2004 prospect story: Jan Danecek

By Robert Neuhauser
The northeast of the Czech Republic is one of the most important hockey regions in the country.
In cities like Havirov, Trinec and Ostrava (Vitkovice is a part of Ostrava) hockey blossoms
and future gems begin often their career there. When looking at the Czech roster from the
previous Four Nations tournament of the Under-16 teams, eight players learn the tools of the
hockey trade either in Trinec, Havirov or Vitkovice. One of them is Jan Danecek, the small
rocket from Trinec.

Jan was born on February, 15th, 1986, in Havirov. At that time only Vitkovice represented
the northeastern region in the Czechoslovakian First League and Havirov wasn’t a hockey mad
city like it is now, when an Extraleague franchise is based there. But Jan Danecek had good
signs of beginning a hockey career. His father, also Jan, is a respected youth coach and he
wanted to give his best into the career of his son.
The little Jan was familiar with the local
rink in Havirov since the very beginning of his life. After just sitting with the relatives
in arena and watching games he was very eager to start playing and be like the other kids
on the ice. His dad supported him from the very first moment and so when the little Jan was
only four years old, he already knew how to skate and could control the puck. The baby-faced
kid with a tremendous portion of natural talent left the 1st grade coaches shake their head
in surprise and he immediately entered the youngest of all Havirov teams, the 1st grade.
His dad Jan became the head coach of the team, which could be a coin of two sides for Jan.
The good side was his dad could give him all the tips and control his development very close.
The bad one then that some people could look at Jan as a player who is on the team only
because of his father being the coach. But the huge portion of natural gift for sports that
Jan had left those “never believing Thomases” with their mouths shut.
After dominating over
the other kids in skating ability and overall skill, Jan Danecek was selected captain of the
Havirov first grades. And that was a position he could maintain also in the following years,
which were highly succesfull for Jan. The Havirov 1986 borns captain won a trophy on almost
every youth tournament he participated. Now it was up to his father to be hard on Jan and not
let the first successes influence Jan’s head. Because his son was highly talented, he was
highly demanding on him. On the practices as well off the ice. Jan had to do lots of workouts
to bulk up and be stronger, but mostly practices to improve his puckhandling ability. Also
during summer Jan was shooting the pucks and his dedication to the game was impressive.

Since the beginning of his career Jan Danecek wears the number 10 on his jersey, like the
big scorers as Pavel Bure for example. But Danecek isn’t a pure sniper. His biggest assets
are his perfect passing skills and a terrific skating ability. Jan is a great skater, agile,
effortless and with a fluid stride. He accelerates well and is capable of sharp turns. Jan
is also very stabile on his skates. His soft hands go along with his top-notch stickhandling
ability. He handles the puck with superb poise and his uncanny ability to pass the puck through
holes unseen by others makes him a rare gem. Jan a great vision and hockey sense and he likes
the finesse style of play, when he can make fast smart passes with his linemates. Jan is also
solid in the faceoff circle, even if he is still far from a faceoff specialist. On the
downside, Jan appears soft. He is just 5’9” by now and his 154 lbs. aren’t a frame to throw
around. Plus, Jan even doesn’t like the rough play and tight defenses. Another thing he isn’t
a fan of is high traffic. Jan can be eliminated by physical play and doesn’t rule along the
boards in no way. That’s a thing to work on for him in the following years.

Jan Danecek admires the style of play of Ottawa Senators sophomore Martin Havlat a lot and just
like Havlat, his steps from the parent team led to Trinec. Havlat packed his suitcase and
headed Trinec in the summer of 1998 from Brno, Jan Danecek from Havirov in time, when he
should enter the 8th grade team.
Just like every
new Extraleague franchise, Trinec was aware of how is a bolstered pipeline of prospects
important for the future of the team and Jan Danecek was a lock for them as one of the kids
with most talent in the region. So Jan started to wear the white-red colors of Trinec. Also
in Trinec he quickly became one of the “go-to-kids”. Jan was playing against kids older than
him very often, because his tremendous skill was totally outstanding in his own cathegory.

So it came that already in the fall of 1999, when he was just 13, Jan entered the midget
Extraleague as a twice underage. He could compete well also against three years older opponents
and he maintained his spot on the team. In his first season in midget hockey, Danecek recorded
10 points for 5 goals and 5 assists in 38 games. These numbers may seem sub-par, but for a
13-year old they are very solid, because almost no twice underagers are able to play in the
midget Extraleague for the whole season.

The prospect-stocked Trinec midget squad was running high in 2000-2001. The team was coached by
famous Czech junior coach Radomir Kuzilek and as an assistant coach served Jan Danecek’s
father. This time they wanted to grab the midget Extraleague championship title. After
dominating the Group B of the midget Extraleague the Trinec team really made the finals, where
they stood against Slavia Praha midgets. Unfortunately, they lost the final series 2-1.
But for Jan Danecek is this still his biggest success in hockey till now. He was one of the
main factors during the playoffs, finishing second behind Patrik Stejskal in Trinec midgets
playoff scoring. During the playoff race, Jan Danecek notched 7 points for 4 goals and 3
assists in 8 games, averaging nearly one point per game. During the whole season Jan’s numbers
then stopped on 28 points for 17 goals and 11 assists in 51 games. Everything looked well
for Jan and he could look forward to the begin of his international career and possibly
a stint already in the junior Extraleague.
He was a lock to make the new Czech Under-16 team
after a stellar performance at the selection tournaments. But all of this had to be postponed
due to injury. In summer Jan suffered a broken ankle, thus he had to sit out the first
two months of 2001-2002.

After his ankle was finally healed, Jan jumped into the action and the opposing goalies
had to fear. He was sent to Prerov of the Div I midget league for a conditioning stint,
where he should get used to the midget game again after the injury. After scoring 7 points for 7 goals
in 5 games Jan showed he has nothing to prove in the Div I midget league and got promoted
to Trinec.
The whole Trinec team was outstanding during the regular season of 2001-2002.
Their ‘total offense’ brought a lot of excitement to the auditors, but also some goals
against. Nevertheless, Jan showed a terrific performance in most of the games.
With the Trinec midgets Danecek found till now the net 16 times and added 24 assists for 40
points in 24 games. No wonder that he saw action also in the junior Extraleague, where he
appeared for 6 games till today, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist.

The brightest moment of this season came in December. Jan Danecek was called up to the senior
team to be ready for his debut in the senior Extraleague. His first game among the seniors
ever consisted of only one shift, but that was enough to make Jan Danecek the youngest player
ever to play in the Extraleague till now. And of course the only 1986 born player to dress
up for the seniors.
And the long awaited international debut for the Under-16 team also came in December. Jan
dressed up for the three-game series against the Under-16 team of Slovakia. Most important
in his previous career but was the Four Nations Tournament of the Under-16 team. Jan finished
scoreless for the third-placed Czechs, but this is to change coming the next tournaments.

Jan is active also during his free time. He likes to play tennis or go swimming, these are
his two favorite sports besides hockey. Of course, he has to rest to have strength for the
games and Jan does it often. Whether it is sleeping or just listening to some music and
relaxing, he likes to relax. School is another factor in Jan’s life, he visits the secondary
school for business. He still isn’t decided about his next hockey steps. He is eligible for
the 2003 CHL Import Draft, but he can easily decide to stay home to prepare for the NHL
Entry Draft in 2004, which will be a big thing for Jan. He has the offensive tools to
become one of the most talked players. Watch out for him!