Czech 2004 prospects: Rostislav Olesz

By Robert Neuhauser

Only two Czech players in NHL history were honored with being selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft. The first was a defenseman, Roman Hamrlik, who was the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first overall choice in 1992. The other was center Patrik Stefan who went as the number one pick to the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. Another Czech player with some chance to be picked first overall is 2004 eligible forward Rostislav Olesz.

Rostislav Olesz was introduced to the game by his father, who pursued a hockey career before an eye injury caused a premature end to it. He was hit by the puck into the eye, forcing him to call a career. So he instead spent time making hockey players out of his two sons. The older, Vladislav Olesz, was the first hockey role model for the younger Rostislav. When the Rostislav was five years old, he was very eager to start a hockey career of his own, because his older brother was already playing in the system of the Hutni Zavody Ostrava team. This team now holds the name Sareza Ostrava and both midget and junior teams compete in their respective Extraleagues. On an open rink Rostislav Olesz made his first strides under the watchful eye of his father.

At first he was slotted to play defense, but after some time it was clear that it wasn’t the right decision. The little Rostislav didn’t show any commitment to the defensive aspect of the game, but was very adept at moving the puck and create excellent offense. The coaches changed their mind and moved Olesz from defenseman to forward. Now he didn’t need to worry about defense so much and could concentrate on his offensive output. Olesz was a very quick study and soon he emerged as one of the leaders of his team. He displayed his competitive nature and was always willing to listen to the advice of the coaches.

Thanks to his natural talent, Olesz’s skill improved drastically. He began to attend practices and play games for kids one year older, where he was reunited with his brother. Olesz, nicknamed ‘Oli’ from his surname, could keep up with the older kids and at many youth tournaments he won some individual trophies, mostly for the Top scorer or Top forward. When he was playing for the 7th grade team of Ostrava, he was named the team’s captain even though he was younger than all his teammates.

After that it was time to move on. Olesz’s talent was well-known in the region and the Extraleague teams were chasing him to join their developmental system. Olesz felt that he could benefit from being coached by an experienced coaching staff and face the best possible opposition. He agreed on the offer from the Ostrava-based Vitkovice team and joined their system prior to the season before he would have started playing for the 8th grade team.

The next year he already helped the Vitkovice 9th grade team to win an international tournament of the 9th grade teams, played in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland.
But at that time he already had playing experience from the midget Extraleague. Vitkovice midgets head coach Radek Kuridym didn’t overlook the huge prospect Rostislav Olesz, who stunned at the 8th grade level and promoted him to the midget team for a handful of games as a twice underage in the 1998-1999 season. He didn’t look out of place and this promotion gave Olesz playing experience which he found useful in the next season.

Even if underaged, Rostislav Olesz could count on a relatively big role on the Vitkovice midget team in 1999-2000. He ran opposing players over, making use of his strength and toughness and also contributed offensively a lot. He averaged nearly a point per game, which is very rare for underaged players. Among midget Extraleague underagers Olesz trailed only Karlovy Vary’s Vojtech Polak in scoring after the regular season. Olesz appeared in 51 games, recording 44 points for 24 goals and 20 assists, along with a whooping +/- of +33 and 58 PIMs.

The 2000-2001 season was a huge success for Olesz. He played at three different levels and made clear that he is a prospect to watch in the future. He scored at will on the midget level, showing a good mix of grit, aggresivness and elite skill. Olesz played 33 games for the Vitkovice midgets, scoring 74 points for 44 goals and 30 assists and leading his team to the playoffs.

Vitkovice juniors head coach Mojmir Trlicik was aware of those numbers and decided to give Olesz a try already on the junior level as a twice underage. The 15-year old kid was now put into games against sometimes five years older opposition, but displayed no fear. He spent the first games with learning but after a short time he picked up where he left at the midget level and emerged as a boost to the junior team. Olesz skated 15 games with the Vitkovice juniors, notching 9 points for 7 goals and 2 assists, a +/- of +5 and 16 PIMs.

But he didn’t remain only at the junior level, Rostislav Olesz made even his senior Extraleague debut in a game at Sparta Praha. After the first couple of shifts he recorded his first senior point for an assist, which remained his only senior point that season, even if Olesz played three senior games.

In 2000-2001 Olesz also burst onto the international scene. He was a lock to make the Czech Under-16 team with his playing experience from the midget Extraleague and he made an impression at the selection camp. Olesz was invited to four tournaments of the Under-16 team’s schedule. He made his international debut in a three-game series against Slovakia, which was followed with a three-game series against the Russians. Russia hosted the season highlight, the Four Nations Tournament, where the young Czechs claimed the gold medals. Olesz closed out his international season with an appearance in three games against the Under-17 team of Switzerland. He rounded out his stats at 11 games played, 2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points, a +/- of +6 and 30 PIMs.

