Czech 2004 draft review

By Robert Neuhauser

The 2004 NHL Entry Draft was supposed to be one of the best for Czech
hockey as the Czech 1986 birthyear is said to be one of the strongest
ever. Twenty-one players were taken. There weren’t any Czech players taken who were real reaches, but there are some candidates for the ‘steal’ label. Players like Marek
Schwarz, Jakub Sindel, Karel Hromas or Stanislav Balan all slid from
their projected ranking and could turn out to be smart picks in the end. No Czech overage players were selected in
this year’s crop. It is likely that none of the players picked this year will taste NHL hockey next season, but this crop is full of promising talent and in two or three years the NHL could begin to feel their presence.

Round 1

Rostislav Olesz
Position: center/left wing
Team: HC Vitkovice Sr.
Birthdate: October 10th, 1985
Birthplace: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 198 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 3rd among European skaters
NHL draft: Florida Panthers, 1st round, 7th overall

The first pick of Mike Keenan in his new role as Panthers GM
was Rostislav Olesz, arguably the top Czech 2004 eligible
prospect. With this selection the Panthers continue picking players with
lots of both talent and character with their first round pick.

A player without any glaring weakness, Olesz is a character guy who
gives everything to the team’s success. He is well-balanced and always
showing a nasty edge in his play. He plays a combative style and is a
good hitter. He is a valuable asset to both power play and penalty
killing units. A solid skater with a decent agility, Olesz impresses with his
excellent lower body strength. He has a sharp hockey sense and vision.
Also very good in the faceoff circle, Olesz emerges as both a smart
passer and a strong finisher. He possesses a good variety of shots, he
could only fire the puck more often. Olesz impresses with his strong
defensive awareness, he limits the opposing players’ options effectively. A mature player, he doesn’t tend to take shifts off.

Olesz won’t be rushed to the NHL too early and is likely to
spend the next season in the Czech senior Extraleague. He
has the upside to reach the NHL as a dependable two-way forward.

Ladislav Smid
Position: defenseman
Team: HC Bili Tygri Liberec Sr.
Birthdate: February 1, 1986
Birthplace: Frydlant, Czech Republic
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 209 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 6th among European skaters
NHL draft: Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 1st round, 9th overall

The first European blueliner taken in the draft was senior league-proven youngster Ladislav Smid who went to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. While some may argue that the Ducks had better
choices with the ninth overall pick, Smid helps the team to fill the
organizational need for puck-moving defensemen.

Smid possesses a nice frame, but at 6’3”, 209 lbs. he is a bit
lanky. One of his strongest assets is his very smooth puckhandling and an ability to handle huge traffic well. He is very adept at making accurate outlet passes with precise timing.
His solid slapshots contribute to his offensive flair, but he
to unleash them more frequently. On the defensive aspect of his game Smid is positionally quite sound and stays with his man, but he could use some improvement in his defensive zone coverage. He isn’t a hard hitter,
he relies more on his strong vision and reading of plays. He doesn’t play afraid and his play
doesn’t go south when he is physically challenged.

Smid’s skating is decent for a big man. He made strides in his agility and first-step quickness to go along with upgraded
balance. He shows an adequate lateral movement and isn’t easy to
outskate, even if he still could work on this aspect of his game. Smid
also needs to learn how to keep his game more simple and not to overhandle the puck.

Smid is going to play the next season in the Czech senior
Extraleague for his HC Bili Tygri Liberec team again as a top-four
rearguard. His goal is to play in the NHL within two years and he should be able to make this goal happen. He has all the talent to play in the NHL and can emerge as the No. 2 defenseman of some team once he fully matures.

Marek Schwarz
Position: goaltender
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: April 1st, 1986
Birthplace: Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 173 lbs.
Catches: R
CSB final rank: 1st among European goaltenders
NHL draft: St. Louis Blues, 1st round, 17th overall

The first surprise of the draft concerning the masked men was talented Czech netminder Marek Schwarz, who was pegged to go earlier in the draft. Schwarz helps the Blues to
restock a thin pipeline of goaltender prospects and gives them an
eventual starting netminder who can give the NHL a shot in two or three
years.

