DETROIT – He’s the Red Wings’ highest first-round draft pick in the last 21 years. Yet Jakub Kindl is still trying to make an impact as a NHL defenseman, though he's done a pretty good job of making a name for himself this season.
A native of the Czech Republic, Kindl, who was the No. 19 overall pick in 2005, is a capable two-way defenseman, who has eaten up valuable minutes in key situations in just his second full-time season with the Wings.
But it’s easy to forget that Kindl is just 26-years-old, especially since he’s been playing in the organization for six seasons, beginning with the AHL playoffs with Grand Rapids in 2006-07.
Confidence is a huge issue for Kindl, who at times this season has been chastised by coach Mike Babcock for gaffs that have led to scoring chances for the opposition.
“The big thing for me with Kuba, if he'll go back and get the puck, he'll be courageous and compete, he'll been fine,” Babcock said. “His skill's all there. It's being competitive every shift, it's the playing every shift, it's the plays without the puck. As long as he stays out of the scoring chances against, he'll find himself in every game.”
While Kindl has been a healthy scratch four times, he has the fewest minus-rating games (2) among Red Wings’ defensemen this season. He’s also established single-season bests for goals (3), game-winning goals (2) and plus/minus (+17).
Recently, Kindl, who can become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, sat down with DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose to discuss life in hockey, his expectations, and social media.
Q. Sumperk is in northeastern portion of the country, not far from the Czech-Poland border. Was there much to do there as a child growing up?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t say it’s such a small town, around 30,000 people. What’s so cool about my city, or most of the cities in the Czech, is they’re so tight. When you were younger you could ride a bike, you could walk all over in my hometown. It’s not like you needed a car. Of course there was always something to do in the neighborhoods playing hockey, playing tennis, playing soccer, so there was always something to do.
Q. Tell me about your family?
It’s funny. I’m coming from a tennis family with two uncles who are tennis coaches. I have two cousins who used to be tennis players too, and one of them, she was a pro. So it’s funny, I used to play tennis and then somehow my grandma took me to a summer practice, which was like an audition for a hockey team; so I went there for a tryout at about 5-years-old. She took me there and then my dad (Milan) started driving me all over to practices and games. He’s been there since I’ve been growing up.
My mom (Jana) died of cancer when I was 14. It was a rough time. I remember that I was playing in Pardubice already, which is about 2 ½ hours away. So when it happened it was rough, but at the same time I had the hockey next to me, which kept me thinking ahead and not think about that. I pushing that upset feeling away because I was so excited that I could play hockey. … I didn’t want to go home to my hometown. My dad drove down to Pardubice and asked me if I wanted to go home and stay for a few weeks. But I told him no, that I was going to stay in Pardubice with my teammates and prepare for games, and that really helped me out a lot.
Q. Your younger brother, Denis, played in the Q with Cape Breton, but I see he’s back in the Czech playing for the hometown club. How is his career going?
It’s a little rough for him this year because he’s been playing juniors and transferring from juniors to men’s (league) sometimes can be difficult. I remember it was very difficult for me coming from juniors and then coming to the AHL. I struggled there and that’s what he’s been going through. But he’s still young. He’s 20-years-old, so he still has a bright future ahead of him. Of course he was trying to do whatever I did, coming over here early to juniors, hoping to get drafted. But that didn’t happen for him. Still, at the same time that doesn’t mean his doors are closed to the NHL or it doesn’t mean he still can’t play anywhere else in Europe.
Q. How old where you when you first came to North America?
The first time I had to be like 12. We had this pee-wee tournament in Quebec for a week or so. After that when I was playing for the national teams like 15, 16-years-old, I remember we actually had a tournament in Ann Arbor before I came back to Kitchener.
Q. How much, if any, has fellow countryman Jiri Fischer influenced your career?
The year that I got drafted I actually had the opportunity to practice with him when he was still a player. I don’t see him as much as I used to, like I did when I was in Grand Rapids, because he used to be there all of the time helping me out, as well as the other defensemen too. He’s definitely helped me out, telling me what I need to do, or what he thinks I need to do better. It’s definitely helped me out, especially my first year in Grand Rapids when at the time nothing was going the way that I wanted. I was struggling, wasn’t playing much, so he was there to tell me that everything was going to turn around and that I just needed to be patient. Now I’m with the Wings and he really helped me out.
