2004 Prospects: Martin Rygl

By Robert Neuhauser

Asked to name a prospect from the Czech Liberec team, 99 percent of people would answer Ladislav Smid. But during the last months another player from the Liberec juniors stole at least glimpses of the spotlight on the Czech junior stage. His name is Martin Rygl, a 2004 eligible defenseman.

Martin Rygl began to be involved in hockey when he was five years old. His hockey role model was his father, who played nine years in the youth categories in Martin’s native city, Liberec, Czech Republic. His father didn’t make the jump to the midget level and called it a career soon after. But he wanted his son to give this sport a try, too, and hopefully achieve a bigger success. The young Martin Rygl agreed on that and accepted an offer to join the Liberec entry level team. He didn’t want to become an one-dimensional athlete, though, and because he liked to chase the ball in his spare time, he was enlisted also as a member of the Liberec soccer team.

The Liberec entry level hockey team head Coach Adamec found Rygl a quick study. He showed a solid defensive awareness in the scrimmages, which led coach Adamec to let Rygl skate on defense. At the first practices he got paired with a player, who was soon head and shoulders above the others on the team. His name was Ladislav Smid, nowadays a blue-chipper for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and a possible top 15 pick. But Smid didn’t need a long time to prove that he can be outstanding when playing against kids of his age and was promoted to the one year older team to play against physically more mature opposition.

This opened the door for Martin Rygl to emerge as an elite defenseman of the Liberec 1986 borns team. He wasn’t promoted to the 1985 borns team as he needed to work on his skills more and wasn’t ready for the jump. Martin Rygl played under the tutelage of coach Jaroslav Kasik for eight years, from the 1st till the 8th grade and saw his role on the team take an upward path. Rygl impressed with his solid offensive flair and whenever he had a chance to join the rush, he made use of it. This style of play brought Rygl lots of points, at the youth levels the defenses aren’t so tight and even the blueliners are able to put up points regularly. Rygl was dedicated to the off-ice workouts and was firing lots of pucks in order to improve his slap shot from the point. Pee-wee aged players frequently can’t unleash adequate slap shots and Rygl saw the results of his shooting practices come as he was used as both quarterback and pointman on the power play.

Martin Rygl achieved his first major significant in hockey as a member of the Liberec 5th grade team. The whole squad enjoyed a strong run during the whole season and fought their way to the championship tournament of the 5th grade teams, an event they won. The swift offensive blueliner Martin Rygl, a scoring leader of his team after the regular season, left a good impression and was voted the tournament’s ‘Top defenseman’ besides being also nominated to the All-star team of the tournament.

“This was my first achievement in hockey I can remember. We all had a good season and played well as a team, which brought us success in the games against the best 5th grade teams from the whole Czech Republic.”

Martin Rygl, nicknamed ‘Marty’, even increased the offensive output in the next season in the 6th grade. He saw a lot of power play time and was rushing forward often as a third forward. No wonder that after the season was over, the name Martin Rygl topped the Liberec 6th grade team scoring chart. When Rygl performed for the 7th grade team of Liberec, he decided that he will focus on just one sport and stopped to attend the soccer practices. Hockey was too demanding in terms of time need and Rygl felt that he won’t become a soccer star, so from that time he was playing only hockey.

In the 2000-2001 campaign, Rygl preparing for the leap to the midget level in the next season. Head coach Jiri Zobin took over the coaching duties in the Liberec 1986 borns team and put his faith in Rygl by awarding him with the captain’s role. Rygl decreased the number of his offensive raids and focused on filling a more conservative defensive role in comparison to the previous seasons. He upgraded his defensive awareness and overly he met the expectations of the coaching staff. Rygl was invited to the midget team for 9 games to make his feet wet in the midget Extraleague and see what it takes to succeed at this level. In those nine contests Rygl amassed 1 point for 1 assist, a plus/minus of +1 and 2 PIMs.

Liberec midgets coaches Ivo Svatos and Miroslav Dusanek promoted Martin Rygl to the midget team full-time in 2001-2002. He didn’t have a longtime defensive partner and had to get used to different linemates during the season, but showed a solid adjustment to the midget game pace. Rygl put on display an above-average composure when moving the puck, but still had a tough time when flashier forwards hit the extra gear and he had to skate with them in order to prevent a scoring chance of the opposition. He was sidelined with a broken foot for a big portion of games, but recovered from this injury in time to help his team in the relegation group. In 16 midget games in 2001-2002 Rygl notched 2 points for 1 goal and 1 assist, along with -5 and 28 PIMs. Rygl was a decent player, but nothing special which would earn him an invitation to the junior national team. Martin Rygl’s role model is St.Louis Blues defensive anchor Chris Pronger.

