The 2015 NHL Draft is looking like a pretty decent one for players born and raised in the Czech Republic, although some of the best didn’t actually spend the season playing in their native country.
Expected to go in the first round is the hulking power forward Pavel Zacha, a player whose size and raw skills will likely make a team drafting 7th-17th very happy this summer as he is currently ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the 8th overall North American. Talked about for years, Zacha has been representing his country at the U18 World Championship since having just turned 16 in 2013 and scored five goals for his country at this spring’s tournament. He has also competed for the Czech Republic participated in two U20 World Junior Championships. His play and achievements to date have some thinking he may end up being better than his highly-touted landsmen, Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak.
Of course, Zacha is not alone amongst Czechs in North America as defenseman Jakub Zboril (ranked 12th in North America) and forward Filip Chlapik (18th in North America) could also end up being first round picks this summer. Both have enjoyed the kinds of CHL seasons that have proven beyond a doubt that they have a very good shot at one day excelling in the NHL. Forward Jiri Fronk is 6’2”, 200 pounds and eligible for the draft one final time and coming off a 29-goal season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL. The 6’3”, 185-pound defensive defenseman Daniel Krenzelok won’t turn 18 until July 29th, but completed a full season with the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL before assuming a physical role for his country at the U18. Each of these players could hear their names called on draft weekend, but are considered North American prospects.
With this in mind, several Czech-based players surely will be of good interest for NHL teams. Here’s a look at the top five for the upcoming NHL Draft and where Hockey’s Future expects them to be taken come draft weekend.
1. Michael Spacek – F – Shoots: Right – 5’11”, 187 lbs.
CSS European Rank #5
Apr. 9th, 1997
Pound for pound, Michael Spacek is one of the more interesting and complete players in the draft. A mid-sized, right-shooting forward who plays an extremely intelligent game that is based on sound positioning, strong on-ice vision, a good read for the game, and an ability to manage the puck very well, Spacek rarely makes plays that lead to turnovers. Despite the general lack of size, it is very difficult to separate him from the puck and he knows just when to twist and turn his way out of trouble. Definitely a character player, he tends to be someone a coach places a good bit of trust in. And, although his offense moving forward does seem to be a question mark, this is not because he doesn’t have extremely qualified hands and an ability to both shoot and pass at the right time.
The kind of talent that may remind some scouts of Tomas Plekanec, Spacek had an eventful season for his country after having put up seven points in seven silver medal-winning games at the 2014 U18 World Championship. This year, he had a heavier load to carry and put up one goal, five points and a +3 in five U18 games. He also had a lower line role for the WJC club, getting one assist and a +2 in five games. Back home, Spacek spent just about the entire season in the Extraliga, collecting five goals and 12 points in 44 games for Pardubice. He also had seven points and 38 penalty minutes in five games for the club’s U20 team before chipping in six points and a +3 in four U18 playoff games. In a season with some transition and requiring Spacek to take on more responsibility, if there are any warning signs, they came with his -12 rating for Pardubice, but this is not uncommon for an 18 year old playing against men.
There’s little doubt he’ll be the first Czech taken out of the Czech Republic. If a team can grab him in the fourth round, they’d have themselves quite a good player at that juncture.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 45-80.
2. Daniel Vladar – G – Catches: Left – 6’5”, 185 lbs.
CSS European Rank (Goalies) #2
Aug. 20th, 1997
His 6’5” height allows him to stick out considerably, but Daniel Vladar’s somewhat slight frame doesn’t hinder him from getting around in his goal crease adeptly, as he can be very athletic. He is nonetheless a controlled goaltender who has clearly spent time developing and fine-tuning the little things that allow him to take away space and angles while recovering quickly. This schooling will need to continue, because he has a tendency to make incredible saves, only to then allow pucks in that should be much easier to stop.
One of the top-rated goalies in Europe, Vladar’s feet do a lot of the work in blocking and sliding along the goal line. The Prague native spent this past season playing for the Kladno organization, primarily serving as the starter for the club’s U20 team, for which he put up a 2.78 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. His playoff showing didn’t compare as he had just a 3.60 goals-against and .892 save percentage and could do little in preventing the team’s early exit. For the second league pro team, he was fantastic in sporting a 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in eight games. On the WJC club but not having seen any games, it was at the U18 where Vladar was on the big stage in strutting his stuff. Unfortunately, the tournament didn’t prove to be his – or the Czech Republic’s – shining moment. There, he had a 3.38 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
Questionable as to what this will mean for his NHL chances, any team taking him will be doing so on the belief of his promise moving forward as he hasn’t yet separated himself from a large class of interesting goaltenders. Still, it’s hard to think a club won’t grab him at some point along the way as the tool set has often looked staggering, also going back to the 2013-14 season.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 120-211.
3. David Kase – F – Shoots: Left – 5’11”, 170 lbs.
CSS European Rank #11
Jan. 28th, 1997
Brother of Ondrej Kase, who was grabbed late in the seventh round by the Anaheim Ducks last summer, David is a smallish player who has good hustle in his game and doesn’t refrain from going where it hurts to dig out pucks and create space for his teammates. A strong character player, his speed has improved a good bit in recent years and he has strong acceleration in his first three steps. Coaches feel they can easily entrust him with responsibility in all situations, as his plethora of playing time on the PK and when his team has a tight lead will attest.
Offensively, there are still some questions about how Kase will be producing as a pro player, although he presented himself as an effective point-gatherer internationally heading into this season. For example, he had two goals and four points in seven games for the U18 silver medalists in 2014. This season showed there’s still room to improve. Although Kase was dominant in putting up 12 goals, 27 points and a +12 in just 17 U20 contests for Chomutov, he still looked like a boy in transition in scoring seven goals and 14 points in 31 games with the club’s 2nd league squad. There, he did put an emphasis on being responsible in all three zones and tacked on a +11 rating. Gaining an assist and +3 rating in four WJC contests, Kase was instrumental for the Czechs at the 2015 U18 tournament, where he collected two goals, five points and another +3 rating.
Considered to be a good bit more capable than his older brother, it is felt that Kase’s overall awareness, attention to detail, and scoring upside will lead a team to grab him this summer, but his draft position may not be much different than his brother’s.
Draft rank position prediction: Between spots 91-190.