CHARLOTTE — Andrej Nestrasil is a good conversationalist and an easy interview, and was that way Thursday.
Nestrasil talked about the Charlotte Checkers opening the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs against the Chicago Wolves. He talked of the frustrations of the season, which included 19 games with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Czech forward, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, talked of the need to play well and, he said, “Show people I’ve still got it.”
But where Nestrasil drew the line was on another interview, the one he gave in March to the Czech news outlet Blesk. In that interview, he criticized Hurricanes management and Canes coach Bill Peters, saying neither wanted him as a player and were happy he was “on the farm team.”
Some things can get lost in translation but Nestrasil was not in the mood Thursday to clarify anything about the story, saying, “I’m not going to talk about it, sorry.”
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Nestrasil, 26, appeared on his way to proving himself as an every-day NHL player in the 2015-16 season. Put on a line with center Jordan Staal and winger Joakim Nordstrom, Nestrasil gave the Canes gritty defensive play and heavy offensive forechecking on the team’s best shutdown line.
Everything changed for Nestrasil in a flash. In the Feb. 25, 2016 game at Toronto, he was knocked off-balance by the Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri and landed awkwardly, his lower back slamming into the wall.
Nestrasil suffered a fractured vertebra from the fall. After 55 games, his season was over.
“I don’t cry about it,” Nestrasil said Thursday. “That’s life. That’s how it goes. I feel really fortunate that I had the chance to play in the NHL for two and half years. There’s are lot of players who are even better than I am who never got the chance to play.”
Nestrasil returned for the Canes’ training camp in September saying his back was healed and he was ready to play. He was in the Canes’ lineup for the first two games and eight of the first 13, and played eight of nine in late-November and early December. He then played back-to-back games on New Year’s Eve and Jan. 3.
And then he was gone — to Charlotte and the Checkers.
The Canes recalled forwards Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe from Charlotte and played them a lot. They picked forward Ty Rattie off waivers from the St. Louis Blues and gave him five games before placing him back on waivers — reclaimed by the Blues, Rattie is on the Wolves’ roster.
Forward Valentin Zykov was recalled and got a look. Center Lucas Wallmark was called up and got a look.
Nestrasil played one game for the Canes after Jan. 3 — March 1 against Tampa Bay. He put in 39 games for the Checkers, with five goals and nine assists.
“It’s definitely been a challenging year,” he said. “It’s all about your mindset. I still feel like I contributed to the team and I tried to come in here to the team with the best attitude I can have.”
Checkers coach Ulf Samuelsson noticed.
“He struggled with that big injury, obviously,” Samuelsson said. “He came down here and he was fighting a little bit emotionally, I think, where he is in his career right now. We talked with him and tried to get him playing more north/south. He’s been a really good player and he’s committed to our team concepts well here lately.”
Nestrasil signed a two-year contract with the Canes in June 2015 that paid him $950,000 this season, in the NHL or AHL. He’s hoping there will be interest in him in July, when NHL free agency begins, but did concede it was unlikely the Canes would make an offer.
“We’ll see. You never know what will happen in hockey, obviously,” he said. “Looking at the talent they have here (in Charlotte), a lot of talented guys … it depends on them and what’s their plan into the future, which I feel maybe I’m not part of it.
“That’s fine. That’s their decision. That’s what they have to do.”