At 6’0”, 173 lbs. Schwarz already possesses decent size, covers the net
quite well and possesses considerable smarts. He plays a butterfly style which is very effective and Schwarz is tough to beat down low. Schwarz is a resilient goalie with exceptional quickness and reflexes. He uses his pads well and has a quick glove hand. He also likes to challenge the shooter and plays
the angles with remarkable poise. Schwarz impresses with his confidence
and doesn’t let in many bad goals. On the mental side he seems to be
tough, but still sometimes tends to lose focus for a while. His drawbacks
are average skating and he has to further develop his stickhandling.
Schwarz
play with the puck isn’t very good, but he is aware of this and working
on this skill. This season Schwarz developed a penchant to go down
sometimes too early, thus leaving the upper shelf uncovered and vulnerable
to shooters. He has to get rid of this habit, but nevertheless he is
the most talented netminder from this year’s European crop.

The Blues brought in another netminder at the draft, proven Patrick
Lalime from Ottawa and this will enable Schwarz to have enough time to
develop in the WHL as he is going to report to play for the Vancouver
Giants. Expect him to finish his junior eligibility before challenging for a spot with the Blues.

Lukas Kaspar
Position: left wing
Team: HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Sr.
Birthdate: September 23rd, 1985
Birthplace: Litvinov, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 202 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 14th among European skaters
NHL draft: San Jose Sharks, 1st round, 22nd overall

After last year’s selection of Milan Michalek, the San Jose Sharks
overlooked all the woes concerning his problematic nature and decided to add sized forward Lukas Kaspar to the pipeline of prospects.

At 6’2”, 202 lbs. Kaspar already possesses a huge frame, which he knows
how to use for
his advantage. Kaspar is a solid skater for
a player of his size with a decent burst of speed. He handles the puck
extremely well with
his soft hands and is blessed with a strong nose for the net. He knows
many ways to score and does so with ease and
accuracy. A talented
sniper, Kapsar also delivers crisp passes, but once on a scoring
chance he prefers shooting
to passing. He isn’t afraid of the rough stuff and fights along the
boards and in front
of the net a lot. Kaspar drives to the net fearlessly and is solid in
one-on-one situations. The things to work on for him are his agility and
defensive awareness.
Kaspar is raw in his own zone when it comes to positioning and marking
his man, even if he did remarkable strides in his defensive play during
the last months.

Kaspar’s CHL future is still in question. He hasn’t said for sure about reporting in Ottawa to play in the OHL, even if that decision seems likely now with the lack of ice time he would get on
the Litvinov senior team. Kaspar has the tools to play in the NHL on
either the second or third line, where he stands at a good chance to
serve as a dependable forward who scores the occasional goal.

Round 2

Jakub Sindel
Position: center/right wing
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: January 24th, 1986
Birthplace: Jihlava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 167 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 15th among European skaters
NHL draft: Chicago Blackhawks, 2nd round, 54th overall

The Chicago Blackhawks took a chance on selecting the son of the Czech Under-18 team head coach Jakub Sindel with the
54th pick in the draft. Getting him at the bottom of the second round
can be considered as a success for the Blackhawks as Sindel was
projected to be selected in either late first or early second round. Sindel
needs time to develop before he will be able to challenge for a roster
spot in the NHL, two more years of senior Extraleague experience will help
him to round out his game more.

An excellent skater with a smooth stride, Sindel utilizes on his
above-average speed to slip through opposing defenses. He also possesses
strong agility and a quick first step. Sindel is a crafty stickhandler, who handles the puck well with his soft hands and capitalizes on his very good offensive instincts. Blessed with a knack for scoring goals, Sindel thrives in one-on-one situations and is a valuable power play threat. He has a very good vision and hockey sense to go along with solid passing
skills. Sindel is a coachable player with solid leadership ability.
He prefers to lead by example rather than raise his voice in the
dressing room. He is working on improving the defensive aspect of his game,
but is no defensive forward. Another drawback for Sindel is his skinny
frame, he has to bulk up if he wants to survive. He was switched from right winger to center in the
previous season, and coped with the new role well. He only should
develop a better faceoff technique.

Jakub Sindel was picked in the CHL Import Draft by the Brandon Wheat
Kings, but the situation looks like he will stay in Europe for at least
one more season. He has a valid contract with the Sparta Praha senior
team and the brass isn’t willing to allow him to take the CHL route at
this point. Sindel has the upside of a second-line scoring forward
in the NHL, but he definitely won’t make his living on the checking
line.

