When he was drafted last June, the Los Angeles Kings took a defenseman who had to play in North America. This season, though, defenseman Erik Cernak is celebrating a great campaign in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters as he shows plenty of signs that he could be a great fit for the Kings in the very near future.
In 32 games for the Otters this season, Cernak has three goals and seven assists, but his offensive numbers are not what makes this youngster special.
At 6′ 3, 203 pounds, Cernak is a big defenseman but adds to his size with his tremendous reach and his physical prowess. Despite being a physical player, though, the native of Kosice, Slovakia, doesn’t take too many penalties, underlining his strong sense of discipline.
I recently spoke with Erie head coach Kris Knoblauch who is so impressed with Cernak that he believes he is one of the best in the entire OHL, much less his own team.
“Erik has fit in very nicely with our team,” Knoblauch said. “We feel our top three defensemen — Cernak, (Darren) Raddysh, (Travis) Dermott — are among the best in the OHL. As the regular season ends and we approach playoffs, I believe we will be relying on Erik more than ever. He is in tremendous physical condition and I have no doubt he will thrive with the extra responsibilities and ice time. When he has been in the lineup, he has been paired with Dermott which they developed instant chemistry.”
Taken 43rd-overall in 2015, Cernak was drafted having already played two seasons in a senior league before turning 18. Now that he is 18, he already a wealth of experience under his belt, but he still has some ways to go before achieving success at the next level. For example, Cernak’s skating is one particular area he could definitely improve upon. Overall, though, Cernak looks to be on the right track and even when yours truly watched him in action a few weeks ago, he did show shades of Drew Doughty in terms of how he not only moved the puck but controlled the play on the back end.
Kings Director of Player Development Nelson Emerson has also noticed Cernak’s play in his first year with the Otters and is impressed thus far.
“Erik has fit in real well with a real good Erie team,” Emerson told me. “They are hoping to have a long run. The experience he is receiving playing for Erie and in the OHL is exactly what we had hoped for.”
Still just 18, it will most likely be a while before we see Erik Cernak donning a Kings uniform. With that said, the next few years should be a very enjoyable time not only for the youngster but for the Kings organization who will have the privilege of watching their defensive prospect flourish even further into an all-round blueliner.
If this writer said it once, he said it a million times: it is a great time to be a fan of the Los Angeles Kings. It is a great time for the present, yes, but it is even more exciting to think what the future has in store. After all, if Erik Cernak is any indication, then the Kings future is so bright, it will surely leave many fans with proverbial burned retinas.