In early October, Boston Bruins center David Krejci returned to his native Czech Republic to endure the NHL lockout. In the two-and-a-half months since, he has been in vintage form for the Extraliga's HC Pardubice.
With 22 games under his belt, Krejci ranks third on his team with 25 points, and his 14 goals tie him for the team lead with Edmonton Oilers star Ales Hemsky, who has played in three more games.
Krejci has been held without a point in just four games this fall, a welcome change from his inconsistent 2012 campaign. He failed to meet high expectations in 2011-12, as he was unable to improve upon his point total from the previous season.
As a 24-year-old in 2011, Krejci exploded with a league-high 23 playoff points as he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. The performance seemingly announced his arrival as an NHL superstar.
Unfortunately, his 2011-12 campaign failed to match his postseason dominance. He posted 62 points for the second straight season and saw his plus-minus rating drop 28 points to minus-five, while fellow Bruin Patrice Bergeron claimed the league lead.
Krejci's struggles earned his line a demotion. Krejci and wingers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton were supplanted by Bergeron and young stars Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand.
Since season's end, Krejci has found himself amidst constant trade rumors, as Boston looks to expand their league-low salary-cap room and free up their log jam at the center position.
His time in the Czech Republic could help him get back on track and stick in Boston for years to come.
He is tied for fifth in the Extraliga in goals and has scored in 10 of 22 games, with three multi-goal games. His play so far offers hope that he'll reach the 30-goal plateau next time the NHL holds an 82 game season.
Though his strike rate is turning heads, Krejci's game hasn't been completely satisfying. His 11 assists are solid but unspectacular, especially considering his NHL assist total dropped from 49 in 2010-11 to 39 last season. Krejci's playmaking will have to improve if Lucic and Horton are to produce at an high level.
His plus-minus rating has also been a disappointing plus-three, pointing to holes in his two-way game.
Meanwhile, Krejci's primary competitors for ice time in Boston, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron, have been spectacular in Switzerland's National League A.
Seguin leads all locked-out NHL players with 24 goals. He leads EHC Biel with 38 points in 26 games. Bergeron has fared nearly as well with HC Lugano, posting 28 points in 18 games.
Krejci can match any of his Bruins teammates in talent, but has yet to consistently play at his highest level. He may only be given a few more opportunities to prove his value before losing favor with the Bruins' brass.
Nonetheless his lockout performance has been encouraging, portending a big scoring season for the 26-year-old.
*Extraliga statistics courtesy of hokej.cz
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