Czech 2004 prospects: season review Part 3

By Robert Neuhauser





Zdenek Bahensky, F

Zdenek Bahensky, F

2003-2004

HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Jr.

52GP

14G

15A

29P

204PIM

Under-18 WJC

7GP

1G

3A

4P

2PIM

 

Zdenek Bahensky had his goals set high in 2003-2004 as he could
build on his almost full year of junior Extraleague experience from the
previous season and two exhibition games already with the senior team. He was
counted on to be one of the leaders of his Litvinov junior team and Bahensky
was penciled also as a potential boost of the senior team if the injuries would
hit the veteran-laden senior squad. Bahensky fulfilled only the first half of
his ‘wish list’ because the overall depth at forward on the senior team made it
impossible for him to see some playing time. But the smooth-skating forward was
given plenty of ice time on the junior squad. Under the tutelage of head coach
Josef Beranek, father of former NHLer of the same name, Bahensky had to work on
his stickhandling skills and also add some toughness to his play.

 

Bahensky more than exceeded the overall expectations in
terms of aggressiveness as he was willing to throw his body around very often
and stuck his nose into heavy traffic, mucking and grinding in the corners.
Bahensky surpassed the 200 PIM plateau as the only Czech 2004 eligible prospect
and the 204 PIMs are exact the twice the number of PIMs from the previous three
seasons. Bahensky’s stock was steady during the first three months of regular
season play. He responded with good showings after Christmas as he chipped
offensively more often and didn’t back down from his take-no-prisoners play
which caused his stock to soar. Bahensky also particularly upgraded on his
puckhandling skills, but showed that he is still a bit raw in his defensive
awareness and needs to improve on his play in his own zone. Bahensky is going
to practice with the senior team during the summer, but if he won’t be getting
proper ice time, then the CHL is a possibility for him.

Zdenek
Bahensky wasn’t off to an impressive start on the international stage in
2003-2004. He looked a bit snake-bitten at the World Junior Cup in August, 2003
and couldn’t find his usual offensive prowess. But for the November games he
was promoted already to the Under-19 team and performed in a three-game series
against the Under-19 team of Finland and scored two goals in three solid
showings. After taking part in both the Christmas evaluation camp and the Five
Nations Tournament in Finland Bahensky was a lock to make the Czech Under-18
WJC team. In Minsk, Belarus he played a good tournament and made the
projections of him being picked within the first three rounds of the draft
looking like a sure bet.

Michal
Birner, F

2003-2004

HC Slavia Praha Jr.

55GP

25G

35A

60P

112PIM

HC Slavia Praha Sr.

1GP

0G

0A

0P

 

Under-18 WJC

7GP

3G

2A

5P

8PIM

 

Regarded by many as a 2004 blue chipper two seasons ago,
Michal Birner registered a step back during this campaign. He was eager to
regain his former status in 2003-2004 and was successful as he managed to get
his name through as a likely mid-round pick for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. This
past season was the first full one in which Birner had to play without former
longtime linemate, top prospect Jakub Sindel, after three years. Sindel left
Slavia Praha for the arch rival Sparta Praha in January, 2003, while Birner
remained loyal to the white and red colors of Slavia. He could make use of his
junior Extraleague experience from the previous season and was skating on the
second or third line of Slavia all season long. Birner was very dedicated to
the summer workouts this time and it resulted into added bulk and a bigger
prowess in the physical battles.

 

Birner developed a solid mean streak during 2003-2004 and
wasn’t afraid of using his body regularly to dish out hits. He was a consistent
force on the Slavia Praha offensive rotation and even if he had some off games,
he didn’t meet a significant scoring slump. Birner also upgraded his shooting
skills during this season, mostly his slap shot. In the previous seasons he
didn’t use the slapper very often, but this year he unleashed it regularly with
solid hardness and accuracy. One of the best skaters on the Slavia Praha junior
team, Birner took advantage of his speed to create offense, but still didn’t
get rid of one of his biggest drawbacks as he didn’t drive the net hard when he
was supposed to and wandered on the periphery from time to time. Overall Birner
recorded a solid improvement during the 2003-2004 campaign and the Slavia Praha
senior team coaches shared this opinion. They promoted him for the last game of
the regular season to the senior team, so that Birner could play his senior
Extraleague debut in a game against Pardubice. He is expected to see a larger
role with the Slavia Praha senior team next season, but didn’t rule out the
possibility to come over to the CHL if his future NHL employer will want him to
come over.

