The 2004 NHL Entry Draft now over, attention is now directed towards 2005 eligible prospects. For the Czech Republic it won’t be as good of a draft year as 2004 was, but there are still some very good prospects and few players who can be considered sleepers.
This year just few 1987-born players plan to leave to play in the CHL since the U-18 World Hockey Championship will be held in the Czech Republic in April 2005, and playing in the CHL could cause them to miss their chances of participating. Those who are leaving to play in the CHL for sure so far are Jakub Kindl, Michael Kolarz, Tomas Stryncl.
Czech Republic’s last U-17 squad which this year will be the basis of the U-18 team, played few tournaments throughout the season. In the winter instead of going to the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, Czech youngsters went to play against the U-18 teams on the Viking Cup and had an exceptional showing. Though they came in fourth, they played good hockey, not intimidated by the older opponents.
Since the Czech 87-born players are not exceptionally strong class many great 88-born get a chance to play there. Those who made the biggest impact are Michael Frolik, Jiri Tlusty, David Kveton, Michal Repik and David Ruzicka. On the other hand Jakub Kindl didn’t play a single tournament with the U-17 team while he was one of the key blueliners for the U-18 squad and he participated on one event with Czech U-19 team. Michael Kolarz, Martin Hanzal and Martin Husicka mostly played for the U-18 national team but none of them made it to the Czech roster for the U-18 World Junior Championship. Instead Michael Frolik’s great performance throughout the whole season catapulted him to the U-18 WJC, as well as Vladimir Sobotka who had a great end of the season being the leading force of Slavia Praha midget team that won the Czech Midget Champion title and having a great pre U-18 WJC camp.
Those 87-born players who were on the rise as the season progressed were definitely Vladimir Sobotka, Petr Kalus, and Michael Kolarz who only wished the season would start in December. Having the peak of their performance in April would be optimal next season. But some players may suffer since the transfer to the CHL is very tricky. No one can predict whether a player makes a good decision by going to the CHL or not. Remember Jiri Drtina who was coming to the OHL as No. 1 of the Import Draft and a candidate for the first round in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and eight months later he was not selected at all. Hopefully Kindl and Kolarz will not have a bad season in CHL and will be ready to help the Czech team at the U-18 WJC.
Czech 2005 eligible prospects do not form a particularly strong class but it is full of hard working players with determination. The overall comparison of potential between the forwards and the defenders shows that the blueliners are in a lead since Kindl, Vojta and Kudelka outshine the forwards. The brightest star among the forwards is definitely Sobotka who is an amazing combination of skill, toughness, and determination, his 5’9” frame is a considerable drawback, though. The rest of the forwards are above average or average, again this season will be the most important for them so far, so some improvement is expected. In the Top 15 are two late 86 born players, Smolenak and Klimek. Among the goalies there is only one who would really stand out, late 86 born goalie Jakub Lev from Czech junior league champion Kladno.
Below is a look at the Top 15 one by one. Jakub Kindl makes for an easy No. 1 because since an early age he plays at least a category higher on the club level as well as on the international level. He is one of the biggest talents among the defensemen in his category. The second spot is earned by Vladimir Sobotka due to his amazing playmaking skills and ability to play physical. He practices with the senior team of Slavia Praha and it looks like he might earn a stable spot in the team. Third is Jakub Vojta who is very good at joining the rush and playing with the puck. Though he lacks defensively, there’s still a ton of potential in this player.
Tomas Kudelka is fourth despite the fact that he is the only blueliner who practices with the senior team. His main virtue is that he concentrates mainly on defense and if he would use his good frame more to his advantage he could be one of the top picks. The top 5 closes with Michael Kolarz, he is one of the few who decided to the CHL route. He is very tenacious player who plays with his heart and with determination and makes a good leader too but sometimes he tries to do too much and this causes him to make mistakes.
Petr Kalus is in sixth place, an offensively very gifted player who passes and shoots equally well, but still needs to fully understand that defense is important too. Seventh is Radek Smolenak who is late 86 born, player with good frame and good shooting skills still lacks an extra gear while skating. The eighth spot belongs to Martin Husicka who is diminutive player but the best skater in the whole Top 15. Martin Hanzal’s size and a two-way game makes him so highly rated, but his shooting skills and skating keep him only at No. 9. The top 10 closes with David Kuchejda, who possesses sharp offensive instincts and soft hands but he is a smallish player and needs to show more defensive awareness.
