Opava is an obscure northern city in the Czech Republic. About the only real thing of note in this part of the world is that it was once part of a region that used to be so industrialized, it was called the 'Steel Heart of the Country' during the communist era.
Eventually the industrial sectors dissipated, and in the same year that Radek Faksa was born, the nearby city of Ostrava mined its last coal in 1994. Eleven years later, Faksa would find himself on his own, and away from his parents after HC Ocelari Trinic offered him a spot on their roster, along with a place to stay until the age of 17.
Very few of us know what it's like to live on our own. Sure, we experience it after high school, often in college, but living on your own in college is like the small but exquisite pleasure of stretching your legs after a two hour drive. Navigating on your own in the dorm life with Halo and beer as your guide isn't the same as discovering your inner resources. But to experience this deep solitude in the middle of a 'now let's talk about how to multiply decimals' lesson requires a different demand on the human spirit.
But let's rewind for a second. For fans and observers, Radek Faksa is often lumped in with Joe Nieuwendyk's series of first round picks. First there was Scott Glennie in 2009 over Ryan Ellis, Chris Kreider, and Nick Leddy. In 2010, it was Jack Campbell over Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Nick Bjugstad. In 2011, Jamie Oleksiak over Oscar Klefbom. And when Faksa was picked at #13 in Pittsburgh, names like Olli Maatta, Teuvo Taravainen, and Tomas Hertl were still on board.
When scanning the list, it's easy for the mind to flash the word "bust" in bright neon letters.
None of this means you should take the value you do have, for granted, however. Faksa doesn't seem to. Radek's pedigree is interesting; he was over a point per game player in his first season of North American hockey, which made him the highest scoring OHL rookie that season. He would have won the OHL's version of the Calder Trophy if it wasn't for a 15 year old by the name of Aaron Ekblad.
Faksa's AHL stint was a mixed bag to many; 16 points in 41 games doesn't sound like the right side of the boom versus bust spectrum. But like his childhood, he was assigned a role normally reserved for those much older. Willie Desjardins and Derek Laxdal started Faksa almost exclusively in the defensive zone, and tasked him with shutting down the other team's top players.
Lindy Ruff has had little problem following in their footsteps. Ruff has started Faksa in the Offensive Zone only 36 Percent of the time he's been deployed; meanwhile, he finishes in the Offensive Zone at a rate of 52 Percent, which is a dramatic jump. How does he impact his teammates? Despite small sample sizes and all, it's still fun to take a look:
If you've seen these before, but are confused by how different they look, or have never seen them at all: it's fairly straight forward. The further to the right on the X-Axis indicates more shots Per 60 minutes at even strength. The lower on the Y-Axis, the more shots against per 60 minutes at even strength that are being allowed.
For the purpose of visualization, the boxes that really stand out are the gray versus red boxes. This is essentially the opposite of what Dallas saw with Trevor Daley; at 5 on 5, every single player with 20+ minutes of ice time with Faksa (indictated by the gray boxes) allows less shots against when with him than without him (indicated by the red boxes). Radek boasts a strong Corsi For of 56 Percent thus far in addition, so it's no wonder Ruff has trusted him to play his natural position with the responsibilities that earned him his AHL reputation.
It's important to keep this numbers in their proper context; Faksa has played a mere handful of games while Dallas has been having an impressive run as a team. But at what point does a small sample size become the marker for a broader trend?
It's impossible to say, obviously. Micah McCurdy's graph has some convenient plot points; like the word 'fun' to represent a higher amount of shots for. But 'dull' is the one that gets me. You see the word 'dull', and you think 'boring'.
But the distinction between boredom and excitement is only as good as the length of your attention span. When you watch Faksa closely, there's a finely tuned cherry picker detector at work. He uses his carbon fiber sword like a lawnmower in traffic, not content to watch puck drivers go by like an Office Space nightmare.
I don't know what it was like to experience half my childhood away from my family. But Radek looks like a player whose maturity benefited from it; as the twilight of solitude eliminated resources around him, the resources he created for himself became illuminated.
This isn't to say that Radek speaks pre-Classical Sanskrit, and walks around in a robe held together by rope. But his play around the boards at least suggests an etiquette well beyond his years.
Whether or not Faksa turns into the 'Steel Heart' of the Dallas Stars is an expectation as sentimental as it is misguided. Even if I can think of few better candidates, young and old, who could approximate having the resources necessary to play a cerebral, shutdown game. Nonetheless, it's an exciting prospect; the idea that, for all of the flashy offense the Dallas Stars passed up in prior drafts, this franchise might have someone who is just as good at preventing offense as some are at creating it.