Q. You were drafted No. 19 overall in 2005, making you the highest pick the Red Wings have had in the last 21 years. Does that alone put pressure on you to succeed?
No, nothing at all. I don’t think about it. It’s funny when I got drafted they told me, ‘You’re the highest pick since whatever’. I really didn’t think about it like, ‘Look, I’m the highest pick in the last 21 years.’ But at the same time I spent three years in the minors trying to find a way up. It really doesn’t mean anything.
Q. Did it mean something at the time?
I was 17 or 18-years-old and when they told me of the players that they had, like Chelios, Lidstrom, Kronwall. They had such depth, you know? That’s what I remember about the draft.
Q. You received a day with the Stanley Cup in 2008. But curiously, you refused to pick it up, or even touch it for that matter. Why?
I heard it’s kind of like bad luck once you touch it. I definitely would have lifted it up that year if I had played any games as a Black Ace, or whatever. But it was my first year as a pro, playing in the minors and I struggled there, and then I had the opportunity to get called up and watch the Wings win the Cup in ’08. I was a little shy, I would say, because I know I didn’t deserve it.
A couple of months later I had the chance to spend a half a day with it, and that was kind of cool that they gave me the opportunity. So I brought it to my hometown where we took it to my friend’s restaurant. About 2,000 people showed up, and many of them had never see it before in-person, so that was cool that they could come and get pictures with it. But still I didn’t touch it. I don’t regret it. It was my decision.
Q. Besides increased minutes, it must be nice to contribute on the score sheet, right?
It’s nice that I’ve scored, but it’s not my biggest goal to keep scoring. I’m here to play defense and this team is built all about defense. I’ve just got to be solid defensively and I believe that when I’m doing that right my confidence will be rising higher because I’m doing the right things and playing good solid defensively. When I get the puck I’ve got to shoot. But even if it doesn’t go in the net, there’s a rebound created so we can retrieve the puck. But the players that we’re playing against are better every year. I have to get the puck through as fast as I can, because these days everyone is trying to block the shot, everyone is trying to put the stick on it. So there’s not a lot of time there. Every time I have it I have to make sure that it takes-off from my blade right away.
Q. How big is confidence for you?
It’s huge. Obviously when the team plays good you feel good too. But when the team plays awful then it’s kind of tough. It’s also difficult when the coach is giving you opportunity even if things don’t go well. For example, this year I’ve been playing more than in the past and I feel great. So it’s different than when you’re playing 10-minutes or 20-minutes, but at the same time you have to earn it. You have to do the things right. But it all comes with opportunity.
Q. What do you miss most about your home in the Czech Republic?
Of course the family, the friends, but I’ve been here almost 10 years and I have a home here. It’s always good to go home, and I like to go home after the season. But it’s a small city. I go there for a month and then I get sick of it because there’s not much I can do there.
Q. I understand that No. 9 was your favorite jersey number as a kid?
When I started I wore 26 because it was the number on our house. It was our address. I went to 14 and then I had 9 through my junior career. I wanted 9 in Grand Rapids, but it was taken by Evan McGrath.
Q. Were you the first player in this locker room to get involved in social media?
Definitely not. Maybe (Mike) Commodore and Cory Emmerton. One of those guys. But I got involved last summer. It’s helped me build up a fan base. It’s pretty cool, obviously, even following some of the other guys and keeping up with what’s going on in the world.
It’s fun. I like interacting with the fans. It is fun.
Q. With Kyle Quincey (fractured cheekbone) out, how will that effect the back end?
I don’t even know if we’re finished with Q or how long he’s going to be out for. But it’s tough losing him. He’d been playing really well, I thought, lately. He’s a big piece of our puzzle. He kills a lot of penalties. He plays against the top lines, so I don’t know what the result is or what the word is on how long he’s out for. I thought we were pretty deep on the back end now. Smitty’s been picking up is game and playing really well. Kronner, E, Lash too. Now Whitey is back in the lineup. I think we have to play simple, move the puck quick. That’s what they want us to do. You look up front, our forwards are pretty skilled and they move the puck so just move it ahead all of the time.
Q. Your game, is it where you want it to be?
I’ve said it many times, it’s all about confidence. It’s different when you play 10-minutes or 20-minutes, you know? That’s how I look at it. I’ve been feeling good lately, playing game-by-game and every time I play I just try to do the right things. Play simple, you know? Play good defensively and I believe if I do all of that stuff, play hard, that good things will happen. That’s how I look at it.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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