Czech 2002 prospects: Jan Velich

By Robert Neuhauser
The Pardubice team is developing their prospects very patiently. They are bolstering the
pipeline of talent with the best kids from the region, where hockey has a long tradition.
The likes of Dominik Hasek or Milan Hejduk also have spent lots of time in the arena
near the Labe river in Pardubice. This raising of talents always brought success to the
team and the scheme is the same also these days. Besides the senior team they have very
strong junior and midget teams, who both fought at least in the semifinals this season.
One of the young players on the junior team, where lots of players have international
experience, is sized forward Jan Velich.

Jan Velich had quite an interesting beginning of his career. When we take the fact, that
sons of hockey players often become also hockey players, then Jan should be a basketball
player. His father was playing basketball for Tesla Pardubice, but Jan fell in love with
the fastest game on Earth. First he was just attending skating courses for the youngest
kids to learn how to skate and keep balance on the skates. Jan was a quick study and was
only a step far from a figure skating career. He was ready to start attending figure skating
practices, but then his father took him to the local Pardubice arena and Jan’s hockey career
just started.

That was when Jan was six years old. Taking part at the skating lessons payed the dividends
as Jan turned out to be one of the best skating kids on the Pardubice youngest grade team.
The coaches learned the kids the basics of the game and after some time it was evident that
Jan is a huge talent. He handled the puck very smoothly and his natural hockey sense allowed
him to create great plays. From the very first beginning Jan tended to a playmaking role,
where he could use his top-notch stickhandling. He began to be relied upon heavily and was
earning lots of ice time. Finally the coaches have put even a bigger role on his shoulders
and Jan had to lead the Pardubice kids team as a captain. From that time Jan has lots of
trophies at home as he captained his team at many tournaments.

But after performing for the youngest grades the game wasn’t only all about offense for Jan. Thanks
to his father Jan posesses great size (is 6’3”, 187 lbs. by now) and he began also to learn
how to use his size and took his defensive game to another level. As Jan grew in age, he
also developed this aspect of game and was soon playing very well as a two-way forward. Thanks
to his playmaking abilities it would be a nonsense to force him to play as a defenseman, but
Jan can also handle the defensive duties well. So when Jan was entering the 9th grade team,
he already had a reputation of one of the top two-way forwards in the country and began to
be considered as a future prospect. Future Under-16 team coaches Bretislav Kopriva and
local Pavel Marek followed his progress closely and at the end of the season they invited
him to the main selection camp for the new Under-16 team. He succeeded there with his
performance and could look forward to the beginning of his international career.

No wonder, his 1998-99 season was very good. By Christmas he was promoted from the 9th grade
team to the midget team to play in the midget Extraleague. Jan had a very good start and
in some games even skated on the top line with current CHLers Petr Hemsky and Ales Hemsky.
But most of the time he spent on the third line where sniper Petr Prucha could make use
of his passes. In his underage season among the Pardubice midgets Jan scored 2 goals
and added 4 assists for a total of 6 points.

The 1999-2000 season was the first when Jan was performing full-time in the midget Extraleague.
Jan made use of his experience from the previous season and played his usual blend of
grit, defensive awareness and playmaking skills. In 36 games Jan recorded 14 points for
6 goals and 8 assists. He posted a mere number of PIMs, 6, so that he also was playing a fair
game. But his season was capped off by the fact that the doctors found out that Jan lacks
calcium in his knees and he had to rest for the remainder of the season.
Even then he made his international debut that season. His international performance
consisted of two three-game series, the first one being against the Under-16 team of
Slovakia and the second one against the young Swiss players.

