LA Kings Center Prospect Robert Czarnik Is Working Hard To Stay Out Of The Shadow
August 9, 2011 10 Comments
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Although he is certainly not one of the Los Angeles Kings’ prospects whose name rolls right off the tip of your tongue, center prospect Robert Czarnik is pushing to make an impact at the next level.
Czarnik, 21, is no longer eligible to play in Canada’s junior hockey leagues (he had an over-age year of eligibility left for 2010-11), so the Kings will now have to find room for him with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, their primary minor league affiliate, or with the Ontario Reign, their ECHL affiliate.
The 6-0, 185-pound native of Detroit, Michigan was selected by the Kings in the third round (63rd overall) of the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft, fresh out of two seasons with the United States Under-18 Team.
“It was after my freshman year in high school, I was invited to play for them right away,” said Czarnik. “It was a junior team, and I always wanted to play for Team USA, so as soon as they offered that to me, I jumped on it, and took advantage of it. I think it was the best decision I’ve made.”
Once there, Czarnik got a bit of a rude awakening.
“It taught me a lot,” he noted. “I went in there, expecting to be good, because I was good when I was younger.”
His teammates quickly knocked that chip right off Czarnik’s shoulder.
“[Playing for that team] taught me that I had to play harder and play [well] at all times,” he said.
“I got an offer, and that’s the school I wanted to go to,” Czarnik explained. “But I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t weigh all my options. I think I [decided to attend the University of Michigan] too early. I didn’t think it through. I did that after my freshman year in high school, so I was really young, 15 years old.”
“When I got there, it wasn’t the place I [felt that] I should be,” Czarnik elaborated. “I didn’t think I was developing I should’ve been. That’s why I decided that I should leave, and go to the [Ontario Hockey League].”
Indeed, Czarnik said good-bye to the Wolverines after playing in twelve games in the 2009-10 season. He then signed with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, going on to score 17 goals and add 32 assists for 49 points with a +10 plus/minus rating and 28 penalty minutes in 43 regular season games. He also contributed four assists with six penalty minutes in nine playoff games that season.
Last season, Czarnik had a breakout year, nearly doubling his goal production from the previous year, scoring 33 goals and adding 44 assists for 77 points with a +4 rating and 46 penalty minutes. He also scored four goals and contributed five assists for nine points with six penalty minutes in eleven playoff games.
“[Canadian juniors is] a different style of game,” said Czarnik. “College is completely run-and-gun. You only play two games a week, forty games a year.”
“When you go to the OHL, it’s more of a pro style game,” added Czarnik. “You play more games, and you also have to be better positioned in the defensive zone and the offensive zone.”
Czarnik was in Southern California in mid-July to participate in the Kings’ 2011 Development Camp, where more highly-touted prospects, such as forwards Brandon Kozun, Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey, received much of the attention.
Indeed, wth Kozun, the leading scorer in the Canadian Hockey League (encompasses all Canadian junior hockey leagues) in 2009-10, Toffoli, who led all OHL scorers last season, and Vey, who topped the CHL in scoring in 2010-11, who was paying any attention to the other forwards?
Despite hitting the same ice with those gifted goal scorers, Czarnik was not going to hide behind their shadow, even though he knows it will not be easy to be noticed down the road as a forward prospect with those three also in the Kings’ system.
“They’re goal scorers,” said Czarnik. “I put up points, but I have another side of my game, too. I’m excited that I’m a two-way forward.”
Like all the other prospects, Czarnik has a lot of work to do before he can have anything close to a realistic hope of making it to the NHL.
“I need to get better in all areas,” he stressed. “I’ve been doing skill [work] with [Kings collegiate scout and former left wing] Mike Donnelly a lot. I’ve been doing that every single day this summer, and my skills have been improving a lot.”
“I also need to work on puck protection, just competing at all times, defensive zone play—I think I’ve improved in every area of my game.”
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