2016 NHL Draft Preview: A few Czech selection possibilities, but Slovakia lacks homegrown prospects

By Derek O'Brien
Ondrej Najman - Czech Republic - 2015 World Junior A Challenge

Photo: Dukla Jihlava forward and 2016 prospect Ondrej Najman competed for the Czech Republic in international play in 2015-16, performing well at both the World Junior A Challenge and the U18 World Championship (courtesy of Tim Bates/OJHL Images)

 

 

As has been the case for a number of years, very few of the top NHL Draft prospects from the Czech Republic and Slovakia play at home nowadays. The top Czechs for this year’s draft play in North America, but there will be at least one homegrown talent who is sure to be drafted, along with a handful of probable late-rounders.

The situation in Slovakia is more dire as it is unlikely there will be any players from that country picked in the 2016 NHL Draft. There are a few Slovak possibilities, but these play either in Sweden or the Czech Republic. Despite the efforts of their national youth development program, stay-at-home Slovak talent is even less likely to be selected on June 24th or 25th in Buffalo.

Czech Republic

Regardless of where they come from, the top Czech 1998-born prospects seem to be defensemen. Four of the top five Czechs in North America are rearguards, starting with Libor Hajek – 31st among North American skaters – who played 24 Czech Extraliga games with Kometa Brno in 2014-15 before heading to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. The Prince Albert Raiders have a couple of draft-eligible Czechs – left-winger Simon Stransky is ranked 48th and defenseman Vojtech Budik is 90th. As well, defender Ondrej Kachyna of the Hamilton Bulldogs and Ondrej Vala of the Kamloops Blazers are ranked 101st and 102nd, respectively.

The top-ranked Czech at home is also a defenseman, and is projected to be a mid-round pick.

Below are the top prospects from the Czech Republic for the 2016 NHL Draft.

1. Filip Hronek – D – Shoots: Right – 6’0”, 163 lbs.
CSS European Rank #8
November 2, 1997, Hradec Kralove, CZE

Filip Hronek wasn’t drafted in 2015, his first season of eligibility, but his 2015-16 campaign has virtually assured that won’t happen again as he is pegged to be a third-rounder by most projections. The slender-but-speedy defenseman played 40 games for Hradec Kralove in the Czech Extraliga, where he recorded four assists and was a +3. He was also +3 at the World Junior Championship in Finland, where he recorded two assists in five games, and was by some accounts the team’s best defenseman. The lack of bulk on his frame means he is still some time away from the NHL, so what he does in the coming seasons is crucial. He doesn’t currently have a contract for 2016-17, but he will most likely return to Hradec Kralove for a full season. Other options include North American junior, where he still has a season of eligibility, or the KHL, where he was recently drafted by Salavat Yulayev Ufa.

While Hronek is probably the only Czech- or Slovak-based player that can be considered a sure thing to be drafted, there are a handful of players that are probable mid-to-late-rounders:

2. Daniel Kurovsky – RW – Shoots: Right – 6’3”, 198 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #29
March 4, 1998, Karvina, CZE

Daniel Kurovsky has shown himself to be a defenseman with decent size for his age and a big shot from the point. Over the past two seasons in the Czech U18 and U20 levels he has scored 60 goals in 101 games, many of them on the power play. Depending on the outcome of the CHL Import Draft, he is another player that could find himself in North America for the 2016-17 season.

3. Ondrej Najman – LW – Shoots: Right – 6’1”, 187 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #30
January 30, 1998, Jihlava, CZE

A skilled center, Ondrej Najman recorded 46 points in 41 games his first season in the Czech U20 Extraliga with his hometown Jihlava team. He was also the top scorer for the Czech team coached by Robert Reichel at the 2016 U18 World Championship with six points in five games. He has signed on with BK Mlada Boleslav in 2016-17, where he is expected to make his pro debut in the Extraliga and might get a chance to perform on the European stage in the Champions Hockey League.

4. Josef Korenar – G – Catches: Left – 6’1”, 172 lbs.
CSS European Goalies Rank #4
January 31, 1998, Jihlava, CZE

A long-time teammate of Najman, Josef Korenar is one of two Czech goalies likely to be picked, although it is a bit of a toss-up which one will go first. Korenar is the higher-ranked of the two based on his play last season which earned him the starting job on the U18 national team. He is slated to make his professional debut in 2016-17 with Dukla Jihlava of the WSM Liga, which is the second-highest league in the country.

5. Adam Brizgala – G – Catches: Left – 6’0”, 209 lbs.
CSS European Goalies Rank #7
June 19th, 1998, Prague, CZE

At the start of the season, Adam Brizgala was ranked second among European goalies and was considered the top potential Czech draft prospect, but dropped to seventh due to the fact that his season was severely hampered by injuries. If he is able to make a full recovery and regain his form, he could be a steal in the fifth round or later. He has been drafted by the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL.

6. Jiri Karafiat – RW/C – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 170 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #38
July 7, 1998, Zlin, CZE

Another player who impressed with his offensive flare at the U18 World Championship, Jiri Karafiat produced nearly a point per game in his first U20 Extraliga season. This coming season, the slender forward will try to crack the lineup of PSG Zlin’s A-team, but he may want to add some bulk to his frame if he is to survive at the pro game or alleviate the concerns of NHL scouts.

The further you get down the line, the harder it is to pinpoint if and where a player could be taken, but there are definitely a few more Czechs that could be drafted.

7. Dominik Lakatos – C – Shoots: Left – 5’11”, 179 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #89
April 8th, 1997, Liberec, CZE

A 19-year-old, Dominik Lakatos wasn’t on the radar at all for the 2015 NHL Draft, but moved himself into the conversation for this year with a fine season as a rookie pro, playing a role as a third-line center in Bili Tygri Liberec’s championship season. If he can follow that up with a solid sophomore campaign, he could eventually find himself lured overseas.

8. Milan Davidek – LW – Shoots: Left – 6’2”, 187 lbs.
CSS European Skaters Rank #98
May 16, 1998, Prague, CZE

Milan Davidek has shown promise with Karlovy Vary’s U18 and U20 teams, and he even made his international debut at the U18 level this past season, scoring three goals in 17 total games. However, his overall sample size against elite opponents is too small to be sure of just yet. The fact that he consistently scores more goals than assists indicates he’s a shoot-first winger.

Slovakia

As for the Slovaks, nobody is ranked higher than 1997-born Filip Lestan, who plays in Sweden for HV71 Jonkoping and, ranked 74th among European skaters, is far from a sure thing. The next pair on the list both play junior in the Czech U20 Extraliga – forward Samuel Solensky in Liberec, who was the captain of Slovakia’s U18 national team, and defenseman Vojtech Zelenak of Sparta Prague, one of the alternates. Ranked 116th and 124th, they are even less likely to be chosen.

Between 129th and 148th are seven players who all play domestically in Slovakia, led by three players who all spent at least part of last season with one or both of Slovakia’s U18 and U20 national development teams – center Peter Bjalonicek and defenseman Martin Krempasky, both from the Poprad club, and 20-year-old forward Juraj Siska, who played for Slovan Bratislava in the KHL at the tail end of last season, and is signed with the club for 2016-17 season. If Siska is able to produce there, it could raise his stock for next season.

All told, the top 150-ranked European skaters includes 22 players based in the Czech Republic and seven based in Slovakia. Korenar and Brizgala are the only goalies ranked among the top 15.

Follow Derek O’Brien on Twitter via @Derek_J_OBrien