It looks like it could be a solid draft year for the Czech Republic in 2014 with David Pastrňák and Jakub Vrána, two upper round candidates based in Sweden, and many more potential later round prospects playing either in Sweden, Canada or in their homeland. Thanks to a new rule implemented by the Czech Ice Hockey Association, prospects are also getting much more ice-time in the Extraliga than in recent years.
Despite the fact that the league was criticized by many for not giving enough space to youngsters and reyling too much on veteran players like Martin Straka or Petr Nedvěd, two Extraliga players were drafted at the 2012 NHL Draft. Tomáš Hertl, who was a full-time member of Slavia Prague, was drafted 17th overall by the San Jose Sharks, and goaltender Marek Mazanec, with 19 starts for Straka's team in Pilsen, was picked up by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round.
This year, both have had successful rookie campaigns in the NHL, with Hertl picking up Rookie of the Month honors for October and Mazanec doing so in November. The performances of Hertl and Mazanec might help the damaged reputation of the Extraliga and put current top prospects in a better light for the coming draft.
Besides Pavel Jenyš, who is a fourth-line member with the Kometa Brno organization and is considered to be a late-round prospect, 18-year-old forward Ondřej Kaše is off to an impressive rookie season. Kaše, a member of the Chomutov Pirates' Extraliga team, has more ice-time than Jenyš and more points, as well.
Born in November, 1995 in Kadaň, a small town of 20,000 roughly 20 kilometres southwest of Chomutov, Kaše seems to have been destined to become a hockey player since the very beginning. His father Robert played hockey, as well, representing their hometown in the second-highest Czech league. Later on, he would spend five season playing in Germany and recently he has become Chomutov's assistant coach in the Extraliga after only a couple of months as head coach of the organization's Under-16 team.
Ondřej grew up in Kadaň, but big talent needs a big organization to be cultivated. Nearby Chomutov was a good choice, not only because it was a short drive home, but the Pirates also have a reputation for being one of the more successful and honest junior hockey clubs in the country.
After a couple of seasons on their Under-16 team's roster, Kaše debuted as a 15-year-old in the Under-18 Extraliga in early 2011, ending that season with six points in eight games. After that, he would become a regular with the Under-18 team and in 2011-12, he scored 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points in 38 games.
In addition to that, Kaše became a full-time member of the Czech Under-17 national team with which he traveled to the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
Naturally for a 1995-born player, the 2012-13 campaign was the most vital of his junior years. It was his last chance to appear at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and at the Under-18 WJC. He started the season well in August, scoring five points in five games of the Ivan Hlinka. Then, he returned to play in the Under-18 Extraliga, only to be promoted to the Under-20 team quite early into the season. At that level, he ended up with 16 points in 22 games for that season.
Also, Kaše had a rare chance of playing for his hometown of Kadaň, which still has the 1. liga team that has been a lower-league affiliation for the Chomutov Pirates. Appearing in nine games, he scored two goals and added an assist.
Both in Chomutov and with the Under-18 team, Kaše is usually paired with his long-time linemate, David Kämpf. They have played together since very early in their careers and continue to do so at the Extraliga level. Kämpf, currently with two points in 26 Extraliga games, was eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft, but fell short of a selection despite being considered by many to be the top Czech-based forward.
The two also played together at the 2013 Under-18 World Junior Championship in Sochi, Russia, combining for three goals and four assists.
This year, a lot has changed for both of the youngsters. Neither of the two has played a single game for any of Chomutov's junior teams, instead appearing in the Extraliga and down in Kadaň, as well. Kaše is en route to a much better season at this level, having five points in 19 games in a season that could decide his future. Scouts are watching as he's considered one of top Czech-based players available for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Much will depend on what happens at the Under-20 World Junior Championship in Malmö, Sweden that begins later this month, assuming Kaše even makes that squad. After a disaster of a tournament in Novogorsk, Russia, in November, the roster might change for the main junior event of the season. Kaše is still expected to be a part of the Czech WJC roster, however.
Hockey's Future: You just turned eighteen a couple of days ago. What's the feeling of playing in the Extraliga at this age?
Ondřej Kaše: It's unbelievable, of course. If someone told me last season that I would play for our first team in Chomutov, I would have told him that he had gone crazy. I'm happy that I was given the chance and that I've been able to stay with the team, there's no question.
HF: However, you play just about five minutes per game. Don't you think it would be better for you to play in Kadaň or among juniors and get more ice-time?
OK: It's good to be playing here. I would love to play both here and in Kadaň. That would be best for my development.
HF: One of your linemates is David Kämpf. What do you think about your chemistry?
OK: I think we understand each other well, we've played together for a couple of years already, both in our club and at the national-team level.
HF: He was with you and the Under-20 national team in Novogorsk in early November at the Four Nations Tournament. What can you say about the event?
OK: We didn't play a good tournament, but I don't think that our line – me, David (Kämpf) and Jakub Vrána – played bad. Our line scored at least a goal in every game and we were on the ice for just one allowed goal.
HF: So you played on one line with Jakub Vrána. That must feel good, right?
OK: Yes, I think so. We understand each other and we played at the Under-18 WJC together last year.
HF: Do you think that the team will remain intact for the Under-20 WJC?
OK: We were told that there would be a lot of changes.
HF: Jakub Vrána said that it's not good for him to think about the draft right now. Is it the same for you?
HF: And how would you describe your playing style?
OK: I play with the puck often and I try to do my best in one-on-one battles. I think I'm also a strong player in the offensive zone in general.
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