Czech 2006 prospects: Antonin Drbohlav

By Robert Neuhauser

Looking at the performance of the Czech 1988 born prospects on the
international stage and on either the midget or junior level, this birthyear appears to be very promising. One of the most
talented defensemen is Antonin Drbohlav, a blueliner with the Slavia
Praha midgets.

Antonin Drbohlav had a very late beginning to his hockey career. He
didn’t have anyone to direct him towards hockey and as a
small kid he was just playing different kinds of sports outside with the
other kids. When he started to attend elementary school in his native
capital city, Praha, Czech Republic, his interest for hockey began to
grow. Drbohlav watched the games often and when he was nine years
old, he finally decided that he wanted to try play organized hockey. “I
had enough of just watching the games in the stands. I wanted to play,
so I was looking for a team which would accept me.”

Being nine years old, he was among the oldest kids at the Sokol Zizkov
entry level squad, a small team of a local Praha district league. Most
of the kids begin their careers at the mere age of four or five years,
so it was up to Drbohlav to cut this advantage with a strong attitude and
work ethic.

Fortunately, he didn’t lack those needed attributes. The coaches put the lanky Drbohlav in the back rows and he felt comfortable with
patrolling the blueline. He was very eager to learn new things every
practice and could take advantage of his natural gift for sports. This
enabled him to outplay the less dedicated kids soon and after some time
emerge as one of the most talented blueliners on the Zizkov team.

In fact, Drbohlav spent just two years playing for the provincial Sokol Zizkov team.
After the season for the 4th grade team it was obvious that he needed to
perform alongside more talented teammates against stiffer
competition in order to keep his steady improvement. His parents held an offer
from Slavia Praha, one of the two Extraleague franchises based in Praha.
Drbohlav could benefit from joining a strong developmental system and
so beginning with the 5th grade he was wearing the red and white colors of
Slavia Praha.

There he spent two years under coaches Rudolf Dlouhy and Vladimir
Ruzicka, an ex-NHL player with the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins and Ottawa
Senators. Drbohlav, nicknamed ‘Tony’ or ‘Tonik’ from his first name,
had to cope with the fact that he is no longer the star of his team and
show up every game. He focused on rock-solid defense instead of making
risky rushes and tried to develop his shooting skills.

In the 8th grade under head coach Ladislav Slizek Drbohlav took home
the first individual awards. His defensive savvy paid off and the Slavia
Praha defensive anchor Antonin Drbohlav won the most valuable player
award at a pair of 8th grade tournaments. He was outstanding against kids
of his own age, so he got promoted to the 1987 borns team for the first
time that season. Antonin Drbohlav admires the play of Detroit Red
Wings winger Brendan Shanahan and New York Rangers forward Eric Lindros.
“They both are big, strong players. I like their mix of size, skill
and toughness.”

In the season when Drbohlav performed for the 9th grade team of Slavia
he also played his debut in the midget Extraleague under coaches Petr
Novak and Jiri Dolezal. He managed to stick with the team for most of
the season. Seeing playing time mostly on the third defensive pairing,
Drbohlav contributed to the strong Slavia Praha midgets playoff run. They
were eliminated in the semifinal series, but still the third place
means a considerable success for Drbohlav. “I remember it as a huge team
success, we knew that we can go a long way in the playoffs and finally
managed to get the bronze medals.” A reliable rearguard, Antonin
Drbohlav in his rookie midget Extraleague season dressed out for 47
games, registering 7 points for 1 goal and 6 assists to go along with 18
PIMs.

He could look forward to the beginning of his international career.
Drbohlav captained his Praha region at a meeting of the top regional 9th
grade teams, which served as the pre-evaluation camp of the next
Under-16 team. Drbohlav was a lock to make the new Czech Under-16 team of the
1988 borns, but had to wait until early November for his debut. “I
hoped to get invited already to the first tournament, a three-game series
against the Under-16 team of Slovakia, but unfortunately it didn’t
happen.”

It was the Czech cities Rakovnik, Slany and Kralupy and
Vltavou which witnessed Drbohlav play for the Czech Under-16 team against
the Swiss. Playing on the first defensive unit with Jiri Suchy from the
Ceske Budejovice midgets, Drbohlav logged a big portion of playing time
and focused on his defensive role. He slipped into four scoring
chances, but went scoreless with 4 PIMs.

Drbohlav is in his sophomore season with the Slavia Praha midgets in
2003-2004. “This year we have a real good team. We all know that we
are able to win the midget Extraleague this season and it is our ultimate
goal.”

Under coaches Martin Pesout and again Vladimir Ruzicka is
Drbohlav making strides in his all-round play and tries to develop more
of an offensive upside. “I especially like to play with Jiri Jebavy,
Martin Ondracek or Jakub Stromko. They are all very skilled guys who
are fun to play with.” Drbohlav appeared in 19 midget games so far,
scoring 4 points for 2 goals and 2 assists, is +6 and has 16 PIMs. To
commemorate both Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, Drbohlav prefers to
wear number 67 on his sweater as a number ‘in between’ the numbers of
these legends.

A big rearguard, Antonin Drbohlav impresses with his above average
size. At 6’2”, 178 lbs he possesses good height, but there is some
filling out still ahead of him. He plays a very steady game, taking care of
his own end before joining the rush. Drbohlav stays with his man and
shows a low number of positional gaffs. Thanks to his strong reach he is
extremly tough to beat in one-on-one situations. He is capable of
firing hard blasts from the point, he only needs to do more frequently. A
player with decent toughness, Drbohlav doesn’t shy away from the tough
play, but is no crash and banger. He brings in adequate offensive flair, but
decision-making with the puck is something to work on for him. The same for
his skating skills, Drbohlav could use bigger bursts of speed and a
bigger mobility. Drbohlav sees the ice quite well and is useful on both
powerplay and penalty killing units.

Antonin Drbohlav can’t be counted to the very superstitious players.
Before each game he just tries to cool down and concentrate on his own
performance.
A computer freak, Drbohlav spends nearly all of his non-hockey time in
front of a computer. He is in the first year of his studies at a
secondary school for informational technologies and also in his free time he
likes to search the internet for news or play computer games. He is so
good in the Quake 3 game from ID Software that he even considers a
career as a professional computer games player. As a strong skier, he never
misses the opportunity to go to the mountains for a weekend of skiing. As for the eating habits, Drbohlav isn’t very demanding.
“I eat every food suitable for an athlete. To drink I like mostly
Coke or mineral water.”

Represented by Toronto-based agent Petr Svoboda, Antonin Drbohlav isn’t
rushing to the CHL. “I would like to finish my education first. And
if I would have that chance, the NCAA would attract me a lot. I like
the opportunity of getting both a university degree and play quality
hockey.”

Overall he is a good prospect with
Above average chances to hear his name called in the 2006 NHL Entry
Draft. After David Ruzicka
from Kladno he is one of the most promising Czech 1988 born defensemen.