think he’s certainly garnered some attention (from pro scouts), no doubt.”
In all likelihood, Kudrna will be lost to the Rebels for a total of eight games before and after Christmas.
With rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already confirmed to play for Team Pacific in the Wold Under 17 Challenge Dec. 29-Jan. 4 in Timmins, Ont., Kudrna’s absence will be even more hurtful.
“That’s certainly a possibility, but we’re happy for Andrej,” said Wallin.
“It’s a great opportunity for him and that’s what it’s all about — to play at the highest level and get that international experience with the best players of his age in the world, and then to come back a better player for it.
“We’re going to miss him while he’s gone, no question. It hurts to lose your top guys for any games, but it is what it is and we’ll have to make do without him while he’s gone.”
Finnish defenceman Tommi Kivisto played in the WJC last year in Ottawa and, denied the break that most major junior players get at Christmas, struggled noticeably in the second half of his rookie WHL season with the Rebels. Wallin doesn’t see that happening with Kudrna.
“Andrej is mentally stronger (than Kivisto) but he’s also a year older,” said Wallin.
“He’s bigger, stronger and he has a much better expectation. He’s been through a year of hockey at this level and he understands the demands of our league. For Andrej, the combination of all of those things will alleviate the problems that Kivisto faced.”
• The Rebels will be minus the services of captain and defenceman Colin Archer this weekend.
Archer remains out with a concussion, but defenceman Justin Weller is expected to return to the Red Deer lineup after suffering a rib injury in last Saturday’s 3-2 win over visiting Spokane.
Joining Archer on the Rebels’ injury list are rearguard Nick Bell (ankle), centres Nathan Green (leg fracture) and Daulton Siwak (concussion), and winger Steve Oursov (concussion), who has been out the entire season.