Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrej Nestrasil was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 and made his NHL debut last season for the Wings, but says playing the Wings is last year’s storyline.
Nestrasil was placed on waivers by Detroit last November, with the intent of returning him to the Wings’ AHL team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. But Carolina claimed him off waivers Nov. 20 and he played 41 games for the Canes — including three against the Wings.
“That’s behind me,” Nestrasil said Saturday after the Canes’ morning skate at PNC Arena. “I still like to see my ex-roommates (Tomas Jurco and Petr Mrazek). I was there for six years and I sent a lot of time with these guys. I always like to see the faces but it doesn’t feel any different. It’s just another game tonight.”
The Canes, who lost the season opener 2-1 Thursday at Nashville, have the Red Wings at PNC Arena for their home opener. Detroit is finishing off a back-to-back, blasting the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-0 at Joe Louis Arena to ruin Leafs coach Mike Babcock’s return to Detroit.
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But there is one interesting Nestrasil-and-Wings storyline for Saturday’s game: his old AHL coach is the Wings’ new head coach.
Jeff Blashill, who replaced Babcock, earned his first NHL victory as the Wings whipped the Leafs. Before taking over for Babcock, he coached the Griffins, leading them to the 2013 Calder Cup.
“I’m really happy he got the opportunity, made his NHL debut and got the ‘W,’” Nestrasil said. “He has won everywhere he has been. He’s a really good coach and brings a lot of new energy to their locker room.”
Blashill said Nestrasil made an impressive transformation, physically, while with the Griffins. Nestrasil shed weight, added muscle and now is listed at 6-3 and 200 pounds.
“He was not in the lineup for a big stretch during parts of his time when I was with him,” Blashill said. “He decided to make a change and take his work ethic to a whole different level. He changed his body to what I would call an elite pro athlete’s body.
“He just showed a perseverance and work ethic I think is real special. I’m really, really proud of him and doing the job he’s doing. We’d love to still have him in our organization but I’m happy for him and believe he’ll be successful. Any time you have someone who has been tested like that and persevered, that’s an unbelievable character sign.”
Canes coach Bill Peters was an assistant coach on Babcock’s staff in Detroit for three years before coming to Carolina last season. He knew of Nestrasil’s potential and had a hand in the Canes’ claiming him off waivers.
Blashill, 41 and a Detroit native, said he and Peters are close friends. Both paid their coaching dues in the AHL. Both were in the Detroit organization, which Nestrasil said was a plus when he came to the Canes last fall.
“All the players who come out of that organization have the same mindset,” he said. “That’s why it was easy for me to make the transition here. My position is different under Bill than Jeff Blashill, but both are good coaches and good guys off the ice, which is good for the players.”