Oiler prospect Milan Kytnar has taken his game to a new level after an off-season trade sent him from Kelowna to Saskatoon.
The import from Topolcany Slovakia has jumped from a third line checking role with the Rockets to playing top line minutes with the Blades and thus far in the early WHL season, Kytnar is proving to be up to the challenge. After Friday's 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings I asked the 19-year-old center how he's taken to his new team.
"I really like it, they treat me good so I feel great," he stated.
When it comes right down to it, getting handed a much bigger role with the Blades has made the trade work for Kytnar.
"It's a big difference between this season and last season," he echoed, "I get a lot of ice time, a lot of chances and it's up to me now to keep going and to prove to everybody that I deserve of the ice time."
In Kelowna, a much deeper team than most in the WHL including this year's edition of the Blades, Kytnar was asked to be a shutdown player which he did well. He ended the 2007-08 campaign with 9 goals and 22 points after starting the year slowly, making that adjustment to life in North America. Already this year the 6'1, 180 lbs middle man has 7 points in 9 games so he's well on his way to establishing a career season.
There were some whispers in WHL circles prior to the trade that Kytnar might not have returned to the league but of Friday he made it clear that was not the case. With his new found role, Kytnar is pumped to be able to show Edmonton scouts that he's more than a defensive player.
"Every time you score a goal or have a chance to score it's really exciting," he smiled (Kytnar lit the lamp once against the Oil Kings of Friday night). "When a team or a coach gives you those chances to score you have to get it score to prove that they weren't wrong about you."
Accoridng to head coach Lorne Molleken, the fact that Kytnar has been able to help fill the offensive void made even worse by the absence of Colton Gillies (MIN), has not been a shock.
"He hasn't been a suprise at all, we knew exactly what we were getting when we traded for him and there is no one that works harder on our hockey club than Milan Kytnar." said Molleken.
"If you watch him closely in the tight areas he does some amazing things with the puck," the coach added, "He's playing with [Derek] Hulak and [Burke] Gallimore, two of our more offensively gifted guys and they have to be ready because he can make plays in between feet or over sticks... he's a really intellignet player and we think that he'll be a dominant player for us as the year progresses."
Asked how Kytnar (seen here battling with Oil Kings defenceman Mark Pysyk) has fit in with his new teammates, Molleken insisted that the transition has been seamless.
"He's been outstanding," praised the coach, "His approach to the game of hockey is one like a professional with the way he prepares and the way he works. He's done a tremendous job in our locker room. Sometimes with these young Europeans it's a feeling out process but getting him from Kelowna he already knows what it's about to succeed at this level."
Saskatoon netminder Braden Holtby offered up his own positive scouting report on Kytnar.
"Both of our European guys speak fluently and that makes it so much easier," said Holtby, "I'm sure the Oilers are happy that he's on the 1st line! He's a complete forward; he playes the defensive zone well and he can put pucks in the net. Right now that line with Hulak and Gallimore are clicking, our most consistent line right now and he's doing well."
The fact that Saskatoon is in the WHL's Eastern Conference making him a bit more visible for the Oiler brass isn't lost on Kytnar although he admitted to some jitters on Friday.
"I tried to be calm before the game but I thik I started to get nervous in the second period when I took two penalties," he laughed, "After that I came back and calmed down in the intermission and was ready to play hard."
Many so called experts, myself included, disscounted Saskatoon's playoff chances before the season but with strong goaltending from Braden Holtby (WSH) and 16-year-old Curtis Hamilton and 2009 eligible Burke Gallimore, the Blades look like they are for real.
"When somebody talks like that about a team, when you're on the team, it really kicks you along and gets you going," said Kytnar when I told him about my preseason slight of his new team, "We just have to keep working hard and there's a really big chance of us making the playoffs and I really think we will."
Who am I to suggest that he's wrong?
(photos courtesy Saskatoon Blades website)