Vaclav Pletka: Having A Breakout Year

By Bill Meltzer
Vaclav Pletka is by no means a bluechip NHL prospect, nor is he the type of player that one usually associates with the Flyers system. The type of players that the Flyers are drawn to, whether they are North American or European are big, strong players with grit. Well, that’s not Vaclav Pletka. He’s not big. He’s not physical. And although, he’s been improving his all-around game, Pletka is neither a defensive stalwart nor a regular combatant in the trench wars that occur down low in the zone. Moreover, there are questions over whether he is well suited to the game on the smaller North American rink. Nevertheless, the Flyers 7th round pick in the 1999 entry draft (#208 overall) is one of the more intriguing “sleeper” prospects in the NHL. What Vaclav Pletka has to offer is something that no team in the goal-starved NHL can afford to dismiss without taking a closer look; namely, soft hands, a quick shot release, and good ice vision.
The Trinec left winger was one of the few bright spots for the disappointing Czech team at the 1999 World Championships. Pletka clicked with Flyers draftee Tomas Divisek; Plekta collected 6 goals and Divisek 7 assists in the tournament. Their chemistry was surely a factor in the Flyers subsequent selection of Pletka in the later rounds of the ’99 entry draft. This season, Pletka has built on his WJC success to become one of the premier snipers in the Czech Extraleague (the top level of play in the Czech Republic). With the season entering its home stretch, Pletka ranks second in the league in goals scored with 28, trailing only veteran Czech star Jiri Dopita (30 goals to date). Now too old to qualify for the most recent WJC, Pletka may have a shot at one of the few open roster spots for the Czech 2000 World Championship squad.

At the Flyers Wives Fight For Lives Carnival in February, I asked Tomas Divisek his impressions of Pletka. Answering in his rapidly improving English, Divisek said that Pletka is a very clever player with great hands. Although he has not heard whether the Flyers organization plans to bring Pletka over to North America next season, Divisek indicated that he’d very much welcome the chance to play on the same team with Pletka again, adding that he thought Pletka had the ability to score goals in North American, as well as Czech hockey.

Stylistically, Divisek and Pletka are not similar players. Divisek, currently enjoying a strong AHL rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Phantoms, is a more typical Flyers prospect. Divisek is not blessed with great speed but he is quite strong on his skates. A hard worker at both ends of the ice, Divisek has demonstrated somewhat above average offensive skills. He likes to buzz around the net and is willing to muck for the puck in the corners. The smaller, quicker Pletka specializes in hiding himself from the defense and then quickly darting into the seams to take a pass or collect a rebound. Pletka has a better natural finishing touch than does Divisek.

With the general lack of offensive forward prospects in the Flyers system, the chances are strong that the organization will attempt to sign Pletka over the summer and assign him to the Phantoms. Whether they will ever take him seriously as a potential NHLer-and whether Pletka deserves to be regarded as such- remains to be seen. My hope is that the organization does not already have their minds made up about him and will allow his play dictate how far he can rise in the organization.