Albany Devils defenseman Vojtech Mozik was one of the last players off the ice after Monday morning’s practice.
New Jersey player development/skills coach Pertti Hasanen was in town and worked some players through drills before practice, too. Mozik soaks it all in.
The 23-year-old Czech came to the AHL this season after four seasons in the Czech Extraliga — his home country’s top pro league — known to have a powerful shot. This season with the Devils, he has also proven to be reliable in his own zone, posting a plus-19 defensive rating through 36 games, and it’s due in large part to his willingness to learn and the eager attitude he takes into drills.
“I try to be good on both sides of the rink,” Mozik said. “I want to be good in the forward zone and the D-zone. I had meetings with the Devils coaches and the staff, and they told me they want me to play in the D-zone and the forward zone, not just to be good in the forward zone. I just try to be focused on the D-zone, and I think it’s good now.
“But I can score more goals, like last season. I can score 10 or more goals, but now, I have only two. I hope the goal I had last game [Saturday] will help me be better on the power play, to score more goals and help the team.”
Mozik and the Devils will host Hershey tonight at 7, then will host Utica on Friday night at 7 and play at Bridgeport on Saturday night at 7.
Last season with HC Škoda Plzen, he had 10 goals and 19 assists through 51 games and tied his career-high with a plus-2 rating.
Mozik’s power-play goal in Saturday’s game — his second goal of the season — ended a stretch of 31 games between goals. He also has 10 assists.
He’s been used in all situations, found good chemistry with Seth Helgeson — who was called up to New Jersey on Friday — and has continued to impress coach Rick Kowalsky.
“He wants to learn, he wants to get better, and he’s really focused on doing the little things and his compete level in practice,” Kowalsky said. “That’s probably the thing I’ve been most impressed with.”
The plus-19 so far even catches the eye of teammate Dan Kelly, the franchise’s all-time plus-minus leader, who carries a plus-7 in 37 games this season and a plus-44 through 334 career games. Kelly’s best campaign with Albany was in the 2013-14 season, when he had a plus-14 through 71 games.
“He’s proven himself offensively and defensively,” Kelly said. “He’s someone you can trust out there, and it’s translated into him being a plus-player, which is great.”
Also Mozik’s roommate, Kelly jokes that maybe he’s rubbed off on the new guy.
“He’s got a great stick out there,” Kelly said. “He breaks up the play. He was brought in to run the power play and be one of those skilled guys, but now you see his defensive game, too.”
It wasn’t always so apparent.
Kowalsky thinks back to development camp, when the Devils believed there were some holes in Mozik’s game at the defensive end. One encounter in particular came to mind, during a preseason trip to Buffalo with just the first-year guys.
“He just dove in on Jack Eichel, first shift, and it was just shew, 2-on-1, 1-0, 30 seconds in,” Kowalsky said. “Stuff like that, those reads — and he still sometimes makes a pinch or steps outside maybe anticipating a play’s going to happen when it doesn’t. That’s just a daily process of showing him.
“But he knows it. He knows if he made a mistake there, and that’s where he’s been real receptive to our teaching. And his physical play — he gets involved in battles in the corners and in front of the net. He’s not afraid to go to those dirty areas and play hard, which has certainly been a reason he’s had success this year.”
Maybe Mozik doesn’t know just how good he’s been.
He doesn’t say things like, “Yeah, it’s been a good year so far,” instead keeping his mind on how he can improve. Instead, the guy tied for seventh in the AHL in plus-minus said, “I must focus more on our system we want to play, keep the puck a lot of time. We want to dictate the game and be strong on the puck.”
Playing well, winning, these things are fun, but Mozik takes greater pleasure in learning and improving.
“I like our practice. After every practice, we stay on the ice and do some stuff for the D, shots or skating drills,” Mozik said. “It can help me be a better D, so I’m really happy to be here, and I think I can become better. We have a good staff to help us, and I really like that.”
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