Last year was a dream season for David Krejci.
He returned home to Czechia to play in front of his family and friends, lit up the Extraliga, repped his country in the Olympics, and joined forces with David Pastrnak to win bronze at the World Championship.
But his hockey bucket list is not yet complete.
Now 36 and about to play his 16th NHL season, Krejci is fired up for reasons other than the chase for another Stanley Cup.
“There’s so many exciting opportunities,” Krejci said Monday in Brighton, after a group of Bruins held their final informal skate of the summer.
“The Winter Classic [at Fenway Park]. Obviously [playing] 1,000 games for the Bruins [he enters the year at 962]. Lots of guys that I grew up [with] here in the dressing room, they’re still here” — Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, assistant coach Chris Kelly, player development coordinator Adam McQuaid — “there’s just so many things I get excited about coming back. Playing with Pasta is one of them as well.”
When camp opens Thursday, Pastrnak and Taylor Hall could be Krejci’s wingers. They could be the Bruins’ No. 1 scoring line, and one of the Atlantic Division’s top offensive units. Krejci called the prospect of playing with one, or both of them, “obviously awesome … chemistry won’t be a problem.”
On Monday, Krejci walked into Warrior Ice Arena for the first time in some 16 months and saw as many new faces as old.
Some of them arrived during the offseason, like his new coach, Jim Montgomery; depth additions Vinni Lettieri, A.J. Greer, Connor Carrick, and Keith Kinkaid; and forward Pavel Zacha, who grew up in Czechia idolizing Krejci. He would be happy to know Krejci is also a fan.
“I know of him,” Krejci said of the 6-foot-3-inch, two-way forward. “I know what kind of player he is. I always loved his game. I’m really happy he’s on the team, because he’s going to make our team better.”
Some of those new faces debuted here last season, like Hampus Lindholm, who could be on the same No. 1 power-play unit as Krejci while Marchand and Charlie McAvoy are recovering from offseason surgeries. Some of them arrived two summers ago, holdovers from the 2021 free agent class of Tomas Nosek, Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, and Linus Ullmark.
When the rookies — Fabian Lysell, John Beecher and Co. — return from Buffalo and join the group this week, Krejci will make more friends.
He wouldn’t be here, of course, had his old buddies not come calling. Before Krejci’s agent, Jiri Hamal, and general manager Don Sweeney began discussing what would eventually become a one-year deal (worth $1 million salary and another $2 million in performance bonuses), Bergeron let him know he was coming back.
“Those talks, obviously, they helped,” Krejci said. “It’s nice when a player like Bergy calls you and tells you all about the expectations and what he’s thinking and stuff. That’s nice. That’s what you want to hear.”
The NHL game is harder, faster, and tighter-checking than the game Krejci saw in Europe. The goalies are sharper and quicker here. The season is longer, a harder grind. But Krejci believes he’s in top form, after putting up 20-26—46 in 51 games for hometown HC Olomouc, and scoring a point-per-game clip in both the NHL-less Beijing Olympics in February, and when Pastrnak joined him for the Worlds in May.
Understated, sometimes blunt, and always fully confident, Krejci left no doubt about his NHL ability.
“I know I still got it,” he said.
With the Czech season ending in April, and the World Championship over in May, Krejci said he had “the longest summer I had in the longest time.” He will enter camp with his legs under him.
“I felt good the whole year,” he said. “I felt really good at the Olympics, too. We lost to Switzerland unfortunately, but I felt good. I felt I was one of the better players in the tournament, or in the whole season last year, World Championship as well. It was a reminder that I still have it.
“I feel great. I love the game. When Pasta came [to the Worlds], we played some good hockey. That was maybe the point I started thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll make a comeback.’ Then the Bruins called.”
He had been watching their playoff run, which ended with a Game 7 loss to Carolina in the first round. He knew Sweeney was keeping a light on for him. Contract negotiations were not arduous.
He missed it here. How long will he stay?
“The older you get,” he said, “you just play it out, see how you feel, see if people still want you or not. But that’s maybe the beauty of it — because you don’t know what’s going to happen next year, so you try to take the most out of the opportunity you have in front of you, and whatever happens after it happens.”
So Krejci is back in Boston, creating off the chances in front of him. Like at Monday’s session, when he cruised into the zone, three defenders converging on him, and calmly flicked a backhand feed to the open right wing before a stick could bother him. He knew Craig Smith was charging toward the loose puck. Smith buried a far-side snapshot under the goalie’s blocker.
Sometimes, Krejci makes the game look easy. He’s ready for it to become more difficult.