Michal
Birner’s 2003-2004 international season began at the World Junior Cup, where he
added to the bronze medals with 5 points. In November he was promoted to the
Under-19 team to take part in a three-game series against the Under-19 team of
Finland and gain some experience from playing against older opposition. The
Christmas evaluation camp and the Five Nations Tournament in February Birner
spent both with the Under-18 team. He was a lock to make the Under-18 WJC team
and pulled off a delighting performance in Minsk, Belarus. Birner displayed a
good sense for the game and smooth puckhandling skills, which contributed to
yet another bronze medal of the Czech Under-18 team. Birner saved his stock and
look for him in the middle rounds of the draft.

Jaroslav
Mrazek, D

2003-2004

HC Sparta Praha Jr.

37GP

3G

6A

9P

36PIM

HC Sparta Praha Sr.

1GP

0G

0A

0P

0PIM

playoffs

1GP

0G

0A

0P

0PIM

Under-18 WJC

7GP

0G

0A

0P

6PIM

 

Jaroslav Mrazek’s stock took a dive in comparison to where it
was one year ago. Regarded as probably the best Czech 2004 eligible defenseman
only behind Ladislav Smid, Mrazek backed down from his strong conservative
defensive play, which brought him considerable success in the previous two
seasons. Mrazek tried to develop an offensive side to his solid defensive
savvy, but tried to do too much and was overwhelmed with the puck at times.
Mrazek rushed the puck often, but thanks to his lack of the elite puckhandling
skills he didn’t manage to win a large amount of one-on-one battles, which
resulted into numerous turnovers. Mrazek didn’t seem to know what his role on
the ice is especially in the first half of the season, leaving the scouts with
a question what happened to the big, reliable Mrazek from the previous season.
His offensive raids often finished just in the corner and he didn’t unleash his
booming slapper so often as in the previous season. However, as the season
progressed, Mrazek showed a sign of returning to his usual reliable style and
he began to use his imposing frame more often. When he kept the things simple,
he showed that he still can play good games and be a strong force in the back
rows. Late in the season he could celebrate his senior Extraleague debut and
was practicing with the Sparta senior team till the season reached its end. He
traveled with the team to all playoff games, but with the exception of one game
he was either a healthy scratch or the seventh defenseman, not playing at all.

Jaroslav
Mrazek battled flu at the 2003 World Junior Cup, which resulted into a not very
impressive showing on the bronze-medal winning Czech Under-18 team. As a core
member of the Czech junior national team of the 1986 borns he didn’t have much
to prove in the November Four Nations tournament and was promoted to the
Under-19 team instead. There he registered an above-average showing even
against older opposition and was one of the best defensemen of the team, which
played in a three-game series against the Under-19 team of Finland. He missed
the Christmas evaluation camp of the Under-18 team, but performed at the Five
Nations Tournament of the Under-18 teams in Finland and was a lock to make the
Under-18 WJC team. Mrazek wasn’t a dominant force in Minsk, Belarus, but he
filled his role conscientiously and didn’t make any glaring mistakes. Pegged as
an early-rounder last year, expect Mrazek to slip to the late rounds.

Jan
Zapletal, D

2003-2004

HC Vsetin Jr.

51GP

2G

4A

6P

26PIM

 

Before the beginning of the 2003-2004 season Jan Zapletal went
through the biggest change which can happen to a hockey player. He changed his
position. The natural forward was switched to a defenseman by the Vsetin
juniors head coach Bretislav Kopriva. In Zapletal’s case, it was a very smart
move. He performed as an average second or third line player on the Vsetin
midget team in 2002-2003 and it didn’t look like he will ever draw attention
from NHL teams. Zapletal wasn’t a total rookie in his new role, he played
defense also in his season for the 4th grade team in his native Brno, Czech
Republic, but that happened seven years ago.

