For a tiny country, Slovakia has produced some big defenseman in the past few years – Zdeno Chara, Kristian Kudroc, Branislav Mezei, Richard Stehlik, and Ivan Majesky. At 6’6” and 210, Boris Valabik is the latest ‘redwood’ to come from the forests of Slovakia and stand above the crowd in North American hockey.
OUT OF NOWHERE
Coming into this season, Valabik was not on many scouts’ lists as a top prospect. The Nitra-born prospect was considered a ‘project’ at best, and projected as just the fourth best Slovakian defensive prospect at best behind Andrej Meszaros, Michal Sersen, and Andrej Sekera. Valabik was drafted just 50th in the CHL Import Draft, and there were concerns about his apparent lack of skating ability and skill.
Much like Zdeno Chara’s WHL days in Prince George, Valabik’s early days in the OHL were quite a spectacle. Fans and scouts regarded these two defensemen as more of a circus attraction than serious NHL prospects. Take two very large defensemen, add the skating ability of a new-born giraffe trying to walk for the first time, and add a few thundering bodychecks and a willingness to drop the gloves, and you get players that fans love to watch, but many scouts look upon with disdain and bewilderment.
Valabik has quickly won over fans and scouts with his feisty style of defensive hockey and his quick and steady development and adjustment to North American hockey. His performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game (a goal and some good hits) got numerous favorable reviews, and now Big Boris has pushed himself into top prospect status and is in a legitimate race with Michal Sersen and Andrej Meszaros as the top Slovak-born prospect heading into 2004. He was ranked 13th among North American skaters in the CSB mid-term rankings.
CRASHING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
Valabik’s first days in the OHL exposed obvious weaknesses that he had to improve upon. As is usual for such a big boy, his first-step acceleration and quickness were awkward and slow. He hasn’t fully grown into his body, and quicker forwards have been giving him trouble down low and on the rush. Although confident with the puck, he was not used to the pace of the Canadian game and had to adjust to receiving and dishing the puck much quicker than back in Slovakia. As is standard with big European defensemen,
To his credit, Valabik has been a quick learner in his short time with the OHL Kitchener Rangers. He has learned to use his large wingspan and long reach to his advantage on the defensive end while his skating has improved with continued practice. He defends his own net with incredible zeal, and if he was a student of the Derian Hatcher school of defense, he would get straight A’s for his nasty and liberal stickwork and his penchant for making life miserable for opposing forwards. His temper is almost a detriment at times as Valabik is a bit too eager to drop the gloves, but better to be too eager and rambunctious than hard to coach.
A NATURAL FIT
Unlike quite a few other tall Slovaks such as Peter Polcik, Vladimir Kutny, and Vladislav Balaz, Boris Valabik has fit into the OHL game very well. While his finesse-oriented countrymen could never adapt well to the CHL, Valabik seems more at home in the North American style of game than he was back in Slovakia.
The smaller rinks help reduce the negative effects of Valabik’s lack of first step quickness, and he can fight to his heart’s content without earning an automatic ejection. His enormous PIM total (239 in 58 games) has him challenging for the OHL in that category.
Offensively, Valabik is not nearly as talented as fellow Nitran, Branislav Mezei, nor fellow 2004 draftees-to-be Andrej Meszaros and Michal Sersen. Valabik has a hard slapshot, but takes too much time in getting it off; not to mention his lack of accuracy. He does, however, carry the puck with confidence, and is capable of making crisp and accurate first passes. His European training with Nitra shines through as Valabik is not a complete ogre in regards to his stickhandling skills.
If Valabik can continue to improve and gain confidence in his puckhandling skills, he will not be a detriment to any transition game. His offensive upside is more Ivan Majesky than Zdeno Chara, and Valabik will likely not see any chunk of power play time at higher levels.
Skating-wise, Valabik does lack that initial first-step quickness, but makes up for it with a powerful skating stride. Valabik covers a lot of ground in just a few strides, and doesn’t get too slowed down when carrying the puck.
Along with his quickness, Valabik will have to continue to adjust to the quicker pace of the North American game and improve the speed of his decision-making skills. Once he applies himself, he is quite a force and can win most any battle.
HEADING INTO THE DRAFT
Valabik has already shown glimpses of his talent at the recent CHL Top Prospects game, and his performances in the OHL playoffs and especially the upcoming Under-18 WJC will obviously have a big effect on his ranking.
As it stands right now, Valabik has leapfrogged over Michal Sersen and Andrej Sekera and will fight with Meszaros directly for the honor of being the first Slovak chosen on draft day.
Although Meszaros possesses skills that Valabik could only dream of having, his size, strength, and his quick adaptation to the North American game will work in his favor. If NHL scouts think Valabik will make a more credible NHL defenseman than Meszaros, then Boris may find himself winning this little race, and possibly being picked in the first round.