Jan Blaton – skill over size

By Robert Neuhauser
Incredibly talented, but too small to succeed – how many players have been labeled with this?
Many of them really have lived up to this expectation while the others have cracked the
NHL lineups, one the best new examples for this being Phoenix Coyotes’ diminutive star
Daniel Briere. Czech hockey also produces lots of skilled kids, who are just a few
inches short from being called serious prospects, but still have the chances to pan out
and shine. One of them is Trinec forward Jan Blaton.

Jan Blaton should originally enjoy a soccer career and not be considered as a very solid
hockey prospect. His father was a succesfull soccer player and brought his son to ‘his’
sport as soon as he could. For soccer you don’t need much equipment, just a ball, so when
Jan learned how to walk, his dad also bought him a ball. They were kicking into it almost
every afternoon and Jan’s soccer career had a good start. But what in winter? The weather
wasn’t very suitable for outside soccer practices and Jan wanted to be active also in
winter. So he laced up the skates and took his first skating lessons under the watchful eye
of his father. Soon after he could keep balance he took a stick into his hands and began
to learn the first letters of the hockey alphabet.

He was such a good student that he would benefit from playing organised hockey. In his native
city Karvina he was already playing soccer for the youngest kids and when he was five years
old, his father brought him to the local arena. There the small Jan joined the 1st grade
team of Karvina and his hockey career has just started.
When looking at the little kid, the coaches didn’t think of letting him play defense, they
saw his gift for creating offense and have put him on the forward position. Jan was happy there,
in soccer he liked to play with the ball a lot and score goals, in hockey he exploded with
the puck on his stick and outplayed his opponents with ease. He was always one of the smallest
kids on the team, but also one of the smartest and most talented. Jan took advantage of his
tremendous puckhandling skills and emerged as a leader of his team.

Till the pee-wee age Jan didn’t think of concentrating on just one sport. He attended both
hockey and soccer practices and this helped him to develop into an all-round athlete. These
times his life consisted only from school and sport. School till noon and then either a
soccer or hockey practice, every day, so that Jan even couldn’t think of anything else.
He didn’t need to do lots of running workouts like other kids playing hockey and not soccer,
the soccer practices and games provided this. Jan just focused on gaining strength and this
helped him in both sports.
He played the elite Czech soccer league of kids his age but when Jan was twelve years old
one thing made him think about with what sport he wants to make his future living. A star
of many youth tournaments, where he freqently received various trophies for the best forward
or goalscorer, Jan got a serious offer from the nearby Extraleague franchise in Trinec to
join their developmental system. After recovering from a broken thumb, an injury he suffered
when playing for the 5th grade team of Karvina, Jan felt that he is ready to accept the
challenge. He did some talk with his parents and finally said yes to the Trinec offer.

Jan continued also his soccer career, but the priority from now on was hockey. For the 6th
grades Jan was already wearing the white-red colors of Trinec. There he was served with a
chance to practice under very knowledgeable coaching staff, experienced at developing top
talent. And head coach Josef Stoudek knew that Jan Blaton is something special. He spent
lots of time working with him and learning him how to make use of his slick skating and
vision. Under his tutelage Jan spent three years of developing in Trinec and after that time
he was getting ready for the jump into the midget ranks. Already in the 1999-2000 he was
promoted to the midget team for two games as an underager. There he got a sniff of the midget
Extraleague and knew on what to concentrate during the summer in order to be ready for the
full duty next season. Still, in those 2 games Jan scored a point for his inaugural midget
Extraleague goal.

In the offseason Jan had to make a tough decision, though. He saw that from now on he has
to concentrate fully on hockey and decided to stop attending the soccer practices in his
home Karvina. He felt that there is a chance to make his living with hockey and this
concluded in leaving the soccer team.

But at the beginning of his time with the Trinec midgets there was an unexpected surprise
waiting for him. The coaches had lots of skilled forwards at forward, so they tried to
convert Jan into a defenseman. Although he always prefered to create offense, he accepted
this and spent half of the season patrolling the blue line. After that time the coaches
could see that from Jan won’t be a defensive star and returned him to the forward position.
This unexpected stint on the defense affected Jan’s stats a bit. In 24 games he recorded
4 points for 2 goals and 2 assists. With no PIMs Jan was also one of the few gentleman-like
Jan enjoyed a succesfull regular season but was benched for most of the playoffs, where the
Trinec midgets were defeated by Slavia Praha in the final series after an impressive run.

