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For Straka, it's a fantasy on ice

Flyers prospect Petr Straka says he has dreamed of playing in the NHL since he was a boy.

New Flyer Petr Straka during the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2011. (Don Heupel/AP file)
New Flyer Petr Straka during the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2011. (Don Heupel/AP file)Read more

THE FIRST QUESTION Petr Straka gets is usually about his name.

Anyone following hockey in the 1990s will remember the name Martin Straka, a former All-Star who racked up 717 points in his career. Petr Straka has the same last name - and shares the same hometown of Plzen, Czech Republic, the birthplace of pilsner beers.

But the two have no relation.

After signing a 3-year entry-level deal with the Flyers in April, prospect Petr Straka is trying to make a name for himself at hockey's highest level.

The Flyers beat out a reported 12 other teams to land Straka. He became a free agent this spring after four seasons had passed since the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted him in the second round (55th overall) in 2010.

"Signing an NHL deal was my dream since I was a little boy," the 21-year-old Straka said from the Czech Republic yesterday just as he was about to eat dinner in his hometown. "It means a lot to me. The Flyers have a lot of history. There are a lot of great players on the team."

It was a dream Straka thought he was a lot closer to when he was drafted by Columbus. He had just finished his rookie season of major junior hockey for the Rimouski Oceanic, the same franchise that produced Sidney Crosby. Straka posted 64 points in 62 games in 2009-10, his first season in Quebec's offensively potent league.

Straka struggled in his second and third years.

After that first season, he dropped down to just 25 points in 41 games, while dealing with injuries. He netted only 37 points in 54 games the following season. Part of Straka's demise in Rimouski was related to a coaching change, which reined in his offensive creativity and limited his ice time.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets changed scouts in the Quebec league. And the new scout, who wasn't responsible for drafting him, quickly soured on the 6-foot Straka.

He was never offered a contract by the Blue Jackets.

"I had a really hard time," Straka said. "I was mentally down on myself. I knew I didn't play my best hockey. All along, I hoped Columbus knew of my potential and believed in me. To be honest, the opportunity with them never presented itself."

Last summer, Straka was offered a change of scenery with a trade to Baie-Comeau Drakkar for his over-age season.

The skating, hockey sense and character that made him such a high pick in 2010 was once again shining in Baie-Comeau, a small town 260 miles northeast of Quebec City.

Under coach Eric Veilleux, Straka tallied 41 goals and 41 assists in just 55 games, turning the heads of most scouts in attendance.

"Petr was a guy that we saw a lot of during his draft year," Flyers director of hockey operations Chris Pryor said. "We had him on our board in about the same range as he was taken by Columbus. We saw a lot of him again this year and really liked him."

The Flyers always try to keep their eye on junior-aged players who, for whatever reason, haven't signed with their rights-holding club. That's how they landed defenseman Blake Kessel, brother of Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel, in 2011. Kessel hasn't exactly panned out with the Phantoms, but Straka may be a different story.

Straka almost single-handedly led Baie-Comeau to the QMJHL finals, where it fell in five games to a star-studded Halifax lineup. Both Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are expected to be drafted in the top three out of Halifax this weekend. Straka collected 25 points in 19 postseason games.

"I'm really happy with my year," Straka said. "I had some troubles in the year before, but I had no injuries and a great relationship with my coaches and teammates. I'm even happier to be a part of the Flyers."

Straka plans to train in the Czech Republic for 2 more weeks before heading to Philadelphia for the Flyers' prospect camp. After that, he will spend time working out in Montreal, not far from Flyers winger Jake Voracek, a countryman whom he met at one of the Blue Jackets' camps 4 years ago.

"I've only met Mr. Voracek once," Straka said, "But I am hoping that I can phone him at some point this summer, perhaps meet him for dinner and find out what it's like to be a Flyer."