Buffalo Sabres prospects: Jakub Hulva

By Robert Neuhauser
Before the 2002 NHL Entry Draft not many people knew the name of Jakub Hulva. Important
was, that the Buffalo Sabres scouting staff did. Right now he can be considered as a
project, but Jakub Hulva is one of the ‘unsung gems’ of Czech junior hockey. One of
those you don’t see as NHL prospects in the early stages of their career and finally
you aren’t surprised when they reach ‘The Show’.

It can be said that Jakub Hulva had “hockey player” written all over him since the time he
was born. His father, Pavel Hulva, is a former Czechoslovakian Elite League player, who skated
with the Zlin and Vitkovice teams. Not to mention his coaching career after he finished the
player’s one. Jakub’s father is living for the game and it was only a matter of time when
Jakub will do so, too. That because he liked this sport very much, when he was a little kid,
he followed his dad to the rink and watched the games of the local Opava team. When he was
four years old, his father suggested him to start playing hockey and Jakub immediately agreed.
He took his first skating lessons, made the first puck moves and felt ready to join the Opava
youngest grade team.

There he saw what it takes to play organised hockey and realised that this will be the right
sport for him. The coaches have slotted him to play forward and Jakub was having fun from
creating offense and scoring goals. He learned very soon how to skate and keep balance and
thanks to his slick skating and offensive talent the coaches didn’t even think of putting
Jakub on defense.
His father was following him to every practice and like every man having his son playing hockey,
he gave him many tips on how to improve his game. This influence was even more increased as
he became the head coach of the Opava 1984 borns team and had his son Jakub as one of his
players.

The young Jakub Hulva was turning heads with his offensive output and his playmaking talent
along with superb vision earned him many trophies from youth tournaments. When the Opava
kids participated, it was usually Jakub Hulva who went home with the trophy for the Top forward
or Top scorer. In the youngest grades teams play only against teams from their region, so
the top prospects basically can’t regularly face each other and every talented kid has some
of those trohpies. But coach Hulva saw that his son has great potential and could become a
pro athlete someday, so he was putting lots of pressure on the young shoulders of Jakub. He
learned how to handle the leader’s role and be responsible for the results of the games.

At pee-wee age Jakub Hulva was already a well-known prospect in his region and the Extraleague
teams have shown the first interest of bringing him into their system. However, he decided
to stay in Opava till midget age, he could benefit from the coaching methods of his father
and play on a team with many skilled players.
When Jakub was entering the 9th grade team
of Opava, he was honored for his outstanding efforts with a ‘C’ on his jersey. But after
that season he realised that it is time to say goodbye to his native Opava and move to a team
with better competition. He was ready for the leap to the midget ranks and finally accepted
the offer of the nearby Vitkovice team to join their developmental system. In Vitkovice
he was served with a chance to perform in the midget Extraleague and played on one of the
best Czech midget teams. On the team were the likes of Detroit Red Wings prospect Tomas
Fleischmann, arriving from the Koprivnice team, or 2004 eligible prodigy Rostislav Olesz,
who joined the team from Hutni Zavody Ostrava team.

Jakub Hulva, nicknamed “Hulvic” (read Houlvich, from his surname),
took the midget Extraleague by storm and quickly established himself as one of the
core players of the team. Under head coach Mojmir Trlicik Jakub had lots of playing time and
has put up imposing numbers for a rookie, averaging more than a point per game. In 49 games
Jakub recorded 54 points for 20 goals and 34 assists to go along with 38 PIMs.
No wonder that he also had a leading role on the Czech Under-16 team, consisting of the
1984 borns. He didn’t play at the main tournament, the Four Nations Tournament in Sweden,
but participated in three-game series against the Under-16 teams of Slovakia and Russia.
In the second series against the young Russians he even scored his first international goal.

The 2000-2001 season was even more succesfull for Jakub. The bigger part of the season he
spent with the midget team, but it was clear that he can score at will there and has nothing
to prove. His 68-point effort for 28 goals and 40 assists in just 30 games earned him a
promotion to the junior team, where he served as an underaged rookie.
But he had no trouble
with accustoming and his offensive output was still great. Among the juniors he didn’t play
on the first two lines so much, but still was able to score 11 points for 5 goals and 6
assists in 20 games. Those respectable stats meant one more promotion. In a game at Sparta
Praha Jakub Hulva celebrated his senior Extraleague debut, along with top prospect Rostislav
Olesz. It remained by this one match that season, but Jakub got his first taste of elite
senior hockey. From that season he also uses the same warm-up all the time and has his
hockey superstition – to dress into the hockey gear always from the right side first.

