Tomas Kundratek was preparing for the nine-hour bus ride to Charlotte after Tuesday’s practice in Hershey when he received some unexpected – but welcome – news from Bears GM Doug Yingst.

The Capitals had recalled him and wanted him to make his NHL debut tonight against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It was an unreal feeling,” Kundratek said this morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I’m really excited.”

Capitals Coach Dale Hunter said the 22-year-old puck-moving defenseman was recalled because he had been impressive in Hershey, where he had notched six goals and two assists in 21 games. Hunter said he saw Kundratek play in person once. 

“He’s been playing well down there so we wanted to give him a chance up here,” Hunter said. “He’s a good skater, moves the puck and so we’re anxious to take a look at him. We like his mobility, he can skate. If you’re playing well down there you get to come up here and play.”

Kundratek, who is listed at 6 foot 2, 200-pounds, will be paired with 37-year-old Roman Hamrlik, a fellow Czech. 

“They can communicate,” Hunter said. “Hammer is a veteran guy who can help out the young kid, and [Hamrlik is] more of a stay at home D.”

Kundratek added: “I was watching that guy since I was young. It’s unreal. It will be a huge experience and I’m really looking forward to it.”

In order to make room for Kundratek, the Capitals placed Nicklas Backstrom (head) on injured reserve. Backstrom, however, can return to the lineup at any time, though, as his designation was retroactive.

Kundratek gives the Caps another right-handed defenseman, which figures to be important with Mike Green sidelined with a groin muscle injury. His recall also means he’s jumped ahead of veteran defensemen Jeff Schultz and John Erskine on the team's depth chart. Schultz and Erskine put in extra work on the ice after the morning skate and, thus, figure to be healthy scratches against Pittsburgh.

That’s quite a leap for a prospect who wasn’t even in the Capitals’ system at the start of the season. Kundratek was acquired from the New York Rangers on Nov. 8 in exchange for Capitals prospect Francois Bouchard at a time when Kundratek had been a regular scratch for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford. Agent Allan Walsh represents both Kundratek and Bouchard and helped facilitate the swap, Kundratek said.

“It was huge,” Kundratek said of the change of scenery. “It was a tough position in Hartford. I was a healthy scratch for seven games. I was talking to my agent who helped me get a trade.”

Now Kundratek is getting his shot to show what he can do on the big stage.

According to The Hockey News scouting report, he’s a two-way defenseman with some offensive upside.

Asked to describe his own game, he smiled and said, “It’s hard to say. I like to do everything. I like to hit, I like to play good defense and I like to score.”

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