Foreign prospects in the Czech junior/midget Extraleague

By Robert Neuhauser

Like most leagues in the world, the Czech junior and midget Extraleague aren’t leagues where only prospects born in the country play. Numerous players born outside the Czech Republic hone their skills in the Czech developmental leagues, with the Slovaks having the most over the other nationalities. The players looking to prove himself in the Czech Republic usually consider their own countries’ leagues as inferior and are eager to compete in a country where hockey has a long tradition and quality. Here is a look at some of the top foreign talents playing in the Czech Republic, three Slovaks and one Slovenian.

Lukas Zeliska, Slovakia
Position: Center
Team: HC Ocelari Trinec midgets
Birthdate: January, 8th, 1988
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 170 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: 2006 eligible

The flashy Trinec midgets captain is of Slovak nationality and plays his first season in the Czech midget Extraleague. But already long enough to make a name for himself and gain a reputation of a coveted prospect. Zeliska averages nearly two points per game as skates on the first line and makes the most of his lion’s portion of playing time.

An elusive skater, Zeliska utilizes on his strong bursts of speed to outskate the opposing defensemen. He is capable of sharp turns and possesses a solid balance. Zeliska is blessed with above-average vision and hockey sense. He distributes crisp, accurate passes with precise timing. But he can also finish the scoring chances on his own, using his solid variety of shots. He unleashes a quick wrist shot and an adequate slap shot, both of decent accuracy. He doesn’t refuse to return back to help out the defense, but is average in limiting the opposing player options. Zeliska needs be physically assertive all the time. He isn’t playing afraid and can throw a good check, but is showing his mean streak only occasionally. He could also be more of a force when playing off the puck as his intensity vanes without the puck. Overall he is an extremely talented forward who will be a player to watch in 2006.

Marek Zagrapan, Slovakia
Position: Center
Team: HC Hame Zlin juniors
Birthdate: December, 6th, 1986
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 168 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2005 eligible

Originally from Presov, Slovakia, Marek Zagrapan saw his stock soar last season as he earned a promotion to the Zlin senior team as a 16-year-old. Playing his third campaign in the Czech leagues, Zagrapan’s play took a step back this season. He wasn’t able to maintain his spot with the Zlin senior team and sees playing time mostly on the junior team.

Zagrapan is a quick skater with a fluid stride and above-average agility. He possesses good acceleration and balance. Zagrapan takes advantage of his terrific vision and hockey sense to make strong plays with the puck. Very good in the faceoff circle, Zagrapan is more of a playmaker than sniper. He handles the puck well with his soft hands and is a valuable asset to the powerplay units. He shows a solid commitment to the defensive aspect of his showing and can’t be labeled as one-dimensional. Zagrapan releases an accurate wrist shot, but could use more polishing on his slap shot. Thanks to his smallish frame he isn’t much of a physical menace. Zagrapan doesn’t excel in heavy traffic and needs to learn ways how to execute in those areas. But he is definitely a name to remember for the next year’s draft.

Jakub Drabek, Slovakia
Position: center/right wing
Team: HC Ocelari Trinec juniors
Birthdate: March, 3rd, 1987
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2005 eligible

After playing much of the previous season on an all-Slovak line on the Trinec midget team, Jakub Drabek found himself accompanied by his countrymen again this season. He showed a good chemistry with Lukas Petrek before Drabek’s promotion to the junior team at mid-season broke up this combo.

Drabek is a solid skater with a good agility, but he could use more lower-body strength in order to have more balance. He possesses decent speed, but occasionally quits moving his feet and gets caught by the opposing defensemen. Drabek makes use of his smooth puckhandling skills to emerge as a menace in the offensive zone. He is useful on powerplay units and boasts a solid variety of shots. He sees the ice quite well, but hockey sense is a bit of an issue here. Drabek has to make strides in his defensive awareness, he isn’t much of a force in his own zone. Playing the body also can’t be counted to his strengths as he tends to rely on his finesse more than on toughness. Unless he pulls off a real impressive 2004-2005 campaign, he isn’t going to be a blue-chipper for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft most likely. Drabek is a talented player who can make his living with playing in Europe, though.

Matej Badiura, Slovenia
Position: Left wing
Team: HC Vsetin
Birthdate: January, 19th, 1985
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 183 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

Battling the majority of Slovaks as top foreign players in the Czech junior Extraleague is Matej Badiura, a player who calls not Slovakia but Slovenia his home country. He adjusted remarkably well to the pace of the Czech junior Extraleague and eventually also was promoted to the Vsetin senior team to perform in the senior Extraleague as a fourth-line forward.

Matej Badiura is a good skater for a player of his size. He boasts a fluid stride and reaches full speed quite effortlessly in a few strides. He possesses solid agility and can make those assets to his advantage. Badiura has a decent vision to go along with his smooth puckhandling skills. He is an accurate passer and possesses an above-average ability to find the open man. Badiura is showing a commitment to the defensive aspect of the game as he returns back to help out the defense quite often. As a drawback there is the fact that Badiura isn’t much of a traffic player at this point. He needs to use his frame more effectively and work harder along the walls.
Badiura needs also some improving on his shooting skills. He has an adequate wrist shot, but his slap shot needs to be more accurate and he can fire it more often. Badiura is still raw and you won’t find him in the upper ranks of the 2004 NHL draft, but he is a good sign that hockey in Slovenia can produce solid prospects.