Czech 2002 prospects: Tomas Linhart

By Robert Neuhauser
In the Czech city of Pardubice there is an established franchise, known for raising quality
prospects. Today’s NHL stars as future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek or Colorado Avalanche’s
forward Milan Hejduk have made their first strides in the arena near the Labe river in Pardubice
and there are good chances that some guys from this year’s junior team may join them
in the future. Pardubice have build a strong core of 1984 born players, where some players
can look forward to the NHL Entry Draft. Sized efenseman Tomas Linhart is one of them.

Tomas Linhart didn’t have ‘hockey player’ written all over him since he was a small kid. None
of his relatives played the game, which is quite different from most players, who have often
their fathers or even grandfathers former players or current coaches. Tomas is a proof that
advertising can pay dividens, this time it was advertising of hockey. Like all other kids, when
Tomas was six years old, he started attending elementary school and one day he saw there a
poster which invited the youngest kids to the selection for the youngest grade team of the
local Pardubice team. And because he liked the game, he quickly decided to grab this chance
and go to the rink. He asked his grandmother to go with him to the arena and his hockey
career has just started. Tomas’ grandmother also followed him to the practices when he was a
small kid and was along with his parents his first huge fan.

From the first practice Tomas was slotted to play defense. He was very satisfied with this
fact, he didn’t dream of a sniper’s career, more he liked to prevent the other snipers from
scoring. He was a tall kid and thanks to his talent he could foresee the plays and the
opposing forwards really began to have a tough time against Linhart. Tomas started to
perform at various youth tournaments and there he saw that his dedication to the game
has sense. Tomas was always doing also various off-ice workouts to gain strength, footspeed
and to bulk up. Now he saw that he has more power than his opponents and this contributed
to improving his play to very solid and reliable. On a few tournaments, when the result of
the games wasn’t that important, Tomas even tried the forward position but soon he saw
that the blue line is his home and that he doesn’t want to change anything.

Nearly every
player who is now considered a serious NHL prospect has won some trophies on the youth
tournaments. Not Tomas Linhart. He always brought a strong defensive style to the table, but
on the Pardubice 1984 born team there were lots of quality players like current Hull
Olympique Martin Vagner and Tomas wasn’t a clear standout on the team. He did the little
things well and how valuable he is to the team became visible in the higher grades. Tomas
had very strong seasons for the 7th and 8th grade and it became evident that it will be
time for him to move up to the midget ranks and start performing in the midget Extraleague.

The 1998-99 season Tomas spent playing for the 9th grade team of Pardubice but the next
season the awaited promotion to the midgets took place. Tomas got used to the faster play
at the midget level very soon and had no trouble battling the sometimes older opposition.
He could keep the attacking forwards off the crease and his defensive zone coverage saw
a rapid improvement, too. In 1999-2000 Tomas played 45 games for the Pardubice midgets
where he recorded 10 points for 2 goals and 8 assists and a quite high numbers of PIMs, 83,
which contributes to the fact that he wasn’t afraid of the rough stuff.

No wonder that his role models are sized, feisty defensemen. Tomas admires the play and
strength of Detroit Red Wings rearguard Jiri Slegr, another idol for him is Ales Pisa,
Edmonton Oilers property, who skated with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL this year.
Pisa is like Linhart from Pardubice and he is one of the players Tomas patterns his
game after. Like Slegr and Pisa, Tomas Linhart already has a huge frame and due to this
he is nicknamed ‘Rambo’ by his teammates, after the action movies hero Sylvester Stallone,
who became a legend thanks to his bodybuiliding figure and the series of films about fomer
soldier John Rambo.

But the invitation to the Under-16 team missed him. He wasn’t among the top prospects at
the time when the new Under-16 team of the 1984 borns was formed and the coaches overlooked
him. With his play in the 1999-2000 it was for sure that this won’t happen the next
international season.
But first Tomas got a ‘C’ on his jersey of the Pardubice midgets. And soon it was told
between the players from the opposing teams that the Pardubice midgets captain is really
a tough cookie. Tomas was hitting everything that moved and soon gained a reputation of one
of the toughest players of the midget Extraleague. In just 23 midget games he notched not
only 12 points for 5 goals and 7 assists, but also a number of 82 PIMs, which is good for
an average of almost 4 PIMs per game.
That was something the Pardubice juniors needed, a
big, rugged defenseman with a booming shot. They didn’t hesitate to promote Tomas to the
junior team and suddenly he changed from the midget captain to the underaged rookie among
the juniors. Again he had no trouble with adjusting to the faster play at the elite junior
level and fought his way into the regular defensive rotation. With the tips from older
teammates he learned the tools of the junior Extraleague trade and was a contributor to
the succesfull Pardubice juniors run to the championship title in the junior Extraleague.
In the final series they defeated the Vsetin juniors and the title was in their hands
With the Pardubice juniors Tomas skated 29 games, scoring 1 goal and adding 6 helpers for
a total of 7 points while also racking up mere 12 PIMs.