In 2001-2002 was Olesz still midget Extraleague eligible, but had only a cup of coffee with the Vitkovice midgets. He had clearly nothing to prove there and dressed out for two games, scoring 2 points for 2 goals, a +/- of +1 and no PIMs.
He was a mainstay on the Vitkovice juniors lineup and could be a dominating force on a line with Buffalo Sabres draft pick Jakub Hulva and Detroit Red Wings draftee Tomas Fleischmann. He was used in all game situations, logging a lot of playing time. In his second season in the junior Extraleague he could break the one-point-per-game plateau with 39 points for 19 goals and 20 assists in 36 games. That also with an impressive +/- of +33 and 83 PIMs.

No wonder that he again spent a part of the season already with the Vitkovice seniors. He was in the lineup for 11 senior games, scoring his first senior Extraleague goal in a game at Slavia Praha, completing his senior season stats at 3 points for 1 goal and 2 assists, a +/- of -1 and no PIMs. All this even though he had the season hampered by injuries. He suffered a sprained ankle, a bruised kidney, and even had a mononucleosis.

Health problems caused Olesz to miss a huge portion of the international schedule, too. He was already promoted to the Under-18 team and coaches Bretislav Kopriva and Pavel Marek invited him even to the Six Nations Cup, played in the Czech Republic in August 2001. There he scored four goals and the scouts could notice his fearless play against one year older competition. He wasn’t returned to the Under-17 team and spent the whole season with the Under-18 team, finishing with six games played, 4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points, a +/- of -2 and 4 PIMs.

This past season Olesz played mostly with the Vitkovice seniors in the Extraleague. He was sent down to the junior team for only 7 games, where he notched 2 points for 1 goal and 1 assist, an even +/- and 12 PIMs.
In the senior Extraleague he played mostly on the third or fourth line, but could put up decent offensive numbers. He appeared in 45 games, recording 9 points for 6 goals and 3 assists, along with a +/- of +3 and 43 PIMs. He didn’t hesitate to use his abrasive style also among the seniors and two Div I league teams wanted his help, too. Olesz played one game for HC Slezan Opava, where he went scoreless. The three games with HC Dukla Jihlava were slightly more succesfull, Olesz found the net one time in 3 games he dressed out for.

He played a much bigger role for the Under-18 team. Olesz served as an alternate captain at the World Junior Cup played in the Czech Republic and Slovakia last August. There he notched 4 points for 3 goals and 1 assist.
In November he was even promoted to the Under-20 team for the Four Nations Tournament played in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Even though Olesz went scoreless at this tournament, he made the trip to the selection camp before the 2003 WJC. Unfortunately he was among the last cuts, but more than made up for it with his invitation to the senior national team. Head coach Slavomir Lener decided to give the youngster Olesz a chance and put him into the lineup for one game of the Baltika Cup, the match against Russia. There he went scoreless.

He was returned to the Under-18 team again for the Five Nations Tournament played in Czech Republic in February. There his play suffered because of an injured hand, but was a lock to play at the Under-18 WJC in Yaroslavl, Russia. At the Under-18 WJC scored the Czech alternate captain on a line with Lukas Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek 5 points for 2 goals and 3 assists in 6 games, even if it wasn’t one of his best showings.

A player without any glaring weakness, Olesz is a character guy who gives everything to the team’s success. He is well-balanced and always showing a nasty edge in his play. Olesz plays a combative style and is a good hitter. He is a valuable asset to both powerplay and penalty killing units. A solid skater with a decent agility, Olesz has a sharp hockey sense and vision. Also very good in the faceoff circle, he is a smart passer and a lethal finisher. He possesses a good variety of shots, he could only fire the puck more often. He doesn’t tend to take any shifts off. Olesz helps out the defense thanks to his above-average defensive awareness. He can be used in all game situations and is a reliable forward.

Rostislav Olesz isn’t a very superstitious player. His only habits are to use the same warmup before each game and recently he started to put on the gear from the left side first. He admires Ottawa Senators’ Vaclav Varada for his rugged style of play and also New York Rangers’ Bobby Holik for his defensive awareness and smart game.

In his free time Olesz is very dedicated to hockey. He shoots pucks at a hand-made hockey goal in the backyard of his family’s house. But he has to fulfill school duties, too. He is about to finish the second year of his studies at the secondary school for sports in Ostrava, which is also attended by fellow 2004 prospect Petr Pohl and 2003 eligible Patrik Valcak. As a talented athlete, Olesz likes to be active also in his free time. Besides hockey he enjoys playing tennis, handball or riding his bike. When it comes to music, then Olesz likes to listen to all good songs, no matter what musical style. Among movies he prefers to watch Czech or French comedies; he especially likes Czech actor Miroslav Donutil. His eating habits coincide with the needs of a young athlete, Olesz chooses mostly food like chicken with vegetables and pasta.

Rostislav Olesz doesn’t plan to come over to play in the CHL next season. He won a regular spot in the senior Extraleague this season and will see a bigger role in the upcoming one. His agent Josef Machala who works for the Allan Walsh bureau isn’t pushing him to cross the sea before Olesz feels he is ready to do so. He hopes to build on his one-game experience with the senior national team and challenge for the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.