With the start of the 2011-12 season less than a month away, Milton Keynes Lightning have announced the identity of the player who will fill the club's remaining import slot - Slovakian forward and former NHL draft pick, Juraj Gracik.
The 2011 season will be 6' 3" right-winger Gracik's first in western Europe - and the first ever season for a Slovakian player on the roster at the Thunderdome. Gracik, 25, was last season's top goalscorer and points scorer at HC Topolcany, his consistency seeing him average almost a point per game.
Eye-catching club performances earned Gracik call ups to represent his country at U18 and U20 levels, and brought him to the attention of the NHL; in 2004 he was selected by Atlanta Thrashers in the internationally-prestigious draft picks - the team citing his scoring rate and physical stamina as key factors in their choice. Although not selected to become a permanent part of the Thrashers' set-up, Western Hockey League side Tri City Americans capitalised on Gracik's availability, and he remained with the Washington team for two seasons, registering 51 points in 86 games. Summer 2006 saw Juraj sign for Slovan Bratislava back in Slovakia, and he has continued his career in his home country until now.
Lightning were in the happy position this summer of retaining most of the roster which went agonisingly close to lifting the play-off title in Coventry in April, despite a fiercely competitive transfer market. The addition of Tom Norton from Elite League play-off champions Nottingham Panthers will bolster an already strong defence - and now the capture of Gracik completes a roster which player-coach Nick Poole knows will push hard for honours this year.
We are really pleased to bring Juraj to MK for the coming season. It is always exciting for the fans when a new overseas players comes in and I know it will be for the players as well. Juraj will bring a new dimension to our game with his size and heavy shot. He has great pedigree having a very productive season in the WHL where he averaged around a point a game and has also iced with the top team in Slovakia for several seasons. He is known as an aggressive forechecker and a player that can score goals. We feel with the move of bringing Leigh Jamieson up front coupled with the signing of Juraj we will be a very difficult team to defend against. We have always been an aggressive forechecking team that looks to put pressure on teams in their own zone and now we will have more power and size to back that up. Juraj speaks English and will also have the help of Lukas whom he is coming to MK with, to help him bed into the UK.
Gearing up for the start of the season is now at the front of the entire roster’s minds, says player-coach Nick Poole. “The guys are all working hard in the gym and back in full training to prepare for what we know is going to be a very tough season. The summer has seen some intriguing player moves that will make our league ultra-competitive this season – there will be no easy points for the taking and we’ll have to be at the absolute top of our game every weekend, but we can’t wait to get started now the roster’s finalised.