Tomas Pospisil, who is at the 11th place, definitely has the potential of Top 10 but is somehow not able to put it all together. At No. 12 is Lukas Klimek who is the dark horse of the Top 15. At the 13th spot is the first and the only goalie in the Top 15 Jakub Lev, he is late 86 born and therefore on the international scene he was always in the shadow of Marek Schwarz. Smallish defenseman Ondrej Pozivil is at the 14th place and he is probably the best puck moving blueliner in the Top 15 but his size is a major concern. The last player who made it into the Top 15 is Lukas Vantuch, who takes advantage of his 6’4” frame but his skating needs a lot of polishing.
1. Jakub Kindl, D – Kitchener Rangers
Jakub Kindl is a smooth skater with solid acceleration and a fluid stride. At 6’3”, 190 lbs. he is big, but doesn’t have significant problems with his mobility. He is still quite gangly and needs to fill out his frame. Kindl boasts a terrific mix of vision and hockey sense. He can be used as a power play quarterback and plays with maturity beyond his age. He uses his considerable reach well and distributes the pucks with a precise timing and smarts.
Kindl is positionally quite sound, but tends to suffer from the odd breakdown in his own zone and needs to further develop his defensive zone coverage. He should also work the accuracy of his shooting; he possesses a fast-release slap shot but misses the net with many of his shots. Kindl doesn’t play afraid, still he could use his frame more to his advantage and be more physically assertive. Kindl didn’t see any playing time for the Pardubice senior team and he may give the CHL a shot next season. He should develop into a premiere CHL player after he adjusts to the different style of play.
2. Vladimir Sobotka, F – Slavia Praha
At 5’9”, 173 lbs. Vladimir Sobotka is small, but plays two inches taller and isn’t afraid of taking a hit to make a play. He drives hard to the net and will dig for the pucks in corners. He possesses soft hands and emerges as a smooth puck carrier. Sobotka is solid in the faceoff circle and gets the job done on both power play and penalty-killing units. He isn’t afraid of playing in heavy traffic and shows remarkable poise once on a scoring chance. Sobotka possesses a heavy slap shot, which he unleashes regularly. A tenacious forechecker, he has good vision and hockey sense in his play.
He is a solid passer, but on the downside Sobotka could use more speed, he sometimes misses that extra gear. His stride needs some polishing in effectiveness and more acceleration. Overall he seems to be a promising player who could do well in the North American system, if he grows some and adds more bulk. Sobotka registered a steady rise during 2003-04 and played also his first game at the elite senior level. He may be looking for a change of venue.
3. Jakub Vojta, D – Sparta Praha
An offensive minded blueliner, Jakub Vojta makes use of his ability to join the rush and support the offense. He is a crafty passer who is adept at creating good plays. He is a solid skater with above-average straightaway speed and decent first-step quickness. His lateral movement is adequate. Vojta is willing to let his slap shot go, but has to learn how to keep it lower on the ice. A player with solid determination, Vojta can lead by example. He only needs to play all of his games at full intensity and determination.
At 6’0”, 176 lbs. his frame is average by North American standards. Vojta isn’t timid, but could display his mean streak more often instead of using his stick when battling in the trenches. Of the things to work on for him there is his defensive zone coverage first. Vojta still suffers from the odd positional breakdown and has to stay with his man all the way. When a team is short on defensemen, the versatile rearguard can play wing as well. He chose to stay in Sparta but will have to change his attitude a bit next season under strict coach Sindel.
4. Tomas Kudelka, D – Zlin
A smooth skater, Tomas Kudelka takes advantage of his above-average speed and agility. He is fast backwards and has solid lateral movement to go along with his good balance. He is an offensive-minded rearguard and displays remarkable 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. Kudelka is positionally sound and doesn’t tend to make mistakes in this aspect. He doesn’t hesitate to fire his solid shot, which is quite accurate, but needs to be harder.
