2015 NHL Draft: Godla on the rise as group of Czech, Slovak and German prospects gain some ground

By Chapin Landvogt

Denis Godla - Team Slovakia - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: SHK 37 Piestany goaltender and 2015 prospect Denis Godla was named the top goaltender of the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship after leading Slovakia to a bronze medal (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

It’s been a bit of a slow winter on the central European prospect front, and in general, there has been some concern over the past 5+ years in the overall lack of development of players coming from the Czech Republic and, in particular, Slovakia and Germany. All three countries have seen a rapid decline in the production of high-end talents, with many of their stronger players already choosing to head primarily to North America or Sweden by the time they are 16 years old.

Germany has been able to work on the breadth of its national program after having instituted a top junior circuit called the DNL, but bigger talents such as a Leon Draisaitl seem to only come once every blue moon and only if their developmental path takes them to North America by the time they’re 17.

In the meantime, however, the Czech Republic has been able to start solidifying its developmental program to a degree after financial situations in the country starting with the fall of “The Wall” and the end of Communism a good 25 years ago have been accompanied by a downward spiral in player development at home. But the Czechs garnered a silver medal at the 2014 U18 tournament in Finland, and some of the young players on that team have become of interest to NHL teams despite remaining in their home country this season. That can’t be said of David Pastrnak (BOS), Jakub Vrana (WSH) or a number of players looking to be taken this summer who decided to spend this season playing in the CHL, such as QMJHL prospects Jakub Zboril and Filip Chlapik, both expected to be top 60 picks this summer.

The same situation has been the case recently in Slovakia, but even worse from a financial standpoint. The move to other countries has also been seen here with recent Slovakian players of note, as Martin Reway (MTL via QMJHL) and Peter Cehlarik (BOS via Sweden) were cogs in Slovakia’s recent bronze medal appearance at the WJC. Christian Jaros can also be drafted this summer, but is currently in the midst of his second season in Sweden, having already seen action in 18 SHL contests. Nonetheless, a very positive sign was that a whole bunch of the bronze medal talent had been playing together in Slovakia’s U20 program project that gets many of the country’s best youngsters together and playing in the nation’s top league. The results have been less than convincing in recent years, but the nation was finally able to see some fruits for their labors this winter.

2015 Draft prospects of note at midseason

Slovakia

Starting off with the nation coming fresh off such a big boost, there seems to be little doubt that the 2015 World Junior Championship’s top goalie, Denis Godla, is now on the NHL map. His medal-garnering appearance came on the strength of a 2.76 goals-against average and .915 save percentage, but most importantly, he showed the propensity to make both incredible saves and incredibly well-timed saves. His composure and us-against-the-world mentality could not be overseen and made him a fan favorite in the motherland of hockey. With the WJC over, Godla is now splitting time between Slovan Bratislava of the KHL and SHK 37 Piestany of his country’s home Extraliga. He currently is ranked 4th by the NHL’s Central Scouting Services (CSS) among European goalies.

His teammate Erik Cernak also solidified his profile through the WJC, taking on a top-4 role on defense and again showing the moxy and wherewithal people have come to expect while cutting down on the errors he’s been known to make in recent international tournaments. At 6’3” and 203 pounds, he’s already got the type of build teams love to have on the blueline, and he’s been playing at the U20 and U18 levels for Slovakia since he was 15. Well known in the scouting community, he’s spent this year taking a regular shift for the Slovakian league’s powerhouse Kosice club, for whom he has eight points and a +2 rating in 35 games. Ranked 24th by CSS among European skaters, there is little doubt this project will be off the board by the end of the fourth round this summer, as the size, skill set, offensive upside, and readiness to play the game any way necessary in all three zones are at a level that few Slovakian defensemen have brought in the last 15 years.

A little ways down the chart is one of the draft’s rawest, yet most interesting prospects in Radovan Bondra. No relation to the famous Peter Bondra, Radovan is a huge 6’5” and 212 pounds, and entices with an ability to move forwards, backwards, and laterally in a manner uncharacteristic for a boy his size still adjusting to growth spurts. Having not yet found his offensive game, Bondra has loads of offensive instincts and knows very well to use his body to protect the puck. He wasn’t able to get his name on the scoresheet at the WJC, but he’s joined Kosice since returning to Slovakia and has a goal and +4 rating in seven games. The combination of his size, speed, and nose for the net would make him quite the late-round gem, should no team want to take a chance on him at an earlier juncture.

