With a season of North American life and major junior hockey under his belt, Tomas Soustal was determined to push his game to a new level in his second tour with the Kelowna Rockets.
So far, so good for the Czech-born forward who has been one of the WHL team’s brightest lights early in the 2015-16 campaign.
Soustal, 18, has been among the Rockets’ most reliable and dangerous forwards, with six goals and 11 points in his team’s first seven games.
“He’s a player that seems very driven, he wants to be on the ice, he wants to score goals,” Rockets’ coach Brad Ralph said of Soustal. “He’s very motivated to have a great year and that speaks to the start he’s had.
“He’s a big kid with good hands, a good shot…he’s a power forward who’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing this season.”
Like so many Europeans, Soustal’s first season in Canada was a considerable learning experience, both culturally and on the ice.
A year older and wiser, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound forward is thriving on the increased responsibility afforded him by the Rockets’ coaching staff.
“For sure, I like my role more this year,” said Soustal, the Rockets’ CHL Import draft pick in 2014. “I was kind of like a shut-down forward, a third line player last year…but this year I’m getting to play more, be on the power play, a chance to show my skill.
“I like it and hopefully can keep it going and score more points.”
Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton has watched Soustal grow both on and off the ice over the last year and is encouraged by his progress.
“I think he’s been our most improved player,” said Hamilton. “I think his biggest challenge is getting his feet working better, but he’s worked hard and is making good strides at that.
“We’re all pulling for him because he’s such a great kid, and the coach trusts him,” added Hamilton. “He’s come along nicely.”
Over the last several games, Soustal has been playing on a line with fellow European, Swiss-born Calvin Thürkauf, who the Rockets chose in this June’s import draft.
Brad Ralph likes the symmetry developing between the two young forwards.
“There has been chemistry between them,” said Ralph. “Thürkauf has been able to take his game to the next level and Tomas has been a big part of that.
“It’s nice to see both of them develop like they have.”
A vital part of Soustal’s development last season was the Rockets’ lengthy run to the Memorial Cup and the nearly 100 games the team played in the process.
It’s a scenario Soustal would be all too happy to see repeated in 2016.
“It was a long season, but it was unreal, a great experience for me and all the boys,” Soustal said. “We lost some pretty good players from last year, but we have a lot of good players still here and good new ones, too. We think we can go for a long ride again.”
Soustal and the Rockets closed out a four-game tour of the Central Division Tuesday night in Medicine Hat with a 6-5 win over the Tigers.
The Rockets are back home Friday to take on the Victoria Royals, 7:05 p.m. at Prospera Place.