Czech 2006 prospects: Jakub Sklenar

By Robert Neuhauser

The Slavia Praha junior team is going to be scouted heavily by NHL
scouts next season, as this year’s edition of the midget team boasts
several interesting prospects to watch. Among the leaders of the squad loaded with 1988 and 1989 born talent is Jakub Sklenar, a 2006 eligible right winger.

Both Sklenar and his older brother Michal played in the system of the Znojmo team. Jakub’s slick puck prowess and creativity were outstanding among kids of his own age, so he was soon promoted to the older age category in order to have to cope with bigger physical demands and a higher skill level of competition.

His passion for the game paid off at the pee-wee level. Under head
coach Lubos Urbanek the Znojmo pee-wees ranked among the better teams in the region and took part in numerous youth tournaments during the
season. Sklenar left a good impression at many of them as physical play
wasn’t required on this level and bigger size of the two-years older
opponents wasn’t a factor.

“I remember playing several good tournaments
during my years at the pee-wee level. We traveled the whole Czech
Republic and I have won trophies for the ‘Top forward’ or the ‘Top scorer’ at the tournaments played for example in Pisek, Kadan or
Trebic.”

Even if he was still 8th grade eligible, Sklenar joined the
summer practice camp of the Znojmo midget team in the summer of 2002. In Znojmo he wasn’t provided with a chance to skate at the elite midget level and had to play at the Div I midget level instead. His youth wasn’t a problem as Sklenar’s skill were dominating and he was named to the team. The whole Znojmo midget team played as a well-oiled machine and ranked atop the standings for most of the season. Once the 2002-03 campaign concluded, Znojmo midgets were crowned Div I midget league
champions and were prmoted to the midget Extraleague for 2003-04.

“Making the midget Extraleague was the biggest collective success I achieved in Znojmo. We worked hard all season long and managed to reach our goal in the end.”

Sklenar found a home on the midget level quickly. He coped well
with the pace and didn’t look out of place against Div I midget
competition. His crafty puckhandling skills brought him points and he
emerged as a good asset to the power play unit. The year on the lower
midget level enabled him to get better accustomed to the demands of the
midget Extraleague in the next year.

Sklenar was voted the captain of the Znojmo midgets for the 2003-04 campaign and led his team to its inaugural start on the elite Czech midget level. He was a standout on his team and took the opening month by storm by scoring at a higher than one point per game average.
His streak came to a sudden end in the ninth game of the season at Brno, where Sklenar broke his leg early in the first period. The first injury of his career sidelined him for several weeks.

After his return to the ice the word about the talented kid Sklenar spread quickly and he got offers from a
number of other Extraleague teams like Karlovy Vary, Vitkovice or Slavia Praha, looking to boost their prospect pipeline. His parents were willing to let him go and finally the offer from the Slavia Praha won. The team offered Sklenar good conditions and had set a goal of winning the midget Extraleague championship title given the unmatched number of quality players on the roster. In 20 games for the Znojmo midgets Sklenar amassed 33 points for 18 goals and 15 assists along with a +6 and 6 PIMs.

Sklenar joined the Slavia Praha midget team after the Christmas of 2003
and found a home in the country’s capital quickly. He wasn’t the only
go-to player on the team and the burden of responsibility for the results wasn’t lying solely on his shoulders. Sklenar benefited from playing with more skilled linemates and accelerated his progress more than he would if he stayed in Znojmo. Sklenar helped the Slavia Praha midgets sweep all opponents in the playoffs en route to the awaited midget Extraleague championship title. In 29 games for Slavia Praha midget Sklenar
recorded 20 points for 8 goals and 12 points along with a -2 and 8
PIMs.

“The championship title was a great experience for me and my
teammates. I consider this the biggest success of my career and a moment I definitely won’t forget.”

Thanks to his overall skill level Sklenar was among the locks to
make the new Czech Under-16 team in 2003-2004. Coaches Josef Halouzka
and Martin Pesout invited him to the summer evaluation camp in Nymburk,
where Sklenar impressed with his fitness results. He ranked third
overall in fitness and led all skaters born in 1988. His on-ice performance
was also noticeable as Sklenar played the scrimmages in a good shape
and looked composed. He made the trip already to the first tournament of the schedule, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of
Slovakia. There he scored his first three international points for 1 goal and 2 assists. He missed the next tournament, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Switzerland because of the broken leg, but was in the roster for the three-game series against the Under-16 team of Russia, which took place in late December. This tournament was more of an off-showing for him as he was held off the scoresheet in all three games,
still shaking off the rust from the injury. But he was named to the team which participated at the season’s top event, the Four Nations
Tournament played in Sweden. Sklenar registered 1 point for an assist there, closing out his international stats for the Under-16 team at 9 games played, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points and 2 PIMs.

Sklenar started off the 2004-05 campaign on a hot note, skating on
the elite two lines of the prospect-stocked Slavia Praha midgets, mostly alongside son of former NHLer Vladimir Ruzicka Jr. Sklenar is used in all game situations and until now is a very consistent scorer who avoided any slumps. All his previous midget experience makes from him one of the key players on the midget squad and one of the frontrunners for a promotion to the junior team. Sklenar dressed out for 20 games so far, registering 27 points for 9 goals and 18 assists to go along with a +14 and 4 PIMs.

Sklenar was named to the roster of the team which took part in the
first tournament of the Under-17 team’s schedule, a Five Nations Tournament played in Halle, Germany. The Czech team managed to win the whole event and Sklenar’s best game came in the 12-3 drubbing of the Swiss Under-17 team where he registered a hat trick, the only goals he scored at this tournament.

Sklenar is a swift skater with a smooth stride. He impresses
with his footspeed and an ability to make sharp turns. He possesses
strong bursts of speed and agility, but still could upgrade on his
balance. Sklenar utilizes on his crafty stickhandling skills, he displays a good control of the puck and is a force in one-on-one situations. He is a decent passer who is adept at setting his linemates up with an accurate pass. Sklenar is blessed with solid hand-eye coordination. He unleashes a fast and accurate wrist and snap shot, but could use some improving on the accuracy of his slap shot. He has to further develop his defensive awareness as his intensity in his own end tends to drop off.
Sklenar has to mark his man more quickly and stay with him.

Thanks to his
diminutive size he isn’t much of a force in heavy traffic. Sklenar
stands at 5’10, 158 lbs. and definitely needs to add more muscle mass to his frame and get stronger. He can be pushed out of the scoring lanes and isn’t an overly aggressive player.

Sklenar lists the Colorado Avalanche his favorite NHL team.

“They
have many quality players on the roster. I like to watch Milan Hejduk,
Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic who are all excellent forwards.”

Sklenar left his parents’ house one year ago when he left for
Praha. He is now enrolled at the Pedogogical Lyceum and has to give a good chunk of his free time to schoolwork. When he still finds some spare time, he prefers to rest.

“I like just to lay back and relax. Seeing some movies is a good
way for me how to spend my free time, just like playing tennis in the
summer or going bowling.”

Sklenar hasn’t fully ruled out the possibility of coming over to
play in the CHL next season, but likely prefers to stay at home and play for the Slavia Praha junior team. Sklenar is a decent 2006
eligible prospect, even if his lack of size and more of a finesse style
don’t make from him a name to remember for the early rounds.

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