November 25th, 2020

Flyin’ high: Tigers forward Lukas Svejkovsky recalls airborne NHL draft experience

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 23, 2020.

Medicine Hat Tigers forward Lukas Svejkovsky celebrates after scoring a goal in a Western Hockey League game against the Regina Pats on Saturday, Feb. 29 at the Canalta Centre. -- NEWS PHOTO RYAN MCCRACKEN

Lukas Svejkovsky was 30,000 feet off the ground when the Pittsburgh Penguins came knocking – and not just due to elation.

The 18-year-old Medicine Hat Tigers forward was on a flight to Team U.S.A.’s world junior evaluation camp in Plymouth, Mich., when the NHL’s entry draft’s second day kicked off. Hoping to see his name called before the wheels touched down, Svejkovsky opted for the in-flight wi-fi – which was spotty at best – to keep an eye on how things were unfolding.

The fourth round arrived, and names slowly started appearing on the online draft tracker. Then, before his name even popped up, his phone started to buzz with texts of congratulations. He had been drafted, but to where?

“My phone just started blowing up but my internet wouldn’t really load. I was getting all the texts and stuff, everyone was just saying congrats and stuff like that but I didn’t even know what team I went to,” he said. “I didn’t find out until about 10 minutes after, when my Safari finally loaded. It was pretty crazy, for sure, kind of an excited, nervous feeling. But the way it played out, I couldn’t be more excited.”

Entering the draft ranked 165th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Svejkovsky shattered the projections when the Penguins called out his name 15 picks into the fourth round. Svejkovsky says he had inklings that Pittsburgh liked what he brought to the table, but he tried not to focus too much on the numbers.

“I tried not to think about it too much, but I had good talks with Pittsburgh before the draft so I knew that was a team that was on the radar for me,” he said. “I think it’s a great spot for me. They obviously have such a great organization. I got a chance to talk to all the coaching staff and stuff like that – they’re just great people, that’s the biggest thing. I’m definitely in good hands so I’m super excited to get started there.”

Svejkovsky will now have a duel focus as he heads into the month of November, hoping to kick off his season on junior hockey’s biggest stage before returning to the Gas City to drop the puck with the Tigers.

Hailing from the American pene-exclave of Point Roberts – which boasts a population of around 1,200 and sits landlocked to Canada – Svejkovsky has been forced to move across to Tsawwassen in order to continue his training.

“We’re actually just in a rental house, it’s been great though,” he said. “I’ve been on the ice four or five times a week, working out off the ice five times a week. It’s a really good group we’ve got, a lot of good players and we learn from each other.”

The 5-foot-10, 165-pound righty joined the Tigers in a blockbuster trade with the Vancouver Giants last December. After recording five goals and five assists over 18 games with the Giants, Svejkovsky closed out his campaign in Medicine Hat with 13 goals and 15 assists over 34 contests.

“You’re looking for people that play like Lukas,” said Tigers head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins. “I think his off-season has been big, I think he’s trained really hard … He had a great camp (with Team U.S.A.) and I think that’s exciting. And it’s great for him that he’s had something to kind of train for and play for. That’ll certainly help him going into the year.”

Earning a place at an American evaluation camp is no easy task, as U.S.A. typically leans on its year-round national development teams to feed its world junior roster. Svejkovsky was one of just two WHL players to earn a place on the evaluation camp roster alongside reigning Dub goaltender of the year Dustin Wolf, of the Everett Silvertips.

“It was a really good experience for me,” he said. “There were a lot of guys that took different paths, so I didn’t know too many guys, but I got to know a lot of guys over the week that I was there. It was just a great experience … It was definitely a quick turnaround with all that ice in a short period of time but it was great.”

Svejkovsky added he anticipates Team U.S.A. will announce its selection camp roster around the end of November.

“All I can do right now is just focus on myself, focus on getting better on and off the ice and whatever happens, happens,” he said.

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