Ducks’ Dostal, McTavish and Kings’ Spence enjoy unique journeys to NHL
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LOS ANGELES — Tuesday night’s Freeway Faceoff might not have required much travel for the Kings and Ducks, but for three young players involved prominently in the match, there were plenty of miles in the air and lots of ground covered on their paths to the NHL.
Rookie Lukas Dostal got the start in goal for the Ducks, making his fifth start since being recalled from the San Diego Gulls. He entered Tuesday’s game riding a two-game win streak. The 22-year-old began his career in the Czech Republic with his hometown club of Brno. He found himself loaned to Ilves Tampere of Finland’s SM-Liiga not long after the Ducks selected him in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft.
The move proved fruitful as in his only full season in the top Finnish league he proved stingy: a 1.78 goals-against average, .928 save percentage, 27 wins and three shutouts. That earned him the Urpo Ylonen Trophy, Finland’s equivalent to the Vezina Trophy for the season’s top goalie.
“Without Ilves, I don’t know where I would be today,” Dostal told Finnish journalist Julia Schmieder shortly before he left the club to begin his career in North America.
In Finland, he discovered “avantouinti,” or ice hole swimming. It was a far cry from a leisurely dip in the glistening Pacific Ocean, but Dostal brought the same discipline and thirst for self-discovery to sunny California as he did to snowy Finland.
“Every day gives me the chance to do my best, to get better and to learn new things,” Dostal told Schmieder. “You never know what the new day will bring.”
For the Ducks, Dostal has been a pleasant surprise in a season mostly filled with unwelcome developments. Fittingly, on Tuesday he opposed another goalie that was recently promoted, the Kings’ Pheonix Copley, who has been the team’s most effective goalie statistically across a small sample of half a dozen starts.
SPENCE-ING SOME TIME IN THE NHL
Kings defenseman Jordan Spence has had to bounce between the Ontario Reign and the Kings this season, patiently waiting until mid-December for an opportunity to play in the NHL again. Earlier in his life, he traversed a path that would have made Anthony Bourdain blush.
Spence was born in Australia, raised in Japan and prepared for the NHL in Canada, where he arrived without speaking English as a young adolescent. Today, he speaks English, French and Japanese fluently.
“Yeah, I absolutely think moving all over the place has helped me adapt,” Spence told The Color of Hockey’s William Douglas. “The adjustments that I made as a young kid, I think, that’s really helped a lot.”
The trilingual blue-liner made his season debut in a victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, logging nearly 14 minutes with two shots on goal, including a strong scoring chance in overtime.
Spence notched eight points in 24 games last season with the Kings in his first taste of the top level. He had been one of the top producers among American Hockey League defensemen this season, averaging nearly a point per game, when he got the call.
Kings coach Todd McLellan said Spence had proven he could perform at an “elite” level in the AHL, praising his vision, creativity and ability to generate opportunities without amplifying risks significantly. He also said that Spence, who is below average in size for the NHL, worked hard in the gym to gain strength to compete more effectively.
“He did exactly what he needed to do,” McLellan said of Spence’s 2022-23 debut. “He moved pucks, he shot it when he had the opportunity and he defended well. As (assistant coach) Trent Yawney would say, he wasn’t at the scene of the crime very often defensively. He played a good game.”
Ducks rookie center Mason McTavish, the third overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, turned in consecutive multipoint games for the first time in his career in wins at Montreal and Edmonton last week. That brought his total to five multipoint outings this season and six in his career.
Before that, his developmental journey became circular and then sent him to an unexpected destination. Born in Zurich, where his father Dale played professionally, MacTavish grew up in Canada and competed in the Ontario Hockey League in his first major junior season. But with the OHL suspending play for part of one season and all of another due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his Swiss player license came in handy as he headed back to his country of birth to compete for EHC Olten.
Initially, his foray into pro hockey proceeded at a measured pace, but by the time he was skating in a playoff series in Switzerland’s top league, he had a significant role with the club.
“Gradually my ice time kept going up and up,” McTavish said by phone just before the draft lottery. “It was a great experience for me, and I would 100 percent do it again.”
McTavish’s first taste of the NHL came last season, but he also competed for Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing after COVID concerns unexpectedly nullified the agreement to send pros to the games. He skated on a top line with former Stanley Cup winner Eric Staal and one-time New York Islanders first-round Josh Ho-Sang.
Though Canada failed to medal in China, it did win gold at the World Juniors later that year. McTavish was that tournament’s most valuable player, leading scorer and best forward, in addition to making a game-saving defensive play in overtime that sent Canada the other way for a golden goal in perhaps the grandest finish in tournament history.