2015 NHL Draft Preview: Cernak leads slim crop of prospects from Slovakia

By Chapin Landvogt
Erik Cernak - Team Slovakia

Photo: HC Kosice defenseman and 2015 prospect Erik Cernak appeared in 43 games in Slovakia’s top league, posting five goals and 13 points in 2014-15 (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

 

When Slovakia beat Sweden 3-1 to kick off the 2015 U18 World Championship, it was very much looking like the year of Slovakian junior success would continue. A thoroughly unexpected bronze medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship was a huge success for an ice hockey nation that faces many developmental challenges, especially in the financial department.

But the U18 tournament didn’t bring any further success of note to a Slovakian club that showed many faces throughout the tournament, and ultimately bowed out to Finland in the first round of the playoffs.

With respect to the 2015 NHL Draft, fans shouldn’t expect too much coming out of Slovakia this summer, although several interesting players could one day end up being quite the catch. The draft class itself isn’t all that deep for the Slovaks, but one shouldn’t forget that University of North Dakota commit Matej Tomek, who spent this past season putting up very solid numbers for the Topeka RoadRunners of the NAHL, is likely the best Slovak available in this draft and widely considered the country’s long-term international starter moving forward.

Ironically, U18 goaltender Adam Huska, who spent most of the season in Slovakia playing for the nation’s U18 program that plays against a myriad of teams in various leagues, is also considered a North American prospect because he spent six games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. A very tall 6’3”, Huska may not be drafted this season, but likely would have been ranked much higher had he remained in Europe. As such, there are three talented Slovakian goalies available in this draft.

Here’s a look at Slovakia’s draft class this summer and where Hockey’s Future feels you can expect to see the players taken (Draft rank position prediction).

1. Erik Cernak – D – Shoots: Right – 6’3”, 205 lbs.
CSS European Rank #16
May 28th, 1997

 

Not necessarily appreciated by everyone in the scouting community, Erik Cernak is an all-around defenseman who has been known to scouts internationally for no less than three years. Big-bodied with even more room to grow, Cernak has a right-handed shot from the blueline that he loves to make use of and is always ready to throw his weight around. Seen as a prodigy of sorts in Slovakia, he was already a top four defenseman this past season for the Slovakian champion HC Kosice and also proved at the WJC, his second, that he is very ready to do what is necessary to win.

A heavy checker, Cernak’s biggest area of improvement this winter has been in his passing decisions and general reading of the game, as some baffling mistakes in earlier years often overshadowed his raw abilities. That seems to be coming around now, though, and with all the tools Cernak has, one has to wonder where he’d be ranked had he been able to play at the U18 tournament.

This past season was otherwise one to remember for the mature defenseman, as he put up five goals, 13 points, and a +7 rating in 43 regular season games in garnering that top four defensive role. He also added an assist and +6 rating in seven playoff games before getting injured. This came on the heels of two assists and a +1 rating for the bronze medal-winning Slovaks.

When he was 15, Cernak looked like a guy who would be a top 20 candidate for this summer’s draft. A work in progress, he’s gotten a ton of international experience and has already completed a full season of pro hockey. If you’re looking for guys in later rounds who may be every bit as good as some of the defensemen going between 20-45 this summer, then he’s the guy.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 45-80.

2. Denis Godla – G – Catches: Left – 5’11”, 176 lbs.
CSS European Goalie Rank #7
Apr. 4th, 1995

Fairly unknown for a long time, Denis Godla turned the 2015 WJC into his coming out party and quickly became an international fan favorite.

A truly likeable kid with a great deal of enthusiasm, Godla has made the most of getting lots of playing time in recent years at various levels. His athleticism is what sets him apart at this point and the quick reactions it allows him have already led to early success, as evidenced by the bronze medal at the WJC. Godla’s strength tends to be mental toughness. A strong belief in his ability instills his teammates with a level of trust that simply picks up a team. Godla just doesn’t like to give up on a play and he likes to attack the shooters and cut down their angles and the passing near and around the net. His stick is active, and strong lateral movement and the ability to bounce back up quickly make him enticing for teams whose transition game is a quick one.

