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Penguins

Penguins' Slovenian prospect Jan Drozg has game that translates

Chris Adamski
| Saturday, June 30, 2018, 11:45 a.m.
Jan Drozg
NHL.com
Jan Drozg

A Slovenian native who played as a teenager in Sweden and major junior hockey in Quebec, Jan Drozg's path to the Penguins already has included playing in four countries by age 19.

Perhaps more telling, it also has taken him through four languages.

Through it all, Drozg's English is strong enough he's more than capable of carrying on a conversation. Something that translates perfectly? Drozg's flair for playmaking.

It belies his status as a fifth-round pick (in 2017 by Penguins) – likely in part because as a Slovenian, Drozg slid under the proverbial radar.

"The biggest sport (in Slovenia) is soccer. It's the No. 1 sport, like hockey in Canada," Drozg said after a practice at Penguins development camp this week. "Hockey is not the biggest sport, but we are trying, and I think we do pretty good."

While hockey isn't the No. 1 priority in this south-central European former Yugoslavian state, Drozg is quick to defend Slovenia's hockey bona fides.

"We made the Olympics, and we have had NHL players."

Yes, Slovenia not only qualified for the Olympics, it also beat the United States at the Pyeongchang Games in February. And while the all-time NHL roster of Slovenians is short, it does include one of the game's best all-around players, two-time Stanley Cup champion Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Drozg is looking to follow in the footsteps of Kopitar and fellow countryman Jan Mursak (who played for the Detroit Red Wings from 2011-13) by making it to the NHL, no small task for a player who was playing for Hokejski Klub Celje in his homeland just three years ago.

"It is a big jump, and the language barrier is a tough part," Penguins director of player development Scott Young said. "He's a tremendously skilled player. The fact that he was (most recently) playing in Shawinigan, which is French-speaking, just adds complications to the whole situation.

"We have high hopes for him. And the more that he's over here and gets past that language barrier, it's going to be a lot easier for him in the transition."

Drozg (native language: Slovene) spent two seasons playing in Sweden (official language: Swedish), where he raised the eyebrows of Penguins European scouts. After being drafted by the Penguins, he moved on to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (dominant language: French) and earned a brief call-up to the AHL Penguins in Wilkes-Barre (where, of course, English is spoken).

"Sometimes it's been tough to understand, and it can be hard," Drozg said. "I don't know so much English yet. It's not perfect, but I'm getting better."

Without the aid of a translator, Drozg clearly understood a reporter's questions. And after an age-18 season in which he put up 50 points in 61 QMJHL games, Drozg had no trouble getting across the message of how pleased he was to be at the Penguins development camp.

"I'm so happy to be here and be a part of this organization," Drozg said. "You learn so much not only on the ice but off the ice also. I'm learning how to be a pro player and how to represent myself as a pro."

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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