David Krejci
Position: center
Team: HC Rabat Kladno Jr.
Birthdate: April 28th, 1986
Birthplace: Sternberk, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 21st among European skaters
NHL draft: Boston Bruins, 2nd round, 63rd overall

The Bruins addressed the need of more finesse skill in their stable of
prospects with two consecutive picks of European-raised players late in
the second round, David Krejci and Martins Karsums. The team
continued the trend of picking at least one Czech player in each draft with this selection. Krejci isn’t going to help the immediately, but is a valuable asset in the long-term plans of the organization with his mix of excellent smarts and skill.

At 5’11”, 172 lbs. David Krejci won’t be a huge physical presence, but
still shows that he isn’t afraid of taking a hit to make a play. He
drives hard to the net and is willing to dig for the pucks in corners. But
Krejci’s strongest asset is his elite skill. He possesses soft hands
and is capable of handling the pucks smoothly. He is adequate in the
faceoff circle and is a solid stickhandler. He isn’t afraid of playing in heavy traffic and shows remarkable
poise once on a scoring chance. The defensive side of Krejci’s game is
about average, he won’t hurt you defensively. Krejci has very
good shooting skills, he only needs to use his slapshot more, the wrist
shot is highly accurate.
He presents a big portion of vision and hockey sense in his play and is
also able of very
smart, crisp passes. On the downside Krejci could use more speed, he
sometimes misses that
extra gear. His stride needs some polishing in effectiveness and more
acceleration. On the
ice Krejci could also more control his temper, he tends to lose it and
take some dumb
penalties.

David Krejci decided to give the CHL a try in the next season and he is
going to play in the QMJHL for the Gatineau Olympiques, where he will
be accompanied by fellow countryman and 2004 draft pick Petr Pohl. He has the potential of a second-line playmaking center in the NHL, but if he won’t be able to cope with the physical demands, look for him in
Europe.

Round 3

Zdenek Bahensky
Position: center/right wing
Team: HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Jr.
Birthdate: January 3rd, 1986
Birthplace: Litvinov, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 183 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 24th among European skaters
NHL draft: New York Rangers, 3rd round, 73rd overall

The New York Rangers’ scouting staff decided to improve the team’s
depth at center with picking Czech Zdenek Bahensky in the early third
round. This selection marked the first of what turned out to be a draft with
a heavy Czech flavor for the Rangers. The possible departure of Mark
Messier and Eric Lindros makes the team thin at center now, but Bahensky
is more of a long-term solution than an immediate fix.

Bahensky’s strongest asset is his smooth skating and quickness. He shows strong bursts of speed along with an above average
agility. He can handle the physical rigors of the game quite well, playing
with a solid edge and going regularly into traffic areas. At 6’1”, 183
lbs. is Bahensky still a bit skinny and will need to bulk up, though.
Bahensky possesses considerable smarts and has decent shooting skills. He could use better stickhandling skills as he sometimes gets into trouble
when having to corral a bad pass or deke an opponent in a one-on-one
situation. His wrist shot is blessed with a fast release, but could use
some improving in the accuracy of his slap shot. Bahensky isn’t an
one-dimensional player and has made strides in improving his defensive
awareness. He has to further develop his consistency, he can be a real force
when on his ‘A’ game, but also disappear in some games.

The first overall pick of the 2004 CHL Import Draft by the Saskatoon
Blades of the WHL is ready to come over to play in the CHL in 2004-2005.
Bahensky fits the mold of a future third line NHL forward and can play
on the second line if everything works well for him.

Vaclav Meidl
Position: center
Team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Birthdate: May 27th, 1986
Birthplace: Prostejov, Czech Republic
Height: 6’4.5”
Weight: 198 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 28th among North American skaters
NHL draft: Nashville Predators, 3rd round, 81th overall

The Nashville Predators added Vaclav Meidl, who already has one season of OHL hockey under his belt. A decent skater for a player of his size, Meidl is capable of fast turns but could use more speed in his play. He is an excellent stickhandler
and maneuvers through traffic quite well. He has soft hands
and drives hard to the net. He isn’t afraid of throwing his body around
and even drop the gloves. Meidl fights for the pucks in the corners and
positiones himself in front of the net. He has solid offensive
instincts to go along with a nice vision. Meidl is a good passer and has a quick release, but his slap shot could use more accuracy. He
needs to work on his finishing skills and display a bigger
productivity. He is aware defensively and is often coming back to help the defense.
He needs to show more intensity and determination, he can be a huge
force when he has his day, but also disappear occasionally.

