RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com
NASHVILLE – On this night, the only one with a bigger smile than the player himself was the GM who called his name.
Samuel Honzek was that much on the Flames’ radar.
That much of a target.
So, when Picks 12 through 15 passed with towering Slovak still on the board, Craig Conroy had to have been doing fist-pumps under the draft table.
“Personally, I was hoping he was there and the scouts felt the same way,” Conroy said. “The size, skill, hockey sense, skating… He’s kind of that package that we’re looking for.
“The offence… A lot of nights, he did a lot of the offence by himself there. But just to see the skating, the size… it checks all the boxes in how he reads the game and sees it.
“When we go through all the testing for the Combine and stuff, very good athlete. All the stuff that came back, very positive. The analytics were positive. The eye test was positive. Everything that we go through and test, he kind of checked all the boxes for us.
“So, it was very exciting for us to get him at 16.”
And, boy, did he ever.
The 6-foot-3, 195-lb. forward took the league by storm, recording 56 points (23G, 33A) and overcoming a pair of injuries to be named a finalist for the WHL’s Rookie of the Year award.
As Conroy alluded to, Honzek’s athletic prowess is particularly noteworthy, with Flames Strength and Conditioning Coach Rick Davis raving about his scorching testing results at the NHL Combine earlier this month.
While it wasn’t entirely what tipped the scales in his direction, it certainly rounded out an already impressive, prospect package.
“We got to see him in the gym. He’s an athlete,” Conroy said. “Ricky said, ‘Wow, this guy’s impressive.’
“He’s got room to grow and he’s going to need to do it, but the movement, the strength, all that is very good.”
Honzek commands the ice with a daunting, physical build – but it’s the grace he has that makes him such a dominant, two-way presence. He’s not a punishing player, per se, but he absorbs contact better than anyone in his age group, wins puck battles, and has the vision and soft hands to make plays at high speed.
Best of all, he’s an elite finisher, using creativity and finesse to become a showstopper at the WHL level.
Not unlike another WHL grad in Leon Draisaitl, who lit things up in that league before becoming one of the NHL’s finest strikers.
But Honzek, as the kids say, ‘has that dog in him.’
“I like that comparison,” Conroy laughed. “Obviously, I think, maybe, shooting a bit high right now, but you know what? The sky’s the limit. He does everything. Big shot, sees the ice well, can skate, score. Thinking about Leon when he was younger, maybe people said something about his skating – but his skating is not an issue. I get to see him way too often. … (Honzek’s) mechanics and the way he skates, he’s a good skater. I’m not worried about that.
“To come over here and do what he’s done… it says a lot.”