His international career began with the Under-17 team in 2000-2001. Tomas immediately
became one of the defensive anchors of the team with his savvy play and left out only the
European’s Youth Olympics from the season’s schedule because he battled with Pardubice juniors
in the playoffs. This fact made him the leader among the defensemen of the Under-17 team
in games played, Tomas appeared in 20 contests which topped the team’s blueliners, but
scored just 1 point on 1 goal in the 4:3 win over Finland in a three-game series against
Finland played in November. At all the other tournaments including two Four Nations Tourneys
and the World Hockey Challenge he was kept off the scoresheet while recording a +/- of +3
and 4 PIMs.

He saw a much increased role with the Pardubice juniors this past season. He was no longer
eligible to play in the midget ranks and had already some useful experience with elite junior
hockey. In November he suffered a broken nose, he was checked from behind, his helmet has
fallen off and he hit the ice with his face first.
Pardubice juniors were a dominating team also this season. After a stellar play
in the regular season and in the Final Group they made it into the playoffs. There they
defeated Sparta Praha juniors in the semifinals and were succesfull also in the final series
against Ceske Budejovice juniors. This meant a back-to-back series and second junior
Extraleague title also for Tomas Linhart. He was patrolling the blue line with poise and
for one game he was recalled to the Div I league where he helped Hradec Kralove, where the
Div I franchise moved from Sumperk recently.
In that game
he went scoreless but recorded 2 PIMs. For the Pardubice juniors Tomas then played 38 games,
in which he scored 6 points for 2 goals and 4 assists plus 38 PIMs.

Tomas picked up where he left among the international competition in 2001-2002, this time
with the Under-18 team. He participated at the Six Nations tournament in August, where he
scored a goal already in the first game. That was followed by very good showings at the
next Four Nations Tournament and the famous Viking Cup. There he went scoreless
while recording 4 PIMs.
Unfortunately thanks to his shoulder injury Tomas’ season came to a premature
end after the Viking Cup. Then he underwent a shoulder surgery in March because he had trouble
with the shoulder
already four times before and hopes that this surgery may get him rid of those problems.
On the other side he couldn’t perform at the Under-18 WJC, where the Czechs have won bronze
medals. Tomas was a lock to make the team if it wasn’t for his shoulder surgery.

The next season Tomas plans to stay with Pardubice and doesn’t tend to take the CHL route.
He is likely to stay with the junior team or he may get a shot in some Div I league team.
If the season will be good, he hopes into an occasional stint with the Pardubice seniors,
but this will depend from his play during the season.

Tomas Linhart is a solid skater for a player of his size (6’2”, 210 lbs.) and is also
very mobile. His defensive zone coverage is great and Tomas can be described as very reliable.
His defensive play is nearly mistake-free and he tries to keep it simple. He can make very
strong decisions with the puck and knows when to dish it off and when to make a pass. Tomas
has a good vision but even if his passing skills are good, he can still improve there.
But he has a very hard, accurate slap shot, which is tippable. Tomas likes to fire hard
and also at the practices he shoots lot of pucks to become better in this skill. He has a
very good reach to go along with his size. Tomas can use his size well and likes to hit hard.
He fights along the boards a lot and is a superb crease-clearer. On the downside he could
use a more smooth puckhandling, but else is almost a complete defenseman.

His non-hockey time Tomas splits between school, other sports and resting. He is about to
finish his studies at a high school for electrotechnicians and then concentrate fully on
hockey. From other sports Tomas likes to play soccer and tennis in the offseason, which
are very popular sports among Czech players and Tomas is no exception. He spents lots
of his free tim with resting to have strength for the game and watching TV movies. He prefers
the comedies, with ‘Ace Ventura’ and ‘Scary Movie’ being the frontrunners. From his favorite
food there are mostly various kinds of meat and fruit. To his dinners Tomas likes to drink
From the NHL teams the Colorado Avalanche is the favorite team of Tomas because
they have a good squad and local Pardubice hero, winger Milan Hejduk is a member of the Avs.
But now is Tomas looking forward to the NHL Entry Draft in Toronto, which will decide about
his future. He is ranked 22nd overall among European skaters in the CSB Final Rankings
and has a chance to be picked this year as a mid-round pick. Whatever team will select him, Tomas
will be happy. Good luck!