Meidl is going to return to the Plymouth Whalers for his second
OHL campaign and is likely to finish his junior eligibility before
being able to seriously challenge for a roster spot with the Predators. In 2004-2005 he is going to guide the countryman Michael Kolarz on the
Whalers. Meidl looks like a future NHL third-line player unless he
rediscovers his scoring touch.

Round 4

Michal Birner
Position: left wing
Team: HC Slavia Praha Jr.
Birthdate: March 2nd, 1986
Birthplace: Litomerice, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 182 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 68th among European skaters
NHL draft: St.Louis Blues, 4th round, 116th overall

The St. Louis Blues went to the Czech junior ranks in the fourth round
after picking potential starter Marek Schwarz in the first round.
Picking Michal Birner early in the fourth round may be a little of a
reach because they are getting a real wildcard who was slotted to be
selected in the fifth or sixth round. Birner has the upside to
prove the critics wrong however.

A solid skater, Birner shows decent agility and first-step
quickness. He made strides in his balance during the last two seasons. Birner is a dependable forward who is willing to work hard in the offensive zone. He isn’t
afraid of executing in traffic, but doesn’t impress with his size. Even
if he throws the occasional hit and added bulk in the offseason, Birner
needs to use his frame more effectively and mainly drive the net
harder. He tends to float on the periphery and sometimes particularly
disappear from the scoring areas. Blessed with a decent vision and hockey
sense, Birner is an above-average passer who possesses solid puckhandling
skills. He improved on his slap shot this season, letting it go with
solid hardness and accuracy. Birner possesses an adequate wrist shot, but
could use a faster release. He isn’t a liability when it comes down to
filling the defensive duties, but still could use more awareness in
this aspect.

Birner is ready to say goodbye to his parent HC Slavia Praha
team and head North America. The Barrie Colts selected him in the CHL
Import Draft and he is going to report to play for them. A
talented player, Birner has the tools of a potential NHL player, but will be more of a role player.

Karel Hromas
Position: left wing
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: January 27th, 1986
Birthplace: Beroun, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 189 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 45th among European skaters
NHL draft: Chicago Blackhawks, 4th round, 123rd overall

Pegged as a possible second-rounder, Karel Hromas fell all the way to the fourth round to the Chicago Blackhawks. They may have a future solid but unspectacular NHL player at their hands
now.

Hromas’ combative in-your-face style of play brought him lots of
respect. He displays an above-average aggresiveness, shutting down the
opposition regularly with his defensive awareness and sticking his nose into tight corner battles. Hromas isn’t
afraid to hit and perform in heavy traffic. He emerges as a solid
physical presence, utilizing on his solid 6’2”, 189 lbs. frame. Blessed with
a tremendous quickness for a big man, Hromas has a good stride and
balance. His agility has still some way to go, but his skating is
fairly solid. He uses his long reach effectively and is a smart passer.
Hromas has a decent vision and hockey sense to go along with a
never-give-up attitude. He is always involved in the games, playing them with lots
of heart and intensity. On the downside Hromas still needs to further
improve his puckhandling skills, he doesn’t have the best hands and his
variety of shots is also only average. He could work on the accuracy of
both his wrist and slap shots, which are released with a good
hardness.

Hromas is going to come over to play for the Everett Silvertips
of the WHL in the next season. Even if he played occasionally for the
Sparta Praha senior team, he feels that he will benefit from playing a lot of minutes in the WHL more than serve as a fourth-liner in the Czech Extraleague. Hromas fits the mold of a NHL checking-line grinder, which is going to be his NHL role most likely.

Round 5

Petr Pohl
Position: right wing
Team: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Birthdate: August 28th, 1986
Birthplace: Koprivnice, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 175 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 258th among North American skaters
NHL draft: Columbus Blue Jackets, 5th round, 133rd overall

The only Czech player the Columbus Blue Jackets selected in the 2004 draft was QMJHL-proven winger Petr Pohl. Pohl struggled a bit at
the season’s end, which reflected also in the CSB rankings, but was too
attractive to pass up for the Blue Jackets in the early fifth
round.