On the downside Kudelka could play with a bigger mean streak and show his nasty edge more often. At 6’1”, 183 lbs. he possesses a solid frame, but isn’t fully using it to his advantage. Overall he is a good package of skill, smarts and offensive upside. Once he develops his aggressiveness enough then he can possibly think of a career in North America. Kudelka played his senior Extraleague debut this season and is hoping on seeing more playing time at the senior level in 2004-05.
5. Michael Kolarz, D – Plymouth Whalers
Michael Kolarz is an adequate skater who registered a solid progress in his balance and acceleration during the last season thanks to power skating lessons. He has a good offensive upside to offer and can support the offense with his deceptive passing ability. He is prone to the odd bad decision when moving the puck though. Kolarz needs to make safer plays when under pressure and not panic.
Kolarz is solid in his own end; he jumps into the play only after his defensive responsibilities are finished. With his above-average puckhandling skills he is a welcomed asset to the power play units. Kolarz has to further improve his shooting skills in terms of hardness and accuracy. The mid-sized Kolarz isn’t using his frame fully to his advantage. Adding more toughness and a mean streak to his play will make him only better as he doesn’t emerge as a punishing physical presence in the corner battles. Kolarz possesses decent smarts, but he has to keep his play simple and effective. He plays with solid intensity and determination, but sometimes he tries to do too much. Kolarz will say goodbye to his Vitkovice team and is heading to North America for 2004-05.
6. Petr Kalus, F – Vitkovice
Petr Kalus is a slippery skater with above-average quickness and solid change of pace. An agile forward, he possesses sharp skills and good speed. He is a smooth puckhandler and can maneuver in traffic using his nifty stick moves. Kalus uses his good vision to make timely decisions with the puck, but has also considerable finishing skills. He releases his wrist shots quickly and with a good accuracy. He could use a harder slap shot, though. A valuable asset to the power play units, Kalus is a threat in one-on-one situations. He is a coachable guy and shows a good attitude.
Kalus doesn’t play afraid, but he tends to show his nasty edge only occasionally and needs to add bulk to his 6’0”, 165 lbs. frame. More of an offensive forward, he has to display a bigger commitment to the defensive aspect of the game. When his intensity drops off sometimes, he tends to just circle in the neutral zone and wander from his defensive responsibilities. Kalus managed to stick with the Vitkovice junior team all season long as an underager. He wanted to play in CHL but was not picked still he does not give up on the idea of playing somewhere overseas next season.
7. Radek Smolenak, F – Kladno
One thing you immediately notice when looking at Radek Smolenak is his good frame. At 6’2”, 185 lbs. he boasts an above-average size, he only needs to add more bulk to his frame in order to become a bigger physical menace. Smolenak is a slick puckhandler who utilizes on his vision to create strong plays or finish the scoring chances on his own. He doesn’t hesitate to unleash his quick wrist shot with a good accuracy. His slap shot could still use some polishing. It is adequate, but could be more accurate. Still more of a lanky player, Smolenak should use his frame to a bigger extent and show more of a mean streak when battling along the walls and in the corners. He can’t be labeled as one-dimensional, he often returns to his own zone to help out the defense, but is raw in this asset at this point.
Smolenak is a decent skater with a solid lower-body strength and balance, but could use an extra gear, which would help him to outskate the opposing players more effortlessly. His agility also hasn’t come all the way yet and it is an area which could see improvement from Smolenak. The former midget Extraleague top goal scorer adjusted well to the pace of the junior game and was a solid force after mid-season. He is going to cope with a heavier workload on the Kladno junior team in 2004-05, as he will be asked to help his teammates defend the junior Extraleague championship title.
8. Martin Husicka, F – Vsetin
Martin Husicka is a terrific skater with explosive changes of pace and quickness. He accelerates well and possesses good balance. Husicka uses his speed to slip through defenses and generate scoring chances. More of a playmaker, Husicka sees the ice well and is capable of accurate, crisp passes. He boasts a tricky wrist shot with a quick release, but could use a more powerful slap shot. He thrives with his creativity on power play units and particularly in one-on-one situations. An aggressive forechecker, Husicka is a character guy and with good leadership qualities. He doesn’t tend to take shifts off and impresses with his intensity and determination.