He also dressed up for 8 games of the Czech Under-17 team. Jakub participated at two Four
Nations Tournaments, the first being played in the Czech Republic and the second one in
Finland. He also skated in a three-game series against the Under-17 team of Finland and one
exhibition game against the Under-17 team of Switzerland. In those 8 games he recorded 2
points for 1 goal and 1 assist.

He hoped to build on this in 2001-2002, but he was better served with playing on the junior
team. There he formed along with his two top-notch skilled teammates Olesz and Tomas
Fleischmann a great line which created havoc among the opposition. They were able to dominate
games, this combo had only trouble when Rostislav Olesz was playing already for the seniors.
The smooth puckhandler Hulva amassed 49 points for 25 goals and 24 assists for the Vitkovice
juniors in 2001-2002. He added one more appearance with the Vitkovice seniors during the
regular season and two more in the playoffs, going scoreless in all games.
But Jakub contributed also at the second highest senior level, in the Div I league. For 4
games he returned to his native Opava to help the HC Slezan Opava team. In those 4 contests
he didn’t register any point.
On the international scene Jakub appeared on the Five Nations Tournament, played in Russia,
and in the exhibition games before the Under-18 WJC. However, he was scratched from the
WJC team, rounding out his season totals for the Under-18 team at 12 games played, with 4
points for 1 goal and 3 assists.

Missing out the Under-18 WJC didn’t matter the people from the Buffalo Sabres staff, who saw
the obvious talent of Jakub. And at the NHL Entry Draft in Toronto they didn’t hesitate to
grab him in the 4th round with their fifth choice, 108th overall.

Jakub Hulva’s strongest asset is his elite skill. He is a very good skater with solid bursts
of speed and a rapid change of pace. Jakub is a tremendous puckhandler with very soft hands
and a great portion of vision and hockey sense. He is a very good stickhandler and is highly
dangerous in one-on-one situations. An ultimate offensive weapon, Jakub thrives on the
power play, where both his passing and shooting skills are wellcomed. He can score and pass
equally well and has a very accurate wrist shot. His slap shot is quite average and still can
be improved. He has a great timing of his passes and likes to deke all the opposing players
including the goaltender. Jakub’s drawback is his lack of size and mostly strength. At
5’11”, 160 lbs. he can be pushed out of the scoring chances by the hulking defensemen and
definitely won’t rule along the boards. Jakub can be considered soft and also could use
more aggresivness and a mean streak, sometimes is visible his lack of intensity. The defensive
side of his game isn’t still very developed and Jakub has to work on it. He is raw, but
can turn out to be a steal if he works hard enough on his drawbacks.

Jakub Hulva visits the same school as many Vitkovice junior-aged players. He is in the last year
of his studies at the secondary school for sports in Ostrava. This school is visited also
by goalie Martin Falter, Rostislav Olesz and rookie forward Petr Pohl. When Jakub isn’t
studying or playing games, then he is mostly resting, like all hockey players. But when he
has a free while, he also likes to play soccer a lot. Tennis is another sport for Jakub,
as usual by Czech hockey players. Jakub is a fond of good food, he prefers all types of
meals with chicken meat for his dinner and to drink a bottle of cola. At his home he often
has some music turned on, Jakub likes to listen to rock music, with the group Link in Park
being his favorite. His hockey role model is Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward Petr Sykora.

This season he began on the fourth line of the Vitkovice seniors, but after three scoreless
games was sent to the Opava team again to play in the Div I league and eventually found
himself also back on the Vitkovice junior team.
In the second week of September he participated at the Four Nations Tournament of the
Under-20 teams, played in Solleftea, Sweden. The young Czechs finished at the last place
and also Jakub went scoreless.
His dream is playing at the 2003 WJC in
Halifax and hopes to fight out a regular spot on the Vitkovice seniors team. After this
season Jakub has clear plans. He will attend the Buffalo Sabres camp and see what he can
do against NHL-calibre competition and hopefully earn a contract. Good luck!