Jan was very busy during the 2000-2001 season. That season was already his third in midget
hockey and he slowly had nothing to prove at this level. He showed his dominancy when he
notched 46 points for 17 goals and 29 assists in 35 games, but also showing his nasty edge
and increasing the number of PIMs at 74.
He skated 16 games already at the junior level, but in the junior Extraleague he saw his
ice time cut as he was playing just on the third or fourth line. The underaged rookie posted
just 1 point for 1 assist in those 16 games, but was a member of the winning Pardubice junior
team as they defeated Vsetin juniors in the junior Extraleague finals.
Jan also had a full international schedule. He missed the first two tournaments of the
Under-17 team’s season, but then participated at the three-game series against the Finns,
the World Hockey Challenge and the following Four Nations Tournament in Finland. The three-game
series against Finland was the most succesfull for Jan, with two goals scored he shared
the goalscoring lead of the Czech Under-17 team with four other players. Overall in 2000-2001
Jan dressed up for 16 games, scoring 10 points for 3 goals and 7 assists.

Under head coach Pavel Marek Jan saw an increased role for the Pardubice juniors this season.
He thrives on a line with a skilled scorer and a two-way grinder and this year he formed
a feared duo with hulking skilled Jan Kubista. The Pardubice juniors made use of their
last year’s succesfull run experience and could claim the back-to-back junior Extraleague
championship title. In the finals they swept the Ceske Budejovice juniors and overall
Jan scored 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 47 games, along with 44 PIMs.
On the international stage Jan played his usual two-way play. He missed the Six Nations
Tournament, but had a decent showing at the Viking Cup. There he went scoreless, just
notched 6 PIMs. After a solid performance at the following Four Nations Tournament he got
invited to the selection camp before the Under-18 WJC. He won a spot on the team and
contributed to the bronze medal success. He was the only Czech forward not to record a single
point, but his defensive play was excellent.

Jan has almost all the needed tools to succeed in North American size. He posesses a huge
frame, he just needs to learn how to use it better to his advantage and is very versatile.
Jan excells on the defensive side.
When is the situation, Jan can also play as a defenseman and will handle that aspect well.
He is a terrific stickhandler and can play in traffic. He is capable of superb puck moves
and has a bright vision. Jan times the passes well and has a strong transitional play. On
the other side he has only average shooting skills and even if he has a nice slap shot, he
doesn’t release it very often and looks for a pass instead. That also causes his lack
of productivity, which occurs sometimes and a slight inconsistency. For a success in North
America he also needs to upgrade his aggresivness and average skating. But overall he is
a very solid two-way forward prospect, who likes to wear the number 15 on his jersey,
because of the fact that his father was wearing the number 15 when he was playing
basketball for Tesla Pardubice.

After this season Jan will most likely come over to North America and try his luck in the
CHL. During the summer he wants to do some drills to improve his skating techniques and
most importantly bulk up. At the end of the summer Jan wants to weight more than 200 lbs.
Aggresivness is another thing Jan wants to work on in the offseason. His injured shoulder
is still a question mark, he can undergo a surgery, but also his shoulder may heal by doing
special excersises. By now Jan doesn’t know what way will be better.
But he won’t cross the pond without one thing in his suitcase. His talisman, a
small elephant statue. During every break between periods Jan holds the statue in his
hand, hoping that it will bring him luck. He has two more things he is used to do. He hits
the ice always behind the same player and when the whole team is gathered around the goalie
before the match begins, Jan is circling around the net, yelling the team’s motto.

Jan is a huge Mario Lemieux fan. He admires ‘The Magnificent One’ very much for his uncanny
playmaking ability and passing is the thing Jan likes best on hockey. Jan’s another role
model is Oilers’ Mike Comrie. Jan attended an Oilers game when he was playing for the Under-18
team at the 2002 Viking Cup and from now on the Oilers are besides the Pittsburgh Penguins
his favorite team and Comrie another player he admires.
Jan doesn’t have a special nickname. By his teammates he is called ‘Velda’ or ‘Velisek’,
which comes from his surname. He also doesn’t have a nickname at school. Jan attends a
secondary school in Pardubice and if he won’t come over to North America, then he’ll
graduate the next year. In his free time Jan is often relaxing to have strength for the
games. He likes to listen to the music played at the MTv channel and his favorite food
are all kinds of pastes.
Jan Velich is ranked 75th among European skaters according to the CSB final rankings. He
is hoping that he will be selected in the nearby NHL Entry Draft and doesn’t mind what team
will select him. Even if he is still a bit raw, he is a solid prospect. Good luck!