Future Watch: Martin Gernat
Oilers' 122nd overall pick, Oil Kings D man Martin Gernat savours strong start
Martin Gernat celebrates a goal with his Oil Kings teammates on Oct. 21, 2011 vs. the Portland Winterhawks (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
Standing at 6'5" and weighing-in at 187 pounds, Gernat is no slouch. Whether he's anchoring the Edmonton Oil Kings' blueline as a soaring, heavy-hitting menace or generating chances as one of the WHL's most lethal weapons, Gernat is establishing his name in short order.
Selected by the Oilers 122nd overall between Tobias Rieder and Frans Tuohimaa in June, Gernat was ushered to Oil Country in late August. Since then, he's participated in Oil Kings and Oilers camps, including a three-game trial at the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC.
Oh, and he's also leading the WHL in scoring among defencemen with six goals and 17 points in 14 games this season. Not bad.
"I was really surprised when my name got called in June," Gernat said, smiling. "I was with my family in Germany when it happened, so it was really cool. It's good that I'm here now, because a lot of NHL players come from Europe. I was thrilled when I got called.
"I think I've played really well here, and I keep getting more coaching and ice-time. It's been good for me. I get to play on the power-play, PK and have done really well. I feel a lot better now that I'm here and have had time to adapt."
Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal has been impressed with Gernat's torrid early-season pace, but preaches patience when it comes to his rookie rearguard's all-encompassing game.
"Marty's had a really good start to the season," he said. "He's been able to put up points and he's adapted so well, exceptionally well, to the Western Hockey League; in the locker room and on the ice, he's been a great addition.
"He's been a nice surprise. We were really struggling to score goals as a group early on, but he's now carrying us."
Scoring production has never been an issue. With Slovakia's U-20 and U-18 squads, Gernat was regularly posting double-digit point totals in shortened campaigns with HC Kosice and Presov. His best U-20 season came in 2011-12 when he issued three goals and 18 points in 28 games; adding another three goals and three assists in 12 post-season contests.
"Putting up points comes naturally to him," Laxdal said. "It's in the D zone where he needs to add a couple more parameters. His biggest challenge is going to be bringing a consistent and intense battle night-in and night-out."
That shouldn't be an issue, either, as Gernat recorded a goal and +1 rating in two games a little over than a month ago in Penticton; a taste, sure, but a valuable one that brought him up to speed on the up-tempo NHL atmosphere.
"It was a big experience for me," Gernat said. "It was good to play with all-new, older guys. I was feeling really good out there and I got to play a lot. It was a great time and I feel like I was able to learn so much about my game and improve in so many areas. I'm really happy I was there."
"It was pretty tough, because we didn't see him very long before he went to Oilers camp," Laxdal added. He's a very talented kid that skates well and can pass at the NHL level already. He's got a great head for the game and we saw such an improvement in his skill-set once he returned."
Gernat thought so, too, but is well aware of what needs to improve in order to climb the Oilers' organizational depth chart. Head Coach Tom Renney's renewed commitment to 'D' has helped the smooth-skating Slovakian become even more determined.
"I talked with Tom Renney a couple weeks ago and the discussion was really good," he said. "The coaches know I can score goals and put up points, but they want to see me play better in my own end. I need to get more practice in that area to improve, and to help my team win."
Laxdal, like the orange and blue's managerial brass, agreed and commented on Gernat's commitment to a full-fledged, season-long development plan.
"He's putting the time in on the ice in practice and it's going to carry over into the games as well. We've got a strong backend this year and that's going to help him with the transition [to North America] as well. I like Marty's game, but I like the way he works even more."
Each morning presents a new and exciting challenge (at the rink or otherwise), but it's something Gernat loves and has prepared well for since his Jr. days back home.
"It's a little more complicated playing here, because there's a lot of hard, body-contact. At home there's more skating, passing and ideas on the ice and things like that. It's a little harder here.
"I was in English classes in Slovakia," he added. "It was part of my school. It was so good, because I learned so much before coming to Edmonton, and now I can communicate better with my teammates and coaches."
In recent seasons and at the selection table, the Oilers' organizational card has changed, to a degree. Building size on the backend has become a priority; so, too, has the team's courage to parlay later-round picks into top-end building blocks.
Gernat is a good example. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was chosen, leaving Adam Larsson and others on the board in 2011, the Oilers' blueline depth was addresses by committee, both this summer and in year's past.
In 2010, the Oilers chose Martin Marincin with the team's second-round pick, 46th overall. At 6'4" and 187 pounds, he's a giant; not unlike Gernat, with whom he shares a close relationship.
"I used to send him text messages all the time," Gernat laughed. "It's good that we're so close to each other now, because when I was back home, we spent so much time on Skype and Facebook. This is much easier."
They're both big-body, puck-moving blueliners who call Kosice, Slovakia home. With Oil Country's bright lights shining up ahead, they'll soon be prepared for primetime in the City of Champions.
"It would be nice to play together with the Oilers. It would be really, really cool."
Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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