“You can see he’s trying to prove something.”
That’s what Texas Stars general manager, Scott White, told the Austin-American Statesman last November regarding Matej Stransky. The 2011 sixth-round pick for Dallas had tallied 42 points in his first two years in the AHL combined. He was a healthy scratch on opening night of the 2015-16 season.
After that, he recorded a career-high 39 points. He set a new career-high with 16 assists. After scoring 16 career goals in his first two AHL seasons, he scored 23 last season – second most on the team.
With a 44 percent increase in goal production in one season, Stransky proved it.
He opened the year with nine points in his first eight games. As the Texas Stars managed their way through injuries during the season to Devin Shore, Justin Dowling, Travis Morin and Greg Rallo, Stransky took advantage of the opportunity of increased ice time. By the time last season ended, the Czech Republic native had added top-six and power play time to his resume, along with work on the penalty kill.
“It gives me a little bit more confidence. Obviously, it helps my game when you play more,” said Stransky after a February win over San Antonio. “I just have to work hard to earn a spot and keep playing like that and hope that I can provide for the team.”
Stransky ended last season just as hot as he started: 11 points in the final 11 games. On April 9, 2016 he scored his two biggest goals of the season to help turn a 5-2 deficit into an 8-5 home win over the San Jose Barracuda to lock up a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. His second goal came with an exclamation point as he weaved through three defenders before snapping a shot off the crossbar.
He is not the fastest skater on the ice, but at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Stransky found how to use his body to create opportunities. That second goal against the Barracuda on April 9 began when he pivoted his body along the boards to shield the puck from a San Jose defender, protected it from a second player with his shoulders and then used his reach to pull it back from poke check at the top of the slot.
“It’s been nice [head coach Derek Laxdal] has given me so much ice time and he’s trusted me on the power play,” said Stransky after the last game of the 2015-16 regular season. “It’s really good for me and my confidence and it’s going in for me, which is pretty good.”
He signed a one-year contract extension with the Dallas Stars to continue his pursuit of receiving his first career NHL call-up. He comes from a family of hockey players. His grandfather, father and two uncles played professionally in the Czech Republic. His younger brother, Simon, currently plays for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League and represented their home country at the World Junior Championships each of the past two years. Hockey has been the family business for Stransky. Last year, he played his way out of the stockroom and onto the showroom floor.
With the Stars adding veteran players like Adam Cracknell and Brandon DeFazio this offseason, there may not be as much ice time for Stransky as there was last season, but he gives Derek Laxdal a go-to piece that can fill multiple roles when needed. He brings a size element that compliments the speed and skill of players like Travis Morin and Justin Dowling.
After setting career-highs in games played, goals, assists and points last season, Matej Stranksy will have to prove it again this season. This makes him a player to watch for 2016-17.