“He is just one hell of a defenseman. I like Pronger’s play a lot, he is good at every aspect of the game. You have to admire a guy like him.”

The 2002-2003 season saw Martin Rygl finish his midget Extraleague eligibility. He was counted on to take a bigger role on the Liberec midget squad as he was one of the most experienced player. Rygl skated on the elite two lines and logged time on the powerplay and penalty killing units. Unlike the previous campaign, the 2002-2003 season wasn’t hampered by injuries and Rygl played a steady role on the Liberec midget team, guiding the young rookies and helping his team to avoid being relegated to the Div I midget league. In 34 midget games Rygl scored 15 points for 3 goals and 12 assists, an even +/- and 26 PIMs.

Liberec juniors head coach Ladislav Cermak penciled Rygl as a potential junior player for the next season and decided to test him in the junior Extraleague playoffs. He promoted Rygl for 4 junior games and let him skate as a top-six rearguard. In those four contests Rygl scored 1 point for 1 assist and showed that he can handle the junior Extraleague pace.

This season, 2003-2004, could Martin Rygl experience the coaching methods of a different coach on the junior team as Ladislav Cermak was replaced by Petr Buben. Rygl had a promising start into the season. Now fully accustomed to the junior Extraleague, he could contribute from the beginning. Even if his average skating skills were still holding him back, he could impress with his solid puckhandling and an ability to join the rush. He helped the Liberec juniors to slip into the playoffs for the second consecutive season and ranked atop the defensemen scoring chart. In 57 junior games in 2003-2004 Rygl registered 30 points for 8 goals and 22 assists, an even plus/minus and 50 PIMs. When Czech Under-18 team head coach Jaromir Sindel talked to the junior Extraleague coaches about potential boosts of the Czech junior national team of the 1986 borns, Martin Rygl’s name was among the mentioned.

Rygl, a Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators fan, bursted onto the international stage at the Christmas evaluation camp of the Under-18 team. There he played in four exhibition games, two of them against the Under-18 team of Denmark and the remaining two consisted of games against Czech Div I senior teams Beroun and Mlada Boleslav. Rygl was sent to help the Beroun lineup for the first game, but was hot since rejoining the Under-18 team, registering 3 points for 1 goal and 2 assists.

He also made the trip to Finland for the Five nations tournament of the Under-18 teams in February. In four games there Rygl notched 1 point for 1 assist.

Martin Rygl was invited to the Czech Under-18 team’s pre-WJC evaluation camp and dressed out for two exhibition games against the Under-20 team of Poland there. After going scoreless in the first game, a 5:2 win of the Czechs, Rygl played on fire in the second outing, which turned out out to be a 13:2 drubbing of the Polish squad. In this game Rygl recorded 4 points for 1 goal and 3 assists, a number he didn’t achieve for a long time. But still, lack of international experience and some defensive flaws caused that Rygl found his name among the final cuts and didn’t make the trip to Minsk, Belarus, for the Under-18 WJC.

A fast-rising defenseman, Martin Rygl opened some eyes with his mix of defensive savvy and passing abilities. He is an offensive-minded rearguard and displays solid poise when moving the puck. Kudelka uses his reach effectively and is adept at distributing the pucks smartly. He is still prone to the odd bad decision with the puck, though. Rygl is a solid puckhandler who possesses a decent portion of vision and hockey sense. He doesn’t hesitate to fire his above-average shot, which is of good hardness, but could be more accurate. Rygl needs to improve on his positioning as he sometimes doesn’t seem to know where his place on the ice is. On the downside Rygl could play with a bigger mean streak and show his nasty edge more often. At 6’1”, 186 lbs. he possesses a solid frame, but isn’t fully using it to his advantage. Aggresiveness is a thing to work on for him, but overall Rygl made impressive gains during this season and established himself as a decent prospect.

Martin Rygl’s only pre-game superstition is the way he puts on his skates.

“I never forget to put on my right skate first. I have had this superstition for years and don’t plan to change it anytime soon.”

Frequent spare time activities of Rygl are playing tennis and soccer with his friends. As an accomplished soccer player he enjoys those meetings, which occur mostly in summer. He has to fill school duties besides the hockey ones as he is in the third year of his studies at a secondary school in Liberec. Rygl’s main subject is building management. Martin Rygl is a huge music fan, he likes to listen to all kinds of music except brass.

Ranked 114th by Central Scouting, Rygl has an outside shot to be picked in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but given his fast progress during the last months some team may take a flyer on him in the later rounds. Rygl, represented by agent Jaromir Henys, plans to stay in Europe for the next season.

“I’m not rushing to the CHL. I’m happy with playing for Liberec and will stay in Europe for at least one more season.”