Not much is known about David Krejci outside Boston, and even in the hub of hockey, he is a bit of a mystery man. Krejci is the No. 1 centre and the No. 1 scorer on a Bruins team trying to deliver the club's first Stanley Cup championship since 1972, and as such should be a far more celebrated personality than he is. But in a town that adores Tim Thomas, gushes over Zdeno Chara and loves the two players patrolling the wings on Krejci's line - Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic - the smallish, quiet puck distributor tends to be overlooked.
But if the Bruins are going to make it interesting against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, it will be because Krejci has taken on a leading role in the series, same as he has throughout the playoffs. Some players are quietly important that way, and for proof, consider that last spring the Bruins were moving along nicely in the playoffs until Krejci dislocated his wrist in a collision with the Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richards and was lost for the rest of the series.
Without Krejci, the Bruins unravelled and made history by becoming only the third NHL team to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose. Philadelphia went on to play for the Stanley Cup.
Statistically, the Bruins don't have a line to match the Sedins and Alex Burrows, though Krejci's unit comes closest. Krejci has what television analyst Keith Jones calls "sweet hands." It was Krejci's pass, through a seam, to Horton that set up the only goal in a seventh-game 1-0 win that eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning last round. Players such as Horton and Lucic, who drive hard to the net, are effective only if somebody's there to give them the puck.
Someone like Krejci.
"He's really sneaky," Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said of Krejci. "When he carries the puck, he makes sharp cutbacks and it makes it really tough for people to angle him off. With that skating ability also comes a pretty good skill set with his hands, and good vision, which you saw in Game 7, the way he passed the puck. He really knows how to find the open area and distribute the puck to the open guy to score goals.
"He's very quiet. He doesn't like to speak up much, but when you get him one on one, he likes to have fun and talk a lot."
Krejci's English is good now, but it wasn't always so. He grew up in Kladno, Czech Republic, with the goal of playing in the Czech league and, if things worked out, perhaps on the national team.
"Obviously the biggest dream was to play NHL," Krejci said, "but I never knew if I could make it."
The Bruins liked him enough to select him with the 63rd pick in the 2004 entry draft and convinced him to play junior hockey for the Gatineau Olympiques, who were coming off a trip to the 2004 Memorial Cup.
"I just said I'm going to try the first year, we'll see how it looks," Krejci said. "I may come back."
Although he took some English classes at home, the language barrier was an issue.
"When I came over, I couldn't even answer when they said, 'How are you,'" Krejci said. "I didn't know what to say back. It took a while. But English is not that hard as some other languages."
Still, it was a challenging time for a teenager so far from home, and Krejci admitted: "I got homesick a few times. I was living with another guy [fellow Czech Peter Pohl] he's actually my best friend. He helped me a lot. We played the first year together. We lived together. Without him, it would be way hard. I don't know how it would end up."
Pohl kicked around North America for a while, playing in the ECHL and the AHL, before returning to the Czech Republic to join Vitkovice HC this past year. By then, Krejci was an established NHL player.
This year, coming off off-season surgery, he had a respectable regular season - 62 points in 75 games, but only 13 goals. Playmaking, not scoring, is his traditional strong suit, but in these playoffs, he's found the range, and against the Lightning, managed a hat trick in one game, the first Bruin to do so in two decades, or since Cam Neely. Krejci has 10 goals already, tied with Tampa's Martin St. Louis for the playoff lead.
So what's working differently, or better?
Krejci says it's all about the chemistry that's developed among him, Horton and Lucic.
"I think as a line we're way better than as individuals," Krejci said. "I think we know each other pretty well. We have a good chemistry on and off the ice. We read off each other pretty well. We know what the other guy can do on the ice and try to take it to our advantage."
Tomas Kaberle, a fellow Czech, has been with the Bruins only since the trade deadline, but played with Krejci on a variety of national teams. Citing Krejci's professionalism and demeanour, Kaberle pays him the ultimate compliment: "Whenever we play world championships or Olympics, he's a nice guy, a solid guy in the dressing room and obviously a great player as well.
"He's low-key, not flashy. He just shows it on the ice."