At six-foot-eight, 235 pounds, it’s not hard for Adam Klapka to stick out.
But it’s not just his frame that has the 22-year-old Calgary Flames hopeful turning heads.
In Penticton, B.C., he was heralded by coach Darryl Sutter as the best of all Flames prospects at rookie camp.
In the team’s first scrimmage, he put a sweet move on a defenceman before roofing the game’s prettiest goal.
In his first pre-season game he had his first fight, and on Tuesday night in Seattle he turned on the jets to outrace veteran Vince Dunn to create one of the team’s few Grade A scoring chances in a 3-0 loss to a veteran-laden bunch of Kraken.
Signed to a two-year deal fresh out of the top league in the Czech Republic, Klapka is a year or two away from being able to challenge for an NHL look.
But it’s easy to get excited about the package he brings.
“Darryl is right, he stood out (in Penticton), not only for his size but what caught our eye is his ability to hang onto the puck and make some plays, and he has a rocket of a shot,” said assistant coach Kirk Muller.
“The combination, let’s be honest, if you’ve got a big winger like that who can hang onto the puck, and make plays and go to the net (and) is willing to go to the hard areas … he’s raw, he’s got a lot to learn about the North American game. But there’s stuff there that gets you excited.”
Even more so after chatting with the affable youngster who can’t believe the dream he’s living.
“When I flew to Vancouver (for Sunday’s split squad game) it was something – when I came to the airport and saw the plane I was like, ‘wow, what am I doing here?’” beamed the chiseled Czech, who somehow dropped 10 pounds over the last four months while skating in Calgary.
“It’s nice to be here and see where you can play and give you the motivation to work hard.”
Not surprisingly a fan of Zdeno Chara, his game matches the Flames’ style.
“I should play straight, hit the guys, be in front of the net and be aggressive, protect teammates,” said the right-shot winger.
“My size is perfect for my situation.”
That size earned him an invite to fight Canucks tough guy Vincent Arseneau on Sunday night, which fortunately didn’t go too badly for the gentle giant.
“I wasn’t expecting, but he asked me if I want to go and I am not a guy who says no because I feel a little bit bad when I say no,” chuckled Klapka.
“I did a couple mistakes I have to work on. It was my first fight here, so I hope there is going to be some other fights.
“In Europe, people are a little bit scared of fighting and when you fight in Europe you get suspended for the rest of the game. No one wants to fight in the Czech, and especially with me because I’m so big against other guys.
“It’s part of my game but I have to be more smart about when I can fight and when I can’t.”
Wranglers fans are sure to enjoy watching Klapka develop in the AHL.
OPENING NIGHT SURPRISE?
If the season were to start tomorrow, the biggest surprise on the opening night roster would likely be Nicolas Meloche.
Yes, you read that right.
In the absence of Oliver Kylington, due to personal reasons, the 25-year-old defenceman has been slotted from Day 1 of camp to play on the right side of third-pairing anchor Nikita Zadorov.
The second-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche was signed by the Flames as a free agent on the first day of free agency this summer for $950,000 on a one-way deal.
Simply put, the Flames see him as their next Erik Gudbranson.
“With Gudbranson leaving I could maybe take his chair, maybe not this year, but obviously fill his shoes on the penalty kill and being a tough, physical defenceman,” said Meloche, who played 50 games for San Jose last season.
“For me, that’s the goal I’m aiming for, playing those minutes and playing the way he did last year. He was amazing, and hard to play against last year.”
At six-foot-three, 211 pounds he is almost as big as Gudbranson, who was popular with fans and teammates for his toughness and ability to shut down the opposition.
“When we talked on the phone this summer, (the coaches) said, ‘we could see you taking that role (Gudbranson) played,” said Meloche, who led all Flames with almost three minutes of penalty kill time Tuesday.
“They gave me some film of him for the summer and I watched it closely. I see myself as being capable of doing the same thing.”
On Tuesday he looked solid alongside Connor Mackey, who many originally figured might have been slotted sixth or seventh on the depth chart this year.
Alas, Meloche seems to have an early track on Kylington’s spot.
RUZICKA ON THE WING
With the addition of centres Nazem Kadri and Kevin Rooney, many have wondered where Adam Ruzicka might fit in as a centre in the organization.
Turns out he might not fit there at all, which is why the six-foot-four, 220-pound, 23-year-old made his debut on the left wing on a solid line with Connor Zary and Sonny Milano on Tuesday.
If he is able to make that transition, it could certainly open up some doors for the youngster, who broke through last season with five goals and 10 points in 28 games.
“I can play whatever — centre, wing, I don’t really care, it doesn’t matter to me,” he chuckled Tuesday morning.
“If I’m going to make the NHL, I’ll (even) play in goal.”
The man who did play net, Daniel Vladar, was perhaps the best player on the ice for the Flames’ young squad Tuesday, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced before the club surrendered an empty netter. It was a solid encore performance for the backup, who stopped all 15 he faced in the opening pre-season game … The Flames went 0-for-6 on the power play, with Zary leading all Flames with 7:05 of ice time on the man advantage. The Flames’ first rounder looked comfortable alongside PTO hopeful Milano, who also saw over seven minutes on the PP, recording three shots … The Flames host Edmonton on Wednesday.