A guy who likes to eat up pucks well in limiting rebounds, Godla had an eventful winter. In five KHL games with Slovan Bratislava, he solely managed a 5.17 goals-against and .839 save percentage in four games, quickly seeing himself playing for Piestany in the Slovakian league, where he put up a milder 3.10 goals-against and .922 save percentage in four games. Spending a good chunk of the season with the U20 team that plays against pros, he got into 16 games and put up a 3.19 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. What he was truly capable of against his peers became more evident when he played seven playoff games for Slovan’s U20 team, sporting a 2.89 goals-against and .911 save percentage.

Of course, fans will remember him most for his play with the Slovakian team at the WJC. In addition to the heroics, his 2.76 goals-against average and .926 save percentage were the main difference between gaining a medal or not. And it was that his performance at that tournament that will likely be his draft ticket.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 120-180.

3. Radovan Bondra – F – Shoots: Left – 6’5”, 218 lbs.
CSS European Goalie Rank #34
Jan. 27th, 1997

Possessing the type of size and frame that attracts NHL attention no matter how you look at it, Radovan Bondra is thickly built and terribly difficult to deal with when he’s concentrated and making use of that body effectively. A strong and quick skater for his size, Bondra has quite a winter behind him, having been part of the bronze medal-winning team at the WJC, going scoreless in a third-line role, and then a third-line winger for champion HC Kosice to finish off the season. Bondra alos collected two goals, four points and a +6 rating in 15 regular season games for Kosice before adding another goal and three points in 15 playoff games.

Bondra’s season concluded with a big role on the nation’s U18 team, a performance that showed he’s still quite a work in progress and has a good ways to go before he’ll be a leader or go-to guy. The tools are nonetheless there. His shot can be a rocket and he loves to drive to the net from the outside, often overpowering opposing defensemen when they aren’t awake. What is questioned is his on-ice intelligence and ability to stay out of the penalty box at inopportune times. While playing with the nation’s U18 program this winter, he collected 47 penalty minutes in just 17 games (along with six goals and 12 points). Still learning to make better decisions with more regularity, he can bring his own team into trouble when he’s frustrated, which isn’t seldom.

To this point, Bondra has looked best when surrounded by older, more experienced players, where he just fits in as a joker of sorts who brings a hustling, physical aspect. This said, he’s become a highly effective penalty killer who uses his size and reach well, already priding himself in being more than competent in his own zone. Despite Slovakia’s mediocre performance, he did score a goal and four points and managed a +1 rating. It’s hard to think that a team won’t grab him on Draft Day based on that size and skating alone, maybe even before the fifth round begins.

Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 100-180.

Other Slovaks of note

It’s not seen as a huge year for Slovaks draftwise, but a few players may have impressed enough along the way. Trencin defenseman Andrej Hatala is an average-sized player at 5’11” and 187 pounds, but has a right-handed shot and plays a very intelligent game. Only average at the U18 tournament, he was a mainstay for the nation’s U18 club over the winter and also got into 17 games with first league Dukla Trencin, collecting 10 penalty minutes and a -6 rating in the process.

A bit bigger is fellow defenseman Andrej Vadovic, who measures in at 6’2” and 194 pounds and also took on a top four role at the U18 tournament, gathering an assist and -4 rating in five games. A good frame and a player who likes to play carefully, Vadovic spent most of the winter with the various national teams, for whom he often collected a healthy amount of penalty minutes. His true talent to date was put on display with three assists and a +5 rating in 15 playoff games with Slovan Bratislava’s U18 participant.

Defensive center Boris Sadecky was a top six forward for the U18 WC team and played a fairly responsible game. Back home, he could only muster nine points in 33 games with the national team, but is seen as an attentive and heady player who possesses all the basic skills to grow into a bigger role moving forward.

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin