With the regular season for European clubs having wrapped up and the playoffs having begun, a feel for the NHL Draft prospects available this summer has led to a fairly clear ranking for the neighboring countries of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In a normal scenario, there would likely be a mention of players such as Czechs Simon Stransky and Vojtech Budik (both Prince Albert Raiders), Libor Hajek (Saskatoon Blades), Radek Koblizek (Karpat U20) and Ondrej Vala (Kamloops Blazers) at this juncture, but each of these young men is currently playing abroad. The same can be said of Slovaks Radek Hecl (Lulea U20), Lukas Durkech (Cologne U20), and penalty minute machine Filip Lestan (HV71). In particular, Hajek is seen as a possible first rounder for the 2016 NHL Draft and was a player many in the international community had hoped to see at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
With this in mind, all eyes have been increasingly focused on Czech and Slovak players dotting the lineups of several up-and-coming junior programs, namely the Bigli Tigri Liberec, which has clearly established itself as the most ambitious program in the Czech Republic. The majority of these players have also had the chance to test their mettle in the pro ranks in some capacity over the course of this season, and for some, this may be more so the case in the playoffs.
Below is an early look at the Top 10 prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
1. Filip Hronek, D (CZE)
Only 6-foot and 165 pounds, Filip Hronek has had quite an active season, suiting up for the Hradec Kralove men’s and junior teams, Czech national U20 squad, and HC Litomerice of the Czech second league. With four assists and a +5 rating in 34 Czech Extraliga contests, Filip has shown the ability to apply a strong understanding for the game to what is becoming an everyday job. His four points in 12 second league games are enhanced by 14 points in 11 U20 league games, further affirming that his strengths ultimately lie in the offensive contributions he can make from the blueline.
Apt with his first pass, his season’s progress earned him a spot on the Czech Republic’s 2016 WJC squad, for whom he admirably collected two assists and a +3 rating in five outings. This made him one of the most notable performers from that team.
At this juncture, Hronek is clearly the most interesting draft-eligible hailing from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
2. Samuel Solensky, F (SVK)
Just a little tot, Samuel Solensky has been around the international scene for a while now. Already a member of the U18 national team as a 16-year-old, Solensky has spent the last two seasons playing for Czech club Bili Tygri Liberec, where he and his 5’9”, 170-pound frame have gone about creating a very solid, all-around game. In this season, he has even gone from more of a set-up man to a goal scorer, having registered 22 goals, 39 points, and a +13 rating in 34 U20 league games.
Very good in the corners and able to turn on a dime, Solensky’s size continues to be seen as something that could hold him back on the NHL front. Nonetheless, there have been few Slovak forwards since Marko Dano (WPG) and Martin Reway (MTL) who have made this much noise on the Slovak front. Above-average in most facets of the game, Solensky has a keen on-ice sense and usually finds the open man. Able to drag the puck just long enough to keep opponents guessing, what he lacks in size is made up for in agility and wherewithal.
Solensky will likely need an eye-popping U18 World Championship performance to etch his name firmly in the draft lists of NHL teams.
3. Filip Suchy, F (CZE)
It is very possible that a number of scouts see Filip Suchy as the top prospect hailing from the Czech Republic and Slovakia this summer, and perhaps even hold him to be better than a number of Czechs who are currently plying their trade abroad.
All Suchy has done is go about being the most productive player in Czech U20 play as a 17- and 18-year old. To date he has put up 29 goals and 62 points for Plzen in 42 games of U20 league play. The feisty forward has accompanied that production with 75 penalty minutes and a +16 rating. This has gone a long way in seeing the pro team feel comfortable suiting Suchy up for five games of Extraliga play, where he has a -1 rating and has failed to register a point to date.
Despite possessing plenty of skill and more than enough gumption to mix things up physically, Suchy is still only 5’8” and a stubby 172 pounds. Despite impressive play, Suchy will not be eligible for the U18 World Championship and looks to be a likely candidate to slip through the grade this summer.
4. Kristian Reichel, F (CZE)
Coming into the season, much was expected of Kristian Reichel, the son of former NHL scorer Robert Reichel. To say he hasn’t lived up to the billing would be a tough statement to make, but it has definitely been a tough season with some ups and downs.
With six points in two U18 league games, it didn’t last long for Reichel to remain a fixture for Litvinov’s U20 squad, where his father serves as the head coach. In 28 games, Reichel has chipped in 17 goals and 24 points in 28 games, lacking considerably in the offensive department in comparison to many of his draft-eligible brethren. A 155-pound frame may not be helping matters.
Nonetheless, he is a player who lives on his smarts and this has helped him adjust fairly well to Czech Extraliga play. For the big team, Reichel has collected four points (three goals) and a -3 rating while playing a lower-line role over 13 games. He kicked off the season for the Czech Republic at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he chipped in three points in four games, and very much expected to receive a top-nine role for the nation’s U18 national team in North Dakota.
In light of his genes and his early apprenticeship in pro hockey, chances are fairly good that Reichel’s name will be called at some point in this summer’s draft.
5. Ondrej Najman, F (CZE)
For Ondrej Najman, the season has been one of ups and downs. Clearly possessing some attributes that would indicate he is in line for a decent pro career, the 6’1”, 187-pound forward has spent the entirety of the season playing for Dukla Jihlava’s U20 squad, save for a one-goal, -3 performance at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. In 36 games, the relatively quick and burly forward has registered 16 goals and 39 points along with 28 penalty minutes and a nice +11 rating. This is coming on the tails of a 52-point, +25 season in 44 games for the U18 squad in 2014-15.
Having been part of the Czech national program for the past three seasons, Najman is a strong candidate to be in North Dakota next month for the U18 tournament and will need to contribute with some brawn in addition to adding a scoring touch, something he has done at a healthy clip in recent seasons.
A member of the Dukla Jihlava system his entire life, former Toronto Maple Leafs pick Patrick Augusta is not only his uncle, but also his current coach.