One look at Martin Husicka is enough to see what is his biggest drawback. At 5’8”, 150 lbs. he is no physical menace and defensemen can eliminate him from scoring lanes. He also needs to show a bigger commitment to the defensive duties. Husicka doesn’t limit the opposing player’s chances very effectively and has to show up more in his own zone. Husicka established himself on the elite junior level in 2003-04 with his spirited play and a cup of coffee with the senior team next season isn’t out of the question for the small water bug, who isn’t going to take the CHL route.
9. Martin Hanzal, F – Ceske Budejovice
One of the strongest attributes of Martin Hanzal is his frame. At 6’3″, 189 lbs. he boasts an above-average size, but still has more filling out to do. Hanzal is a smooth puckhandler who takes advantage of his vision and hand-eye coordination to make good plays. He can finish the scoring chances also on his own, but could use better in-close finishing skills. Hanzal doesn’t hesitate to unleash his fast-release wrist shot. His slap shot could be upgraded in terms of more accuracy.
Hanzal doesn’t back down from the rough stuff, he handles heavy traffic quite well thanks to his frame. He shows a solid commitment to the defensive duties, Hanzal frequently returns to his own zone and shuts down the opposing scoring possibilities. On the downside he needs to develop smoother skating skills. Hanzal lacks the top-end extra gear and has to show more agility and first-step quickness in order to be a flashier skater. Well-suited for the North American style of play, Hanzal was chosen by Regina Pats, WHL, but will most probably stay in Ceske Budejovice.
10. David Kuchejda, F – Ceske Budejovice
David Kuchejda is a slick skater who utilizes on his speed and agility to create offense. He has a solid balance and despite his smallish 5’10”, 173 lbs. frame he covers the puck quite well. Kuchejda is an intense forward who inspires with his never-give-up attitude. He fights for the pucks a lot and sticks his nose into tight corner battles. His combative play is very helpful for the linemates, Kuchejda is a smart passer with a huge portion of vision and hockey sense. He possesses sharp instincts and is particularly lethal around the goal area thanks to his solid nose for the net. He is a crafty puckhandler who takes advantage of his soft hands.
Kuchejda has a good slap shot, which only could be harder, his wrist shot has a fast release and is of decent accuracy. On the downside he could show more defensive awareness in his game, he tends to concentrate on offense and forget about his own end. Kuchejda made the jump to the junior Extraleague as an underager in 2003-04 and didn’t look out of place. Will probably stay in Europe and continue his stint with the Ceske Budejovice juniors with hopes on a spot on the elite two lines.
11. Tomas Pospisil, F – Trinec
Tomas Pospisil uses his solid smarts and offensive instincts to generate offense; he can score and pass equally well. He can be lethal around the goal area and has no trouble with putting the puck into the net thanks to his persistence and elusive moves. He possesses solid stickhandling skills and can maneuver through traffic quite well. Pospisil is a smooth puckhandler, but could use more polishing of his shooting skills, as his shots aren’t very hard. Another thing to work on for him is defensive play, which is sub-par at this time.
Pospisil is a solid but unspectacular skater and for a player of his current size 5’10”, 162 lbs. he should work to improve his agility and balance. He has solid straightaway speed though. Pospisil tends to be very nervous before important matches and this fact spoils his performance sometimes. He played with the Trinec juniors for the majority of the season and is eager to crack the senior team roster for the next season.
12. Lukas Klimek, F – Sareza Ostrava
Lukas Klimek is a good skater for a player of his size with solid bursts of speed and adequate agility. He only needs to improve on his lower body strength and thus upgrade his balance. A tenacious grinder, Klimek regularly sticks his nose into heavy traffic, but needs to add more bulk in order to become more effective in the slot. He doesn’t tend to take shifts off and likes to play his games with determination. Klimek displays a decent defensive awareness and he is improving in limiting the options of the opposing players in his own zone.
Klimek is an average puckhandler and could use softer hands. He also has to work on his in-close finishing skills as he has sometimes trouble to put the puck into the opponent’s net. Klimek fires a decent slap shot, but has to upgrade on his accuracy. His wrist shot could use a faster release. Still raw around the edges, hitting the gym will be essential in Klimek’s progress. Klimek broke out in 2003-04, which saw him also burst onto the international stage and registered a solid season. He isn’t happy with his situation in his Sareza Ostrava team and wants to change teams before the 2004-05 season rolls around, but will remain in Europe most likely.