Pohl is a terrific skater with good acceleration and a
fluid stride. He is agile and his speed is one of his strongest assets.
Pohl handles the puck
extremely well and has very smooth hands. He has a nose for the net and
once in a scoring
chance, he doesn’t hesitate to shoot the puck. He prefers shooting and
has both his slap
and wrist shot very good. He has good vision and hockey sense. He thrives on power play units and develops into
a feared scorer. From the things he has to work on there is defensive
play as he doesn’t contribute defensively a lot. More of a finesse
winger, Pohl also doesn’t hit very hard and toughness is another thing where
he needs upgrading. He won’t make his living as a NHL grinder, Pohl is
destined for the scoring lines rather than for the checking units.

Pohl will be returning to the Olympiques for his second QMJHL season,
when he will be expected to step up with his play and contribute more
especially during postseason play. Look for Pohl to finish his QMJHL
eligibility before trying to make the jump to the pros.

Roman Psurny
Position: left wing
Team: HC Hame Zlin Jr.
Birthdate: February 23rd, 1986
Birthplace: Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 53rd among European skaters
NHL draft: New York Rangers, 5th round, 135th overall

Another Czech selection of the Rangers after Zdenek Bahensky, Roman
Psurny gives the Rangers a potential scoring left winger, which the
organization lacks at this point, but he will take a long time to develop.

Roman Psurny is a slick skater with solid quickness and acceleration, but lacking a bit in balance. A smooth puckhandler, Psurny sees the ice very well and is capable of smart, well-timed passes. He
is an opportunistic goalscorer and possesses solid finishing skills. His wrist shots are fired with strong accuracy and a fast release. He needs to further develop his slap shot, which is quite accurate, but not very
hard. Psurny won’t hurt you defensively, he made strides in getting rid
of the ‘one-dimensional’ label and is showing a bigger commitment to
the defensive side of his game now. The biggest obstacle for him is his skinny frame. At 6’0”, 172 lbs.,
Psurny is no physical menace, but he isn’t afraid of throwing the
occasional hit, though. A fond of open ice, where his skills rule, he has to add 10 pounds of muscle if he wants to survive in the NHL
grind.

Psurny is suited for a second-line NHL player or will spend his
career in Europe. Don’t expect him to make a push for a NHL job earlier
than 2008. He was drafted by the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers in
the CHL Import Draft and is likely to report to play in the WHL after
the Zlin senior team refused to provide him with more than a fourth-line role.

Round 6

Jaroslav Mrazek
Position: defenseman
Team: HC Sparta Praha Jr.
Birthdate: January 14th, 1986
Birthplace: Milevsko, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 85th among European skaters
NHL draft: New York Islanders, 6th round, 179th overall

It took six rounds before the New York Islanders ended the waiting periodof once-heralded prospect Jaroslav Mrazek and added him to their core of
blueline prospects. Mrazek is a longshot and will need at least three
seasons before it will be clear whether he can make his living as a NHL
defenseman or not.

At 6’2”, 190 lbs. one of his strongest assets is
his above-average size. Mrazek is willing to use his frame when battling
along the walls and in the corners, but could clear the crease with a
bigger tenacity. He is reliable in his own end as he doesn’t suffer
from glaring positional breakdowns and stays with his man. But he has
to avoid wrong-timed offensive rushes and risky plays as he doesn’t have the needed puckhandling skills to succeed in one-on-one situations.
Mrazek possesses just average hands and isn’t capable of many nifty stick
moves. He sometimes tries to do too much with the puck, which leads to
turnovers and odd-man rushes. Mrazek unleashes a rocket of a shot from
the point, but his blasts needs to be more accurate. A solid penalty
killing units player, he is a decent passer who needs to further
develop his work on the offensive blue line, though. Mrazek needs to return
to the play which garnered his respect in the last two seasons and
realize that he won’t ever develop into a two-way force, else he is a solid
blueliner.

Mrazek has the upside of a potential NHL seventh defenseman,
but it remains to be seen how badly he wants it and whether he is able
to realize what it takes to succeed. Mrazek is heading North America for the next season. The OHL’s Toronto St. Michael’s Majors selected Mrazek in the CHL Import Draft and he should boost their defense for a couple seasons.