Trinec midgets head coach Radomir Kuzilek didn’t make any more experiments with Jan in
2001-2002 and assistant coach Josef Halouzka gave him lots of tips how to make use
of his offensive talent. Jan flourished with increased ice time on the prospect-stocked Trinec
midgets team. The front line there boasted the likes of prospects Jan Danecek,
Vaclav Meidl, Radomir Cizek, Jan Steber or David Krejci among the 2004 eligibles and
Michal Rak with Jan for the 2003 eligibles. This team found hardly any team which could
resist their offensive storm and this time crushed all opponents on the way to the midget
Extraleague championship title. This is definitely the biggest success of Jan Blaton’s career
so far and the golden medal is well-kept at his home. Before celebrating Jan played 52 games
for the Trinec midgets, scoring 39 points for 15 goals and 24 assists while also recording
41 PIMs.

But the Trinec juniors also needed some boost to the lineup and it was more than clear that
Jan Blaton will skate full-time with them in 2002-2003, so they promoted him for 3 games
to the junior Extraleague. In those three contests Jan notched one point for one goal.
For two games Jan even returned to his native Karvina to help the local team, performing in
the Div I midget league. In the 2 games Jan scored 2 points for 1 goal and 1 assist. Last
season he also found a commitment to the higher jersey numbers. He felt that a high number
will fit him and he skated with the 89.

Jan’s international career also had a beginning in 2001-2002. And it was a highly impressive
start, Jan participated in four exhibition games against the Under-17 team of Germany and
in the 4 games he averaged more than a point per game with 5 points for 2 goals and 3

At 5’8”, 140 lbs. the undersized, shifty Jan Blaton won’t impress you with hard hits, but
has the heart and skills to overcome the size factor. A quick, agile skater, Jan accelerates
well and brings intriguing puck skills to the table. He handles his stick very well and
thanks to his terrific vision he is capable of extemly smart passes. Jan likes to pass and
prepare chances and improving his shooting skills will be necessary for him, just like bulking
up, if he wants to be called a legitimate NHL prospect. He has a decent wrist shot, but the
slapper is average at best and Jan doesn’t release it very often. On the other side, from
his time as a defenseman Jan has found an awareness to defense and knows the ice has two ends.
As for toughness, Jan isn’t a huge factor. He isn’t afraid of going in front of the net
or fight along the boards, but gets pounded there if he doesn’t use his considerable smarts.

Jan, who calls Montreal Canadiens star Saku Koivu his hockey role model, has only a few
hockey superstitions. The previous season he used to be the last player to hit the goalie’s
pads with his stick before the opening faceoff of the game. This season, when older players
on the junior team have this privilegy, he is the third player from the ned to do this.
He has two nicknames which come from his surname. The first is “Blato” (means “mud” in
Czech) and the second, more used, is “Blatak” (name of the Zlin defenseman and Detroit
Red Wings prospect Miroslav Blatak).

Thanks to his skill he got selected to perform for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Cup,
played this past August. On a line with fellow Trinec teammate Jan Steber and Michal Pesek
from HC Sparta Praha Jan recorded an assist in the opening game against the USA team and
this point remained the only one for him at the tournament.

School still isn’t a closed chapter for Jan, who is in his first year of studies at the
business academy in Trinec, the same school 2004 prospect Jan Danecek visits. School duties
take him quite a lot of time, so when he isn’t studying or playing hockey, then Jan is
mostly resting. He likes to relax and sleep and his beloved free time activity is playing
videogames. Jan has lots of them at home and can spend hours with it. From other sports
than hockey Jan prefers to play soccer, of course. As an accomplished soccer player Jan likes
to chase the ball with his friends everytime he has a chance to do so. Music is another
thing for Jan, he is a fan of the Czech hardrock group Kabat, which is his favorite. Proper
food is essential for a young athlete and Jan is aware of this. His favorite food is spaghetti
with various kinds of sauces and to drink fruit juices or multivitamine drinks.

People from the CHL probably won’t show much interest in the diminutive Jan, who doesn’t
want to come over next season. His dream is playing in the Czech senior Extraleague first
and only when this goal is achieved, then he’ll start to think about the NHL. He wants to
take the European route and not to rush to Canada. This season he plays full-time for
the Trinec juniors and it looks like he’ll spend there also the next season. He took even a
bigger jersey number, 91, which he hopes will bring him luck. Hopefully this will come true!