Brno, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic is the birthplace of many ice hockey legends, current stars and future NHL’ers. From Jaromír Jágr to Dominik Hašek to Tomáš Plekanec, every Czech who is or was in the NHL would like to see more of their fellow countrymen playing in the world’s best league. This article will take a look at the top three Czech prospects for the upcoming draft, and then review those who led the team at the 2012 U-18 World Championship. Then we will have a deeper look into future Czech hockey prospects, which may be bright.
At one point in the last regular season, all three scouts on NHL.com agreed that the Montreal Canadiens should draft Radek Faksa from Opava, Czech Republic. Since then, the Habs moved down in the standings and up in the draft positioning meaning that they will probably draft someone who is ranked higher. However, Faksa is still a piece of art.
Posting more than one point per game average in his OHL rookie season, Faksa was the biggest Czech surprise in the CHL. Unfortunately, he played with his Kitchener Rangers long into the OHL post-season, robbing us from the chance to see him at the U-18 Championship. I’m pretty sure though that the announcers will have fun with his name — the “Fak” part of the name is pronounced like one of the words that rhyme with “puck.”
In the Czech Extraliga, an 18-year-old forward stunned the entire competition and eventually was named the rookie of the year. Tomáš Hertl is three inches shorter than Faksa, yet he is very solid with the puck. Hertl knows how to keep possession and just looks like one of those players only guys like Alexei Emelin or Zdeno Chára.
Hertl has a good shot and excellent vision on the ice. Many scouts were amazed when he actually outplayed Faksa at the U-20 Worlds in Alberta. If Faksa is ranked around the 15th place, Hertl should be that high, too.
Another player to mention from the Czech Extraliga league is Nathan Walker. Just keep an eye on him — Walker is a gifted Aussie, who might as well become the first Australian to ever be drafted into the NHL perhaps being selected in the 4th or 5th round.
The last of the big trio, Martin Frk, is considered to possess a complete package of skills. One might say a typical European player, even though he’s added some body mass during the last two seasons, playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Sure he’s going to be a precious prospect, but does he have enough will to get into the big league? It is hard to forget watching him slash Erik Gudbranson over the gentlest parts of a man’s body at the 2011 U-20 Worlds.
After focusing on the top three players, here are some brief comments about the best of the rest.
Goalie Marek Langhamer was injured early into the tournament, but is a very talented netminder. Langhamer already has some professional experience and has the potential to become a quality NHL backup. Dominik Simon shared the scoring lead of the team, but he still has me wondering “where one earth has this guy come from?” I have little praise for Dominik Volek and Patrik Machač, both playing in the CHL, but who were very disappointing at the tournament. Keep an eye on these skilled forwards leadership abilities: Vojtěch Tomeček> and Euvstathio Soumelidis (who is of Greek origin and plays in Finland.) Finally, defenceman Petr Šidlík of Victoriaville Tigres is a good offensive blueliner and tall Ronald Knot is a Czech bulldozer at his own end.
And now,let’s look into the future. Turning heads at an Under-18 World Championship just shortly after turning sixteen is a sign of good things to come. A year ago, smallish, technical and gifted forward Jakub Vrána left his youth team in a suburb of Prague for Linköping, Sweden. Not only has he successfully adapted to Swedish hockey, Vrána also got his first sips of the Swedish SuperElit junior league. And after that, coming back home to simply amaze all the scouts with incredible eight points in six games as the youngest player at the event — forget Walker and Frk, maybe even forget Hertl and Faksa — if things don’t go south, Vrána is the next generation talent for the Czechs. Now, we just need to sit back and wait until 2014, because that’s the soonest he can get drafted!
It has been my pleasure to contribute to All Habs Hockey Magazine for this six-part series. I hope to bring you updates about Czech prospects in the Fall, including Canadiens 2011 late-round pick, Daniel Přibyl. And if the Habs draft another Czech-based youngster, including Hertl or Walker, you can be sure that I will be watching them too.