Roman Polak
Position: defenseman
Team: HC Vitkovice Jr.
Birthdate: April 28th, 1986
Birthplace: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 49th among European skaters
NHL draft: St.Louis Blues, 6th round, 180th overall

The very next selection was another Czech and yet
another for the Blues, Roman Polak, who completed the trio of Czech
Blues picks. Polak’s play during the season garnered him a
projection as a possible third-round pick and the Blues had to be delighted to
see him still available in the sixth round.

A smooth skater, Polak impresses with his leg strength and
balance. He is extremely tough to get knocked off his skates and possesses also solid acceleration and agility. At 6’1”, 190 lbs. Polak has a good
frame and is willing to get physical it when fighting along the boards
or clearing the crease from opposing forwards. He is tough and
throws good hits with precise timing. Polak is positionally quite
sound, but could make some strides in this aspect. He possesses a cannon of a shot, which he unleashes regularly. An adept player on both power play
and penalty killing units, he passes the pucks smoothly, but is
sometimes prone to the odd bad decision when moving the puck. He could use a bit better vision in his play. Overall is Roman Polak a very solid NHL prospect who has the needed attributes to succeed in the North American
style of play.

He has the tools to develop into a top-six NHL defenseman if everything
works well for him. Polak is still a long shot, though. He is leaving
the Czech Vitkovice team and is heading Canada for next season. He is
going to boost the Kootenay Ice team and is likely to spend at least the next two seasons in the WHL before challenging for an AHL job.

Jan Zapletal
Position: defenseman
Team: HC Vsetin Jr.
Birthdate: August 21st, 1986
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 55th among European skaters
NHL draft: Tampa Bay Lighting, 6th round, 188th overall

The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t been among the teams who pick Czech
prospects very often during the recent years and this trend continued
also at the 2004 draft, which saw them select only one Czech player. The Bolts decided to go on a real gamble in defenseman Jan Zapletal, who is playing defense for the first full season of
his career.

At 6’2”, 185 lbs. one of the strongest assets of Zapletal is his
above-average size. He skates remarkably well for a big man, with a smooth stride and has a good agility and first-step quickness
to go along with solid balance. He is reliable in his own end as he
doesn’t suffer from glaring positional breakdowns and stays with his man.
Zapletal sees the ice quite well and once he has his defensive duties
done, he sometimes takes advantage of the chance to join the rush.
Zapletal possesses decent puckhandling skills, but needs to keep his game
simple in order to avoid mistakes when rushing the puck. He unleashes
slap shots with an adequate accuracy, but could use a harder blast. He is
a solid passer who needs to further develop his work on the offensive
blue line, though. Bulking up and using his frame to a bigger extent is
another thing to work on for Zapletal, who isn’t a feared physical
presence at this point. A bit of an enigma, Zapletal slid down a bit with some of his poor showings late in the season.

Zapletal, who is considering playing in the WHL for the Regina Pats
next season, has the upside of a seventh NHL defenseman, but is really
far from a sure thing. He clearly needs more seasoning in getting used
to playing the defensive role and learn all the ropes before
he can think of a possible NHL career. At least four years away,
Zapletal is a hit-or-miss project.

Round 7

Stanislav Balan
Position: center
Team: HC Hame Zlin Jr.
Birthdate: January 30th, 1986
Birthplace: Hodonin, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 163 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 48th among European skaters
NHL draft: Nashville Predators, 7th round, 209th overall

The projected mid-rounder Stanislav Balan fell to the Nashville
Predators in the seventh round. Balan helps the Predators to
address their most glaring need, which is lack of depth at center
position. Balan is far from a blue-chipper and is going to take longer to develop than most prospects. He may end up in the NHL someday if he can find a way how to add the needed bulk, if not, then Europe is his destination.

Balan is a good skater for a player of his size. He takes
advantage of his fluid stride and possesses a solid agility. He has an
adequate first-step quickness and is able to execute at a high velocity.
He is a tremendous puckhandler who sees the ice well. He is a deft
playmaker who utilizes on his strong hand-eye coordination. Balan has an
above-average hockey sense and plays well in position. He is capable of
finshing the scoring chances, too, as he boasts a good wrist shot with
a fast release. His slap shot could see some improvement in accuracy
and hardness. Balan doesn’t refuse to help out the defense thanks to his
solid defensive awareness, but still could block the opposing passing
lanes more effectively. At 6’1”, 163 lbs. Balan has a very skinny frame
at this point. He doesn’t play a physical style and relies on his
finesse more than on his toughness.

