Bruins center David Krejci has extra motivation this season

BOSTON -- Two months before David Krejci's daughter was born, the veteran center for the Boston Bruins was sitting at home watching the 2015 Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The expectant father watched with interest when close friend and former teammate Kris Versteeg celebrated another championship with the Blackhawks. During the postgame, on-ice celebration, Versteeg held his newborn son, Jaxson, and placed him in the Cup.

That moment became a motivational factor for Krejci. A moment he would like to share with his new daughter, Elina.

"It was pretty cool, so that's obviously something I would like to do," Krejci said. "On the other hand, she's everything, so you do everything for her because I won't be playing hockey forever."

Krejci and Versteeg have been friends since playing for Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, at the start of their respective pro careers. In 2004, the Bruins selected Krejci in the second round (63rd overall) and Versteeg in the fifth round (134th overall).

The two were teammates during the 2006-07 season in Providence before Versteeg was traded to the Blackhawks on Feb. 3 in exchange for Brandon Bochenski. Since then, Versteeg has won two Stanley Cups (2010 and 2015) and Krejci hoisted the Cup with the Bruins in 2011.

Hearing that Krejci was partly motivated by watching Jaxson Versteeg sit in the Cup was special for Kris.

"For him to say that, it's pretty amazing," Versteeg said. "When you get away from guys, you don't know if they still know your name. But David's always been a great guy, a great player, and the way he plays, and how good he plays in big moments in the playoffs, I wouldn't be surprised if he puts his baby in the Cup one day."

Krejci, 29, and his wife, Naomi, welcomed Elina in August. Being a new dad is one reason the Bruins' assistant captain is playing inspired hockey this season.

On Monday, Krejci, a native of the Czech Republic, was named the NHL's third star for October. He scored seven goals and added eight assists for 15 points in 10 games to help the Bruins to a 6-3-1 record. For the Bruins to be successful, they need consistent production form Krejci.

When the Bruins in April failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, Krejci used that extra time off to heal from a string of injuries that limited him to only 47 games. Had Krejci been healthy and productive, the Bruins probably would have earned a postseason berth.

Remembering what it felt like to lose in the most unproductive manner, along with the image of Jaxson Versteeg being placed into the Stanley Cup, Krejci was determined to return a better player in 2015-16.

He remained in Boston during the summer, hired a personal trainer and refocused.

When asked if ownership, management or the coaching staff challenged him to get better, both physically and on the ice, Krejci said: "It was 100 percent me. I knew I wanted to be a better player. I knew I wanted to take my game to the next level.

"If you want to be on top of your game, you have to take care of your body. You have to be professional on and off the ice. I felt like I was ready to take the next step. People always say in your late 20s, you're in your prime. I felt like I was there last year, started the season really well but got hurt right away. This is my last year of my late 20s."

Now that Krejci is healthy, Versteeg isn't surprised by how well his former minor-league teammate is playing.

"It's not a shocker," Versteeg said. "He had some injuries last year, and I've had a lot of injuries too, so I know what it's like when you can't play at 100 percent. You want to be there, you want to be out every night, and I know he tried to come back and play, but sometimes you're not the same player. You're just a shell of yourself when you can't play above a certain percentage. For David to have this kind of start is really no shocker to me, it's something I expected."

"He's the Krejci of a couple of years ago -- confident, healthy, making plays every shift, difference-maker and good at both ends," said a Western Conference scout. "He is playing the way he is capable of."

Now that he's a father, Krejci returns home after practices to spend time with his daughter. If she's sleeping, Krejci tries to find a few minutes to sneak in a workout. The motivation to regain his form and continue to be successful is always close by.

"Having a baby is awesome," he said. "We could be here talking about it for hours."

For all his early-season success, Krejci would rather focus on the team's play of late, especially after the Bruins opened the season with three consecutive losses.

"We obviously didn't start the season the way we wanted to, but we've bounced back," he said. "The last few games we've been playing really strong and we're winning, so that's the important thing."

When the Bruins traded Krejci's longtime linemate Milan Lucic during the offseason, some wondered how Krejci would react without the strength and protection on his left side. He answered the naysayers and his production proves it.

"I've also had some luck with the puck going in this season, which it usually wouldn't. For the most part, I've been feeling pretty good, so I'd like to think that it's because of last summer," Krejci said.

Lucic is thrilled Krejci is off to a strong start.

"I'm not surprised," Lucic said. "I think when you go through the season he did last year, full of injuries and not being able to play at the high level he's use to, I expected him to work his absolute hardest this offseason to get back to full form and it's paid off so far through the first month of the season."

Lucic also admitted it's been an adjustment to join the Los Angeles Kings and not have Krejci as his center.

"You get so used to playing a certain way and a certain style, and you've built chemistry with someone over a number of years, things just happen naturally and are second nature," Lucic said via email. "At the start here it was difficult, but it's turned around and moved along in the right direction and it's up to me to adjust as quick as possible with the great players I get to play with in Los Angeles."

Bruins coach Claude Julien has tweaked Krejci's line a couple of times this season, but it appears Krejci is finding chemistry with Loui Eriksson and David Pastrnak.

"He's certainly in a much better position than he was at this time last year healthwise, and that's exciting," Julien said. "He was really disappointed that he basically played half a season last year, and he saw where we were at crucial times and he didn't feel like he was able to help us as much as he would have liked to.

"A good athlete comes back motivated to want to make a difference and that's what he's done so far."

Krejci has his family, his health, and with a bit of so-called puck luck, he's showing signs of a career season. Maybe Elina will get a chance to drink from the world's largest sippy Cup in June.