Czechs in the CHL Top Prospects Game

By Robert Neuhauser
The CHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game, which will take place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,
on January, 31st, 2002, is as usual a great event where the top draft eligible players
square off against each other and try to prove that they are the up- and coming NHL stars
of the future. A major change will take place this year. After six years of coaching the
two previous celebrity coaches step down and new two coaches will take their place. Hall of Famer
Bobby Orr and Hockey Night in Canada legend Don Cherry will be replaced by former NHL goalie
Kelly Hrudey and Dave “Tiger” Williams, who skated with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past. But one
thing won’t change for sure. Presence of the Czech prospects. Highly regarded Czech prospects
have made their way into this event in the previous years, with virtually every of them hearing
his name selected at the NHL Entry Draft (Frantisek Bakrlik being the only exception).
The likes of Jiri Fischer, Pavel Brendl or Filip Novak
dressed up for either Team Orr or Team Cherry in the past years while Lukas Krajicek, Martin
Podlesak, Jiri Jakes and Frantisek Bakrlik competed in the last year’s edition of the event.
This year four
Czech CHL Imports were the lucky ones who will have a taste of this show. Let’s have a look
who is it!

Team Dave “Tiger” Williams

Petr Taticek – the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds rookie raised some eyebrows with his smooth
adjustment to the OHL style of play and he keeps on producing. Taticek, a son of a former
Czech Elite League forward, shows signs of developing into a premiere power forward. He is a perfect blend
of size, skill and toughness and his super-nova OHL debut forced the NHL scouts to take him into account
as a serious first-round prospect. Petr has nearly the same size as former Greyhounds captain
Josef Vasicek, who skates for the Carolina Hurricanes now, but has slightly more skill.
Taticek is a very good skater who can make fast turns and pivots, but his biggest skill is
his stickhandling ability which allows him to make nifty moves and great plays. Taticek is
a naturally talented playmaker with a perfect hockey sense, but also doesn’t hesitate to shoot
the puck. As a bonus to this playmaking package, Taticek doesn’t shy away from the rough
physical play and uses his frame well. Always highly intense, Taticek also won’t hurt you
defensively and has all the tools of a NHL player. Now he looks as a top 15-20 pick, can only
upgrade his status at the Top Prospects Game.

Jakub Klepis – his sudden move to the WHL made some people quite mad back home in his parent
HC Slavia Praha team, but he proves that this decision was good for him. Klepis established
himself among the top WHL rookies soon and his offensive skills enable him to sit near the top
of the WHL rookie scoring race. Jakub is an explosive skater with a great burst of speed
and a hard drive to the net. As a finesse forward, Klepis handles the puck extremly well
and can prepare great chances. He has an accurate wrist shot with a quick release and his
slap shot is also quite hard and accurate. Klepis isn’t a natural playmaker, but his superb
knack for making surprising passes makes him a highly touted talent. On the defensive side
Klepis isn’t a huge factor, he likes to rush forward more than backwards, but no doubt,
a top prospect. Right now he looks as late first-rounder or early second-rounder.

Team Kelly Hrudey

Petr Kanko – the Kitchener Rangers rookie is now finally permitted to shine in the OHL, months
before his parent club HC Sparta Praha demanded his return home, but this year’s tougher
version of Ales Hemsky stays with the Rangers. The offensive sparkplug Kanko showed up at
the last Under-18 WJC, where he led the Czech forwards in scoring as an underage. Kanko
skates like the wind and his turns are great. He is an ultimate offensive power with a
tremendous nose for the net. Kanko knows many ways how to score a goal and is a smooth
puckhandler, very dangerous on powerplay. Once on the puck, Petr tries to score a goal
and prefers shooting to passing. His shooting arsenal is perfect and he knows how to use it.
Petr’s drawbacks are his smallish size and his defensive play, but the speedster knows how to
avoid punishing hits. A player who scored a goal in both of his Czech Extraleague and OHL
debuts is a blue-chipper who will probably crack the top 15.

Martin Vagner – led all QMJHL draft-eligible skaters in the CSB preliminary rankings, ahead
of offensive sensation Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Is the only Czech defenseman in the Top
Prospects Game and also the only Czech to arrive from the ‘Q’. The Hull Olympiques rookie
is a former Pardubice Jr. player and a rearguard with an exceptional talent. Martin posesses
prototypical NHL size and plays a very good two-way game. His size enables him a very good
reach plus Vagner distributes the pucks very effectively. He has a low panic point and can
make great outlet passes. Has a hard shot from the point which is tippable and also posesses
quarterbacking skills. On the defensive side Martin is very mature and tries to keep his
play simple and avoid mistakes. A good hitter uses his body well, but could be more harder
at times. A complete package of defensive awareness and offensive flair, Vagner is a dark
horse who can upgrade his status only. Now looks as a top 20 pick.