 

However, Zapletal found an immediate home on the back rows
of the Vsetin juniors team and coach Kopriva could see the dividends of his
decision. Zapletal was paired with offensive-minded rearguard Lubomir Stach for
most games of the first half of the season and he filled the role of a
stay-at-homer effectively. When Zapletal kept the things simple, he was a real
force in his own zone with his size and mobility and the opposing forwards had
a tough time against him. He looked a bit overwhelmed when having to move the
puck under pressure at times, but still the big Zapletal was a revelation on
the radar screen of NHL scouts. As the season progressed, he began to show a
bigger offensive upside and rushed the puck more often. But it was visible that
Zapletal is at his best when he plays a simple defensive style, he was prone to
the odd bad decision and wrong-timed pass when he tried to do it all in the
defensive and also offensive zone. For the next season he has to learn how to
use his big frame more aggressively and upgrade his shooting skills. He is
going to stay with Vsetin most likely as he wants to finish his secondary
education and play in the senior Extraleague before thinking of a career in
North America.

The
2003-2004 season was also the first on the international stage for Zapletal. He
played his debut at the Christmas evaluation camp of the Czech Under-18 team,
with four exhibition games against the Czech Div I senior league teams and the
Danish Under-18 team. He left a solid impression and was even promoted to the
Czech Under-20 team for the Four Nations Tournament in February. Zapletal
registered a decent showing there, but didn’t make the Czech Under-18 WJC team
in the end. His sub-par performance in the exhibition games against the
Under-20 team of Poland contributed to this failure a lot, but Zapletal has
still considerable potential. NHL teams should look for him in the later
rounds.

Michal
Psurny, F

2003-2004

HC Hame Zlin Jr.

50GP

26G

23A

49P

16PIM

HC Hame Zlin Sr.

5GP

1G

0A

1P

2PIM

Under-18 WJC

7GP

2G

1A

3P

0PIM

 

Michal Psurny had his 2003-2004 campaign very similar to this
of his twin brother Roman. Just like Roman, Michal built on his previous
15-game experience from the Czech junior Extraleague from the last season. This
year he coped with a heavier burden as big things were expected from him. He
took advantage of his excellent chemistry with his brother and Stanislav Balan,
who skates alongside the flashy twins for the fourth consecutive year. Psurny
added about an inch to his frame during the last year, but is still a bit light
on his feet. He addressed the need of a more effective stride and showed a
slight improvement in his skating skills. Michal Psurny was consistent during
the whole season and scored at a point-per game average. He registered his only
low in November and early Decmeber, when he looked a bit tired and points
didn’t come as he would wish.

 

Zlin juniors head coach Stanislav Prikryl used him mostly on
the second unit and Psurny saw playing time on both power play and
penalty-killing units. The month of December brought a pleasant surprise for
him as he was promoted to the senior team along with his twin brother Roman. He
was used sparingly on the fourth line of the Zlin senior team and was there
mostly to make his feet wet in the senior Extraleague and gain some experience
for the likely full-time promotion next season. But he managed to score his
first senior goal in a game, which was a national telecast. Michal Psurny
didn’t see playing time during the senior Extraleague playoffs, where Zlin won
the championship trophy in the end. He was industrial in the junior team
playoff run, where he contributed to the bronze medal finish. Michal Psurny’s
scoring tailed off in the playoffs as he went scoreless in five playoff
contests and wasn’t the same force as in the regular season.

He
was a key member of the Czech Under-18 team in 2003-2004. Psurny performed at
the World Junior Cup in August, 2003, and contributed to the bronze medal
finish with 4 points. He took part also at the Christmas evaluation camp, even
if just for two exhibition games. He didn’t join the Under-18 team till the
pre-Under-18 WJC evaluation camp, because he was promoted already to the
Under-20 team along with Roman Psurny. He participated in the Four Nations
Tournament of the Under-20 teams, played in early February. Michal Psurny’s
performance at the Under-18 WJC was decent, but in some games Psurny was
overshadowed by the other players and looked only average. He projects as a
late round pick.