Czech 2006 prospects – Michal Kazatel

By Robert Neuhauser

What thing do NHL players Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Tomas Kaberle, Frantisek Kaberle and Marek Zidlicky have in common? They all spent their junior days wearing the blue and white of the Kladno team. This is one of the most succesful squads in developing top hockey prospects in the Czech Republic. One of the members of their exceptionally strong core of 1988 born players is Michal Kazatel, a center with the Kladno midgets.

Michal Kazatel followed the footsteps of two members of his family in the beginnings of his hockey career. His father Vladimir Sr. played both soccer and hockey at the lower levels in the Czech Republic and brought both of his sons to these sports. When Michal was three years old, he stood on the skates for the first time at the rink in his native city Slany, Czech Republic. He made his first strides on the ice under the watchful eye of his father and found skating very enjoyable. That was a good sign for him to also be interested in playing organized hockey. Kazatel spent two years with upgrading his skating skills and at the age of five he entered the entry level hockey team of Slany.

At that time he was playing organized soccer, too, but didn’t like this sport as much as hockey. After two years of playing for the Slany soccer team he finally quit and focused solely on hockey. Kazatel played the first year of his career in Slany and when he was six, his father took over as the team manager in the 1988 borns team of Kladno, the nearby Extraleague franchise. No wonder that he took his son with him, in Kladno he had a chance to learn from an experienced coaching staff. Including Kazatel’s hockey role model, Washington Capitals forward Jaromir Jagr. “He is simply the best player I know, I like his game a lot,” Kazatel said.

Kazatel’s passion for the game enabled him to play for two teams at that time. He didn’t give up on playing for his hometown team and appeared in practices and games for both Kladno and Slany.

Kladno 1st grade team head coach Stanislav Frolik, father of fellow 2006 eligible prospect Michael Frolik, recognised Kazatel’s offensive talent and put the talented kid on offense. “I never wanted to play defense or goal. I was happy with playing forward.” Kazatel impressed with his slick skills and a willingness to listen to the advice given to him. He competed hard every practice and could soon outplay the opponents and emerged as a scoring leader of his team. At that time Kazatel didn’t worry about helping out the defense and his offensive raids prevailed. Players of the same age didn’t provide him with an equal competition and he began to perform for the 1987 borns team of Kladno.

Now he was a member of an extremely talented team, which crushed all the opposing teams regularly. Besides Kazatel the roster boasted the likes of forwards Jiri Tlusty, Michael Frolik and defenseman David Ruzicka, all of whom are highly regarded 2006 eligible players. In the 4th grade the Kladno team made it to the championship tournament for the first time and Michal Kazatel led the way to the championship title. He raised his performance in the final games and was honored the Top Forward and the Top Goalscorer trophy.

The season when Michal Kazatel was playing for the 5th grade team was the last when he performed for two teams. Practices and games for Kladno were too demanding time-wise and Kazatel had to leave the Slany team. In the 5th grade Kladno won the championship trophy of the 5th grade teams again, but Kazatel was overshadowed by other players at the final tournament. This was a challenge for him to bounce back next year.

And he really did. Kladno didn’t find an equal opponent in his region and qualified for the championship tournament even before the final games of the regular season were played. There Kladno won their third consecutive championship title in their respective age category and Kazatel’s efforts were rewarded with the Top Goalscorer trophy and a selection to the All-Star team.

In the 7th grade Kazatel, nicknamed ‘Kazi’ from his surname, was an all-star again and the Kladno team enlarged the collection of the championship trophies to four consecutive. The next year Kazatel was voted captain of the 8th grade team, the first time he wore a ‘C’ on his jersey. He contributed to the unprecendented fifth consecutive championship title with 84 points for 43 goals and 41 assists in 35 games. He was by far the leading scorer of his team and was already known as a kid who should have a bright hockey career ahead.

But the best season before moving up to the midgets full-time was yet to come. In 2001-2002 Petr Taticek, father of Florida Panthers’ prospect of the same name, was assigned as the Kladno 9th grade head coach and Kazatel ripped off the 9th grade scoring charts with 134 points for 74 goals and 60 assists in just 36 games, which was more than three points per game average. “I recall this season as the best before I was promoted to the midget team. I was an underager, but still scored a lot against the older kids.”

Looking at his on-ice performance, Kladno midgets head coach Jiri Kopecky decided to give the talented kid a shot at the midget level as a twice underager. Kazatel played in 3 games for the Kladno midgets, registering 1 point for 1 goal, a +/- of -2 and 2 PIMs.