Czech Republic

Although several Czech talents have made their way to play elsewhere, one of Europe’s top-ranked players has not. Michael Spacek (no relation to former NHL defenseman Jaroslav Spacek), was lights out for the Czech Republic in winning silver at the 2014 U18 tournament in Finland with seven points and a +3 rating. The crafty right-shooting forward who can play all three positions has been nothing short of impressive this season, taking a regular shift for Pardubice of the Czech Extraliga, for whom he has five goals and 11 points in 37 games. An average 5’11” and 187 pounds, he’s incredibly difficult to remove from the puck and may all in all not be all that much different a player than David Pastrnak, which could make another NHL team very happy in the first round. Look for him to continue his +2 WJC performance as the Czech Republic’s go-to guy at the U18 tournament in Switzerland.

Not far behind him, ranked 10th in Europe by CSS is David Kase (roughly pronounced Kah-shay), another WJC attendee whose +3 appearance was quite impressive. With five points in seven games last spring, he too was crucial to the Czech Republic’s silver medal victory and has, like Spacek, spent this season playing pro hockey at home, for Chomutov of the country’s second league, for whom the smallish center has seven goals, 14 points and a +11 in 30 games. Slick and tricky, his skill set leaves few wishes open, but his 5’9” and 160-pound frame could keep his NHL interest minimal unless he tears things apart to conclude the season. His brother Ondrej Kase was drafted in the seventh round last summer by the Anaheim Ducks.

Ranked 20th by Central Scouting is another Extraliga tyke in Lukas Jasek, who’ll first turn 18 in August of this year. He has a year of hockey for Sodertalje in Sweden under his belt and also participated in last spring’s U18 tournament. This season, he has two assists in 23 games for Trinec in the country’s top league and is thought of as a likely first liner at the U18 tournament in Switzerland. The 6’1”, 172 pounder is a kid you may see in the CHL next season, whether taken by an NHL team this summer or not.

Very fascinating at the moment is Europe’s #2 ranked goaltender, Daniel Vladar. He’s a giant at 6’5” and 185 pounds and has been playing for Kladno in the country’s second pro league. There he has an incredibly impressive 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. He was part of the WJC team, even if he didn’t see any action. These numbers even top the impressively similar numbers he put up in seven games for the club’s U20 team. Still a work in progress, the size-skill ratio is mighty enticing at the moment and a medal performance at the U18 could be all he needs to be an NHL property come July. Like Jasek, he’ll first be 18 in August.

CSS has ranked 11 other Czech players in its top 120 hailing from Europe with the most notable being overager David Kampf. A veteran of one U18 and two U20 WJCs, the 6’2” and 192-pound winger has yet to have been selected by an NHL team. With 11 goals, 24 points, and a +17 rating in 44 games for Chomutov of the second league, it’s strongly felt that the player with power forward qualities will make his way to North America at some point.

Germany

After a WJC to forget and pretty much the most unceremonious relegation since, well, the last time Germany was relegated, overagers Dominik Kahun, Kai Wissmann, and Jonas Muller are the most interesting among the German prospects available this summer.

All three were at the WJC, and Kahun actually just finished his third appearance at the tournament. More importantly, all three have seen time in the DEL this season, with Muller leading the pack in that department with a goal, seven points and a +4 rating in 22 games with Eisbaren Berlin. Teammate Wissmann has only played four games in the bigs, but put up 14 points in eight DNL games before finding himself a spot as a mainstay in the DEL2, where he’s played regularly in 22 games and has six assists and 37 penalty minutes for his efforts. A veteran of the U18 squad in Finland where he chipped in three assists, Wissmann is actually felt to be an offensive defenseman in the making, but this was said of Tim Bender not too long ago, as well.

Former almost life-long linemate to Leon Draisaitl, Kahun is ranked 83rd overall in Europe and if it weren’t for his 5’10” and 172-pound frame, some feel he’d have been a draft pick in recent years. A very intelligent player with nifty moves and a real ability to make those around him better, he has four points and eight penalty minutes in 26 DEL games this year after starting the season off with nine points in nine DEL2 games.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if these three players go undrafted this summer, but find their way to NHL programs as unrestricted free agents at some point in their young career, much like fellow German David Wolf is currently doing with the Calgary Flames.

Still, the most interesting player coming out of Germany this winter is DNL forward Alexander Lambacher, a German-speaking Italian hailing from the gorgeous Tyrolean town of Brixen who is currently spending his third season in the Mannheim junior ranks. Already 6’2” and 170 pounds, he’s been able do his thing in the DNL at will this season and leads his top-ranked team and the league with 22 goals and 45 points in 29 games. He also had five points in five games for Italy at the D1A U20 tournament before Christmas. A go-to-the-net player in the power forward mold, his linemate Julian Napravnik is your classic playmaker and likely would be leading the way in scoring on his own had he not been slowed down by injury. He currently has 19 goals and 45 points in 26 games for Mannheim and seems to be an absolute lock for the country’s WJC squad.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin