Radoslav Vavřina is a member of our All Habs crew located in the Czech Republic providing readers with first-hand reports on prospects. His regular feature at our magazine is titled Czech List.
LIBEREC, CZE — With junior hockey at its annual peak thanks to the world championships in Russia, it is also the best time to take a look at some of the upcoming 2013 NHL draft class. Last week, I had an opportunity to attend three games of Czech U18 national team and its Russian counterpart.
Most of the players who took part in the three-game event are eligible for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft that will take place June 28-29 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The weather at the event was astonishing; it was even snowing during the first day in Rokycany, birthplace of recently-retired Habs’ defenseman Jaroslav Špaček. The veteran blueliner performed the ceremonial puck-drop in the municipal arena with no seating capacity and arena glass lacking about ten percent of its original panes, which made it a real survival game for all the scouts, fans and journalists.
The two other games were placed in a much smaller town of Třemošná, just north of Pilsen. Pilsen is known for players like Martin Straka and its beer which is famous everywhere in the world (not to be confused with České Budějovice, a.k.a. Budweiser.) The brand-new rink in Třemošná is a cozy place with a heated restaurant, but is still freezing for those in attendance. Its biggest problem might be the capacity which can’t be more than two hundred people. Also, it might be pretty easy to drive past it because it’s behind a convenience store. What a lovely place though.
So I decided to show you the best Czechs that will be at the upcoming draft and some Russian players, too, since a couple of them really impressed me. Too bad I haven’t had a chance to see the top netminder René Svoboda in action yet. The head coach of the U18 team told me that the starter of Vítkovice U20 team is the sure number-one goalie for the U18 World Championship that will take place in Sochi, Russia, next April.
The other two goaltenders might be drafted in late rounds, but I highly doubt that even though they have the potential to be looked at for the NHL, especially Miroslav Svoboda (not related to René) who is very tall and athletic. However, after seeing Marek Mazanec (Nashville) and Marek Langhamer (Phoenix) drafted very late last year, I think René Svoboda will be happy for a seventh-round spot.
Unlike the last couple of years, the best talent out of the Czech Republic will be from the defence. There’s one guy already making impression in the Czech Extraliga who impressed me at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup last August and who is now impressing hopefully not only me at the U20 World Championship. His name is Jan Štencel and after calling him Petr and David in two separate articles for another website without even noticing, I’ve finally got his name right. Kid’s not tall, but he can get very physical. Jan doesn’t throw bone-crunching hits, but when he hits a guy, the guy feels it. Štencel has potential to become a top-four NHL defenceman and is definitely the top Czech player available at the next draft.
There are a few more defencemen to talk about. Let’s look at Alex Pisarik first. I must say I expected much more from him on the ice because he didn’t really catch my eye during the first two games. For game three, he was given the captaincy and it seemed like the additional responsibility got him rolling. Pisarik looked a little more comfortable on the ice and made less mistakes. However, he’s got tremendous hockey-IQ and he handled an interview with me really amazingly. If drafted, he’d be picked somewhere between fifth and seventh round, but he’s got the potential to reach the NHL one day.
The rest of the class includes Martin Kokeš and Tomáš Andrlík even though I’m not sure about the latter since he was born in November 1995. I didn’t like Andrlik very much. Kokeš wasn’t present unfortunately. The coach told me he had some trouble at school, but in his hometown team’s U20 selection, he’s posted amazing stats.
Among forwards, there are two players definitely at the top of the class. If they eventually played together in the NHL, it would be only good for them as they are just like yin and yang. Luboš Rob, Jr. is a technical forward born to lead and has hockey blood. His father played numerous seasons for České Budějovice in the Czech Extraliga (feels right hockey and beer go together) and must be a tremendous advisor for his son. Rob failed to score a lot of points in the three games, but was visible whenever he jumped on the ice. My notes also say he’s got great reflexes and knows how to pass the puck really well. Also, he has the ability to break up an attack at its very beginning.
His yin (or yang, I’m not really sure who’s who) is David Kämpf. The two don’t play on the same team, but they sure do play like brothers when they play together. Kämpf is not very technical, but likes to throw his weight around and enjoys battling along the boards where he uses his physical strength. Also, he’s a good running back which means he can penetrate through the defence easily. Both Rob and Kämpf should be drafted in New Jersey and they do have NHL potential, but it’s still a long way to go.
There are three more forwards from Pilsen that I have to tell you about, too. The first one is Jiří Kepka, a hard-working defensive forward who knows how to quarterback a powerplay and save time on penalty kill. If he gets drafted, I’m sure he will become an elite utility forward at some level. The other two are Václav Pašek and Miroslav Indrák who Kepka wanted me to include in my reviews. The latter’s really worth it. Indrák has been noticed by NHL scouts and has great scoring instincts.
There are players from later draft classes born in 1996 and even 1997 who are worth a mention. I think you might’ve heard of Jakub Vrána, a skilled sixteen-year-old forward playing at the U20 World Championship as the youngest player of the whole tournament. In the first game of the Czech team, he had a couple of bright moments, but he’s still got to learn. His team, Linköping, has already given him five chances in the Swedish Elitserien. Ondřej Kaše will be the best of his class after Vrána. He played with Rob and Kämpf at the U18 event and showed some talent. We’ll get to see him more next year, but the scouts already know he’s a real deal.
After Vrána, it will be fifteen-year-old, yet 6-foot-3 forward of my hometown’s (Liberec – no famous beer here) U20 team, Pavel Zacha. Even though he was the youngest player on the ice by almost a year, he was second among Czech point-scorers, scoring a goal and adding two assists in two games (he was benched in the first one.) He’s only fifteen but whenever he made contact with someone, the opposition player went flying (there were exceptions, of course.) One day, he can be Montreal’s Milan Lucic.
This report is about the Czechs but I must mention the Russians. There were some good defencemen, but I’ll just talk about two forwards, Saveli Ilin and Pavel Buchnevich who played really well. The former plays among juniors and is like Pavel Datsyuk and he’s officially only five-foot-five. The latter was his linemate and is already making his name in the KHL.