Petr Sykora throws 'hat' into ring for a spot with Devils
Published: Monday, September 19, 2011, 2:17 PM Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011, 11:35 PM
By Rich Chere/The Star-Ledger
It was just a scrimmage. The first, in fact, of the Devils' training camp.
But Petr Sykora served notice today that he is a serious candidate to make the team despite being unsigned and here simply on a tryout.
Sykora score three goals in the scrimmage while playing center for the first time since 1996-97.
"You're trying to make an immediate impression. That's a good impression to leave for the first time I've seen him," coach Pete DeBoer said. "It would be hard not to notice him and how he played. To score three goals in a scrimmage is pretty impressive. You can see why he's scored 40 goals in the league before."
Clearly, Sykora was pleased with his performance centering a line with wingers Dainius Zubrus and Stephane Veillueux. But he also saw a need to improve on faceoffs.
"I'm pretty disappointed with my faceoff percentage today," he said. "I was 2-18, so there's something I have to really work on. If I'm going to be at center I can't lose faceoffs like that. What's on my mind right now is faceoffs."
"He's getting a little picky. He scored three goals in a scrimmage," the coach said. "We'll live with a few lost draws if he can do that on a consistent basis. I thought he played real well."
Not out of the question if used properly.
"I think the strongest part of my game is my shot," Sykora said. "I think I can really help on the power play. Just get that shot in after rebounds.
"I'm not a great skater. I was happy I had two fast guys out there with me. You kind of let them go first to the corner. Zubie and Veilleux were so good getting on the puck and digging the pucks out. That's how they got me the scoring chances sometimes. I wasn't as lost out there (at center) as much as I thought I was going to be."
Of course, no one wins a job with one strong effort three days into camp.
"It was only the first scrimmage of a long camp and a long process," DeBoer cautioned. "You want to temper your enthusiasm a little bit, but he was good. I don't think we would've brought him here and I don't think he would've come unless he felt he had a realistic chance to make the team.
"A guy in his situation, having played as long as he has, is smart enough to look and see he's not coming here unless he feels there is a legitimate opportunity."
Zubrus was impressed.
"When you're talking about Sykie, he always has that nose for a goal," Zubrus said. "He always knows how to get the shot off quickly to surprise goalies. In the high slot he's as dangerous as anybody. It is only one scrimmage but it was fun."
Sykora said; "I got myself into position three times to shoot the puck. It went in today, but I don't really worry about it going in. I just need to get myself into position to get a shot. I was lucky enough that the puck went in today."
DeBoer called Sykora "a very versatile forward" and indicated he wouldn't necessarily have to make the team as a centerman.
All three of his goals came against veteran goalie Johan Hedberg.
Sykora said he hasn't played much center in the last half-decade.
"I played center until '96 or '97. I played a few games for the Rangers, a couple of games with (Jaromir) Jagr. Nothing for a long period of time," he said. "I think everybody knows I can shoot the puck. I have to do other things, like winning faceoffs. I have to always be on the strong side of the puck an support my 'D' when he pinches in.
"I've never been a top faceoff guy but I didn't go 2-18 like I did today. I just want to break even, I guess, and make sure to win those faceoffs in the defensive zone. I think it's because I haven't played center in such a long time. I was going against two guys and they knew exactly what to do. If I have a plan for faceoffs, I'll be better."
He said opposing Devils centers today were on top of the circle for draws and had it been against players on an opposing team they would've gotten a cross check to the face.
"I couldn't do that now," Sykora said with a laugh. "I learned something today. I'll talk about it with Oatsie. He was one of the top faceoff men for 20 years. Kind of get the inside scoop and I think I'll be fine."
Nevertheless, he was happy to score some goals.
"Of course I'm happy the puck goes in," he said. "I don't care if I'm playing hockey with my son in the backyard. If I score a goal I'm happy."
Former linemate Patrik Elias said of Sykora's performance: "A couple of shots, a couple of goals. It's good."
Ha! Like Petr is really going to go around cross checking people in the face? :P Mini-reunion with Adam Oates! :D And I love what Patchelly said: "It's good." I can totally hear him saying that.