13. Jakub Lev, G – Kladno
Jakub Lev possesses fast reflexes and is tough to beat on all first shots. His play consists a mix of stand-up and butterfly style, and he doesn’t tend to flop around a lot. Lev possesses solid athleticism, but could use a bit more dexterity in his play. Lev boasts a decent glove hand and a good mental toughness. He doesn’t let a bad goal bother him and shows an above-average focus. He likes to challenge the shooter and stays square to him.
There are still a few things for him to work on. Slightly overweight, his movement in the crease could be better and he has trouble sometimes with controlling rebounds. Lev is just an average skater. His stickhandling skills need further polishing in order to avoid ‘adventures’ when moving the puck, but Lev is working on this drawback in the practices. Thanks to his late birthdate Lev isn’t draft eligible until the 2005 NHL Entry Draft comes around and is a decent prospect, but not an elite one. The Kladno juniors starting netminder won his second championship title in two years and probably won’t be seriously challenged for his position in the next campaign unless he decides to come over to the CHL.
14. Ondrej Pozivil, D – Litvinov
Ondrej Pozivil impresses with his swift skating skills. A diminutive defenseman, he displays above-average speed and agility. He could only use more balance in his play. Pozivil possesses a solid offensive flair and doesn’t hesitate to join the rush. He boasts excellent vision, which enables him to make strong plays with the puck and run the power play effectively. Pozivil plays his position well and knows where his place on the ice is. He should further develop his shooting skills as he doesn’t fire the puck very often. His shots are quite accurate, but not very hard.
At 5’10”, 170 lbs. Pozivil’s biggest downside is his smallish frame. He doesn’t play a tough style and relies on his finesse more than on toughness. Large forwards can cause him trouble as he doesn’t have the strength to outmuscle them now. Pozivil is expected to add an inch or two to his frame, but probably won’t ever be a behemoth. If there is a way he can succeed in North America, it will be by using his terrific passing skills and vision. Pozivil’s progress was average over the course of the 2003-04 season and he has to bounce back with better showings in the upcoming season, which he should spend with his parent Litvinov junior team.
15. Lukas Vantuch, F – Liberec
The gangly centerman Lukas Vantuch boasts the least junior Extraleague experience of all the players in the Top 15. He impresses with his agility for a big man, but has to work on his footspeed and acceleration. Vantuch should also upgrade his balance as he can be pushed off the puck sometimes too easily. Solid in the faceoff circle, Vantuch possesses decent vision. He is a smooth puckhandler and boasts an above-average array of shots. He unleashes a hard and accurate slap shot and a quick wrist shot.
He has to put a bigger aggressiveness on display, he tends to play as a friendly giant in some games. Vantuch is a solid passer with good timing of his feeds. He has to further develop on his defensive zone coverage as he isn’t much of a force in his own end. He is a project who can pan out, or fade in obscurity. Vantuch registered a bit of a rollercoaster season in 2003-04 and has to find more consistency next year.
Tomas Svoboda, F – Slavia Praha — Slick skater and opportunistic goalscorer needs to drive the net harder. What kept him from the Top 15 is his lack of commitment towards his defensive duties and occasional selfish behavior when he rather takes a shot from a bad angle instead of passing the puck to a better-positioned teammate. But his potential alone would definitely put him into the Top 15.
Tomas Stryncl, D – Smart puck-moving rearguard considers to take the CHL route. If he adjusts well he can be a good pick.
Jan Byrtus, D – Trinec — Big, steady defenseman made solid gains in his skating abilities this season. Coaches of the national team were not very satisfied with him during the summer camp and he will miss the Junior U-18 Cup held in Czech Republic and Slovakia in the middle of August. He has something to think about.
Ondrej Masek, D – Karlovy Vary — Relatively unknown, fiery Masek emerges as a tenacious defensive force with some offensive prowess to add to the mix. Masek is another guy that we expect to move into the Top 15 during the season as he is expected to be one of the key blueliners in junior team of Karlovy Vary.
Robert Neuhauser contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.