After seven roller-coaster seasons of professional hockey, full of rises and falls between the NHL and the minor leagues, Martin Frk drilled the idea into his head.
“You’ve got to take it day by day,” the Kings forward said. “You can get sent down at any time.”
As of Saturday, however, that may no longer be true. The 26-year-old winger, who scored five goals in his first eight NHL games this season, signed a two-year contract extension with the Kings, a one-way deal worth $725,000 in annual average value that, for perhaps the first time, will offer Frk an extended shot at sticking in the NHL.
“He’s a unique piece,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said ahead of his team’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center on Saturday night. “He’s a guy who can really fire a puck. When you look around our locker room or around the league, there’s not many that can do that.”
Yet, before coming to the Kings this offseason, the Czech-born forward repeatedly failed to find a full-time NHL role elsewhere.
Originally a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2012, he spent his first three professional seasons in the minor leagues before being claimed off waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes in October 2016. That month, he played in his first two NHL games, but then was waived again, reclaimed by the Red Wings in November 2016 and reassigned to the minors for the rest of the season.
Frk spent all of the 2017-18 season on the Red Wings, collecting 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 68 games, only to reprise a part-time NHL role last season. A lightly sought-after free agent last summer, he took the Kings’ one-year, two-way deal and started the year with their American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario. He wondered how much longer he could tolerate such a turbulent career path.
“Always, in the back of your mind,” Frk said, “there’s [going to play in] Europe.”
His performance this year, however, has allowed him to hit the brakes on that contingency plan.
On a young Reign roster, Frk’s offensive firepower was needed. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander utilized his wicked shot — he set an NHL/AHL record during the AHL All-Star skill competition with a 109.2-mph slap shot — to rack up 23 goals and 36 points in 37 games.
“When you get sent down to the AHL, you just realize what you need to do,” Frk said. “You need to get better every day and then wait for your opportunity to get back up.”
That finally came in late December, when Frk scored twice in his Kings debut and scored again two games later. He spent most of January back in Ontario, but returned to the Kings this month and scored in back-to-back games this week.
Among Kings players with at least five appearances, Frk has the best mark in goals per game (0.62) and shooting percentage (29.4%). He rounded out his defensive game and carved out a role on the power play. He finally proved to a front office he was worth a full-time, multiyear commitment.
“I wanted to stay here for sure,” Frk said. “I wanted to be a King.”