Balan should be breaking out on the senior level next season. He is
asked to form the fourth line of the senior team along with fellow 2004
eligible prospects, twin brothers Roman and Michal Psurny, if Roman stays in Europe. Balan has the raw talent to play his way into the NHL, but
will have to cope with many obstacles on his way there. Don’t look for
him as a checking line player. He will either make his living with
playing on the second line, or will earn his money in Europe.

Round 8

Jonas Fiedler
Position: right wing
Team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Birthdate: May 29th, 1984
Birthplace: Jihlava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 177 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: unranked (draft re-entry)
NHL draft: Carolina Hurricanes, 8th round, 235th overall

The Czech third-rounder from 2002 didn’t come to terms with the San
Jose Sharks till the June 1st deadline and was therefore allowed to
re-enter the 2004 draft. The Hurricanes tend to draft Europeans with CHL experience and Fiedler helps them to fill the organizational lack of prospects playing at the right wing.

Fiedler is a solid skater for a player of his size, even if he
still could use more balance not to be knocked off the puck too easily.
Versatile and deceptively quick, Fiedler also shows an adequate
commitment to the defensive aspect of the game. He blocks the opposing lanes of
the opposition quite effectively and is willing to return back to help
out the defense. He is blessed with an ability to maneuver through
heavy traffic, but needs to improve on his average puckhandling skills.
He got a good lesson during his three OHL seasons and isn’t afraid of
the physical stuff, but adding bulk to his frame will be essential in
his progress. Fiedler is able to find the net quite often thanks to his
solid array of shots and persistence around the goal area.

Fiedler just finished his OHL career and is ready for the jump to
the pro ranks. The AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters or the ECHL’s Florida
Everblades are his likely pro destinations for next year and he has to
establish himself as an AHL regular before thinking of a possible NHL
career. Fiedler’s upside is a NHL depth player and he needs to adjust to the pace of the pro game next season. Even if he is two years older than most of his draft peers, Fiedler isn’t ready to contribute now and is going to spend the next two or three seasons in the minors.

Lukas Vomela
Position: defenseman
Team: HC Ceske Budejovice Sr./Jr.
Birthdate: September 25th, 1985
Birthplace: Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 180 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: 44th among European skaters
NHL draft: Dallas Stars, 8th round, 248th overall

It doesn’t happen very often that the Dallas Stars don’t select a Czech
prospect in the draft and they didn’t change their tendency this summer. In 2004 the Stars
focused on adding blueline talent to their thin system at this position
and they selected big Lukas Vomela in Round 8.

Blessed with a gangly 6’2”, 180 lbs. frame, Vomela has a nice size but
has some filling out to do before he can emerge as a feared physical
menace. More of a stay-at-home defenseman, he concentrates on his defensive duties before he occasionally joining the rush. A decent skater for a player of his size, Vomela could still use more mobility and balance, which would make his
defensive zone coverage more effective. He is a solid shooter from the point
and has adequate passing skills. He tries to keep his game simple and is coveted for his reliability, but has to further improve his decision
making with the puck. Vomela plays a sound positional game in his own
zone and he marks his man effectively. He made strides in his toughness
during the last season and is capable of throwing solid hits with good
timing. He is also a solid crease-clearer who plays his games at a good
level of intensity and determination.

The long shot Vomela battles the odds of not registering a
significant improvement during the 2003-2004 season. He will look to establish
himself as a regular on the senior level after an injury-riddled
campaign, but with his team being relegated to the Div I league, Vomela
probably won’t see action on the elite Czech level. Expect him to play as a top six defenseman in the Div I league.

Jan Steber
Position: center
Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Birthdate: October 19th, 1985
Birthplace: Orlova, Czech Republic
Height: 6’3.5”
Weight: 202 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: 60th among North American skaters
NHL draft: Toronto Maple Leafs, 8th round, 252nd overall

Ranked as a possible third- or fourth-rounder prior to the draft, Jan
Steber had to go through several hours of grueling waiting before the
Toronto Maple Leafs finally selected him in the eighth round. The Leafs
were one of the two NHL teams interested in picking him and even
increased their already solid depth at center position.

