Walleye scoring leader Nestrasil focusing on fundamentalsWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the Walleye off to one of their best starts since 2009, Toledo’s offensive production has stepped up compared to last year.
In its first nine games, Toledo (4-4-1) has found the back of the net 25 times, compared to a 2-7-0 record and 22 goals at this point last season.
Leading the team on the attack is left winger Andrej Nestrasil. The Prague, Czech Republic, native is tied with teammate Willie Coetzee in goals scored with four and total points at seven.
Nestrasil said the key to his early hot streak has been just keeping it simple.
“Actually, I’m just not thinking so much,” he said. “In the last couple of seasons, when it wasn’t going my way, I was thinking about stuff too much and when you overthink, it’s not good. This year, I was thinking just enjoy every single day with the guys and try new stuff and it’s working so far.”
One of the biggest factors Nestrasil said he worked on in the offseason was his skating. He said he would work with his Russian coach five times a week and it is already paying dividends for him.
“He’s committed himself a lot this year. I think he knows the pro game now and he works hard,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. “He’s very strong on the puck, which we didn’t see a lot of last year. I just think that’s with maturity and growing into his body. But he’s a lot stronger than he was last year and he’s been a nice surprise for us.”
The 21-year-old Nestrasil said the biggest change from junior hockey to the ECHL has been improving his game without the puck.
“When you lose the puck, you turn around and chase it and get it back. That’s the major difference between the leagues,” he said. “When you’re in junior league, you try something and miss it, then you leave and change up. You can’t play like that in this league.
“Seriously, you have to battle for every single puck because the more you battle, the more chances you get and the more opportunities you’ll have to score.”
Vitucci said the adjustments have allowed Nestrasil to have a “whole game now and not just one or two strengths.”
“After a couple of years, you can see the strides he’s made and the lessons he’s learned from year one,” he said.
Vitucci said the forward’s creativity and pass-first mentality leads him to more assists, but his growing experience allows him to capitalize on his own opportunities as well.
“He is very creative. You see that a lot of times when he is carrying the puck, he’ll pull up and do a little button hook and look for players where they can be options for him to pass to,” he said. “He’s got a good knack for offense and he’s very creative and, again, that kind of playmaking mentality first over shooting at times, but that’s coming around too.”
Nestrasil played in 51 games with the Walleye as well as 25 with American Hockey League affiliate Grand Rapids last season and accounted for 10 goals and 23 assists; 29 of those points were with the Walleye.
He played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for three seasons and scored 57 goals and 121 assists in three seasons.
Nestrasil said keeping his confidence in check and making sure his game is as simple as possible will allow him and the Walleye team to stay strong and make a run for the playoffs.
“Most of the teams that start playing well get a couple of wins at the beginning of the year and they just get overconfident and have great scoring opportunities on the ice and you just overplay it because you want to look fancy,” he said. “So we just have to stay down to earth and work every single game.”