WASHINGTON – Hershey Bears defenseman Tomas Kundratek was packing up for a nine-hour bus ride to Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday afternoon when he was informed by Bears General Manager Doug Yingst that his travel plans were changing.
The 22-year-old Czech native got the news that every hockey prospect hopes to someday hear — he was heading to “the show,” promoted to the NHL for the first time in his pro career.
“I’m really excited,” the newest Washington Capital told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s unreal.”
Kundratek will make his NHL debut tonight as the Capitals (21-17-2) begin a four-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Penguins (21-16-4).
“He’s been playing well down there,” Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said of Kundratek. “We thought we’d give him the chance up here to see what he can do up here and get a good look at home.”
Hunter describes the 6-foot-2-inch, 201-pound Kundratek as a good skater who moves the puck well.
“I like to do everything,” Kundratek said. “I like to hit, I like to play good defense and I like to score.”
The Capitals acquired Kundratek from the New York Rangers organization on Nov. 8 in a deal that at the time involved a pair of minor leaguers and former Caps prospect Francois Bouchard going to the Rangers.
Kundratek was buried on the Rangers’ organizational depth chart and was being used sparingly with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
“It was huge,” Kundratek said of being traded to the Caps. “It was a tough position down in Hartford. I was a healthy scratch probably for seven games, so I was talking to my agent and he helped me get the trade, and since then I’ve been really excited and I’ve been enjoying hockey again.”
In 21 games after joining the Bears, Kundratek had six goals and eight points. In his 77 total games with Connecticut since the start of the 2010-11 season, Kundratek had just two goals and 14 points.
“It was a really tough position there because they had a lot of really good players — there’s Wade Redden, Brendan Bell and a lot of older guys,” he said. “There were nine defensemen also and I was the youngest and that’s probably the reason why [I didn’t play]. The coaches had a tough time, I was talking to them and they didn’t even know what to do, it was a really tough position.
“I was waiting, waiting until probably it was the seventh game I was healthy scratched and I said, ‘That’s enough, I’m a young player and I need to play.’ So I talked to my agent and he got me traded here.”
Kundratek is expected to be paired tonight with fellow Czech and 19-year NHL veteran Roman Hamrlik.
“I just told him to keep it simple,” Hamrlik said of his message to Kundratek. “Don’t try to do too much, make the first quick pass and get some confidence early. I do remember my first game, I was so nervous, so hopefully if he’s nervous too, I’ll try to help him as much as I can.”
Added Kundratek: “I was watching that guy since I was young so it’s unreal. It will be a huge experience and I’m really looking forward.”
Kundratek is also familiar with Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth, having played with him on the Czech national team at the 2008 World Junior Championships.
Catch the Capitals and Penguins tonight at 7:40. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.