Steber is a good skater for a big man and possesses a nice agility.
He only needs to gain more strength which will also upgrade his
balance. His footspeed could see upgrading, too. Steber plays well in every game situation and is effective on both power play and penalty killing
units. More of a passer than sniper, he distributes crisp accurate
passes. He has a decent hockey sense and is smart and creative with the
puck. He is an average puckhandler, but makes up for this with his strong
intensity and determination. He takes care of his own end, too, and
can’t be labeled as one-dimensional. Steber possesses a strong slapshot,
but his wrist shot could have a faster release and be more accurate. His
huge 6’3.5”, 202 lbs. frame is another bonus for the player who could
turn out to be a dependable third- or fourth-line NHL player if
everything works well for him.

He will return to the Mooseheads team for at least one more season and should see a larger role this time. Still quite raw,
Steber has a long way to go before being able to challenge for the NHL and will need significant AHL seasoning to develop properly.

Round 9

Jakub Petruzalek
Position: right wing
Team: HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Jr.
Birthdate: April 24th, 1985
Birthplace: Most, Czech Republic
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 167 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB final rank: unranked
NHL draft: New York Rangers, 9th round, 266th overall

The New York Rangers added one more Czech prospect in Jakub Petruzalek, who is a clear late-round gamble. The flashy Petruzalek helps the Rangers to add a
legitimate scorer with loads of skill to the system. Unfortunately,
Petruzalek’s downside matches his upside, so picking him earlier than in
the last round would be a reach.

Petruzalek impresses with his swift skating skills. He displays a
fluid stride and above-average agility. He accelerates well,
but could use more balance, as he gets knocked off the puck regularly. His soft hands contribute to the offensive
talent, a smooth, poised puckhandler who sees the ice quite well. He unleashes a quick wrist shot with a fast release, but could work
on the hardness of his slap shot.
A creative passer, Petruzalek likes the finesse style of play, when he
can make fast smart passes to his linemates. Tight traffic battles
cause him problems because of his severe size deficiency. On the downside, he is just 5’9” and 167 pounds. He can get
outmuscled by the bigger opponents and this factor will always be working against a possible North American career. Petruzalek
isn’t a total liability when it comes down to fulfilling his defensive
duties, but he has to further improve on his defensive awareness and
could block the opposing passing lanes more effectively.

Jakub Petruzalek is coming over to the CHL next season in order to
convince people that he is able to survive in the North American style
of play. The OHL’s Ottawa 67’s are the next team for the former
Litvinov juniors scoring champion with senior Extraleague experience.
Petruzalek is a long shot to ever play for the Rangers, he has the upside of a second line scoring forward, but his drawbacks will make the reality of this projection an extremely tough task.

Martin Vagner
Position: defenseman
Team: Hull Olympiques (QMJHL)
Birthdate: March 16th, 1984
Birthplace: Jaromer, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 215 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB final rank: unranked (draft re-entry)
NHL draft: Carolina Hurricanes, 9th round, 268th overall

The last Czech pick on the draft turned out to be draft re-entry Martin
Vagner, who was a first-round choice of the Dallas Stars in 2002.
High contract demands and a lack of progress formed the Stars’
decision not to sign him and allow Vagner to re-enter the draft. This time he had to wait till the ninth round before the Hurricanes announced his
name and made him their second Czech pick in the 2004 crop after
another re-entry Jonas Fiedler.

Vagner is able to play well in the defensive zone thanks to his
mix of solid size, skating skills and an above-average mobility. He has
very good wheels for a big man and his effortless stride makes his
skating smooth. A poised blueliner, Vagner joins the rush with solid
timing, but still tends to misread the plays and is prone to the odd bad decision when moving the puck. He is average positionally, but displays
solid creativity with the puck. He isn’t afraid of mixing it up and
occasionally he even drops the gloves. Vagner only needs to display his
mean streak every game and show up every night. His booming slapshot from
the point, which is accurate and fast released, can be counted to his
strengths. But he has problems with putting the pieces of the puzzle
together and even if he is talented, he failed to make significant
progress during the two seasons from the 2002 draft and his sub-par showing at
the Memorial Cup caused his stock to take a dive. Vagner’s junior
career is now over and his immediate goal is to make the jump to the pro ranks on the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters team. The project Vagner needs to
adjust to the pro game and it will take at least two more seasons for
him before he can challenge for a regular spot on the Hurricanes team.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.