The next season, 2002-2003, Kladno midgets declared a championship run and promoted the best underaged players from their succesful developmental system full-time to the midget squad. The players had a winning attitude from the five championship runs at the younger levels and were asked to contribute immediately. Michal Kazatel was one of them. He served as the second or third line center and didn’t show any significant trouble with adjusting to the midget Extraleague pace. He focused on the offensive part of his showing more than sticking to the two-way play. The whole Kladno team played like a well-oiled machine, until the Vsetin midgets managed to take them to the fifth and deciding contest of the best-of-five final playoff series. But Kladno took advantage of the home ice and finally claimed the midget Extraleague championship title. “This is the biggest success of my career so far,” Kazatel adds. “It was a huge experience and I’m happy that we managed to win.” En route to this achievment Kazatel dressed out for 56 games, notching 50 points for 28 goals and 22 assists and a mere number of 12 PIMs.

The 2002-2003 season was Kazatel’s first on the international stage. He impressed the Under-16 team coaches Bretislav Kopriva and Vladimir Bednar at the evaluation camp as an underager. His first international games came in a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Russia, played in December, 2002, in the Czech Republic. Kazatel scored his first two international goals there, which were his only points at this tournament. Kazatel’s another appearance against one year older international competition came at the season’s top of the Under-16 teams, the Four Nations tournament. Kazatel went scoreless at this event.

The next goal ahead for the young scorer would be playing as a twice underager for the Kladno juniors this season, 2003-2004. A sign of that this goal can be reached was when Kazatel spent the summer practicing with the junior team. However, he still waits for his junior Extraleague debut. Three other 1988 born Kladno players are already playing at the junior level, but the junior coaches feel Kazatel wouldn’t get enough playing time in the junior team and so they have left him on the midget level for now. A lesson for him is that Kazatel to cope with the go-to-guy and team leader role now while also making the needed strides in his defensive play.

Until now the Kladno midgets first line center has appeared on a line with Tomas Hudicek and Ondrej Kohout in 19 games, where he amassed 25 points for 13 goals and 12 assists, a huge +/- of +14 and 22 PIMs. As always, with his favorite number 10 on his back. “I took this number because of my brother. He used to play with number 10 and I wanted to be like him, so I chose this number, too.”

Two weeks ago he played his first three international games in 2003-2004. After not being invited by either the Under-16 or Under-17 team for one of the summer tournaments, Kazatel now served as an alternate captain for the Czech Under-16 team which squared off against the Swiss players. He showed that he is one of the best players of his age category with a strong effort on the first time, making use of his all previous international experience.

A solid skater, Michal Kazatel has worked diligently upon upgrading his explosiveness and improving the effectiveness of his stride during the past seasons. He is able to execute at high speed and playing with an above-average agility. He possesses a great vision and hockey sense, which enable him to rule as a deft playmaker. His passes are accurate and well-timed. Kazatel finishes the scoring chances well thanks to his strong instincts, too. He has an above-average wrist shot with a quick release, but has to further improve his slap shot. Kazatel could fire the puck more often. He made strides in improving his toughness, which is decent now. Still, the 5’10”, 170 lbs. Kazatel doesn’t play a very tough style. Among the things to work on is mainly his defensive play, which hasn’t come all the way yet. He needs to limit the opposing player’s options more effectively and return to his own zone more. Overall he is a solid prospect who has a good chance to be picked in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

A New Jersey Devils fan, Michal Kazatel isn’t a very superstitious player. “I don’t have any superstitions I would do before each game. Only when I have a good game, then the next game I try to do things the same I did the previous game.”
Hockey takes the most of Kazatel’s time, but he still has to fill school duties. This fall he began to study at a private school for business managers in Kladno and the studies are quite demanding. When he has some time to relax, he usually plays other sports. “I always like to play soccer or tennis, which are sports I’m quite good at.” In order to have strength for games and practices, Kazatel just rests at home by listening to music or watching TV. He likes to listen to all kinds of music except of techno and brass. He is aware of how proper nutrition is important for a young athlete, so he avoids drinking alcohol and eating ‘heavy’ food. “But I really don’t like eating rabbit meat, even if it is recommended to us.”
Represented by NHL legend Bobby Orr, Michal Kazatel is considering coming over to play in the CHL in 2005. He didn’t make the final decision yet, but the North American route to the NHL attracts him. He won’t be eligible till the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, so he has plenty of time to shine.