On Day 1 of development camp earlier this week, Adam Sykora, the energetic left wing the Rangers drafted 63rd overall in 2022, drew an emphatic reaction from every coach and fellow prospect on the ice with him.
The Rangers were conducting speed-skating drills and timing each player as they went one by one, and Sykora was the fastest from the goal line to the opposite blue line.
“They told me that I was the best one here,” the 18-year-old Slovakian said as his signature smile stretched across his face. “So I’m so happy about that, but it’s just testing. I’m so happy I was the fastest skater here.”
The 60-foot skating test measures acceleration versus speed, which makes it incredibly predictive — according to Advantage Strength, a personal training business out of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Sykora has been playing in the Tipos Extraliga, the top hockey league in Slovakia, the past three seasons.
He clocked the fastest time among his fellow prospects who have competed in the NCAA, the U.S. National Team Development Program, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and more.
That certainly says something about the 5-foot-10, 172-pound forward.
“He’s a high energy guy,” said Jed Ortmeyer, the Rangers’ director of development. “It was great to get a handful of those guys over here at the end of the season in Hartford. To be around the playoff run and the winning culture that [head coach Kris Knoblauch, assistant coach Steve Smith and assistant coach Jamie Tardif] built down there.”
Sykora agreed with that sentiment, saying it was fun to cap the 2022-23 campaign with playoff games for the Wolf Pack.
After two regular-season games, Sykora skated in four postseason contests, in which he chipped in one assist.
He said he hopes to play all of next season in the American Hockey League with the Rangers affiliate.
“It was such a huge moment for me because there were NHL players, too,” he said. “The atmosphere, it was nice coaches, nice everything down there. Everything was preparing me [for the next step in my career], so I was thankful for the opportunity.”
Among other adjustments, Sykora had to get used to the smaller rink size in the AHL and the increased physical play. He likes to play fast and physically, he said, so it was just a matter of remembering to keep his head up in a more confined space than he’s used to.
Depending on how training camp goes, Sykora will play next season in either the AHL, another North American league or back in his home country’s league. The tenacious wing is still young and undersized, which will need to improve before he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.
“Of course, it’s still exciting,” Sykora said of participating in his second development camp. “But I believe in myself more and I’m more comfortable here.”