Hertl tops the Czech crop for the 2012 NHL Draft

By Derek O'Brien

Photo: Czech forward Tomas Hertl has been somewhat unheralded compared to fellow countryman Radek Faksa of the Kitchener Rangers (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

 

Over the past decade, most of the top Czech Republic draft prospects have been chosen from the CHL, but there are always still a handful of gems to be found playing at home. In 2011, Slavia Prague’s Dmitrij Jaskin was taken in the second round and in 2012, another Slavia product, Tomas Hertl, is projected to be a late first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Draft.

Aside from Hertl and goaltender Marek Langhamer, there is a pair of Vitkovice prospects who stand a good chance of being late-round picks, including one who’s not a Czech at all, but an Australian. Beyond that, there are a handful of players that are on the border and could be selected, depending on what teams are looking for.

According to Central Scouting Services, here are the top-ranked Czech players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
 

1. Tomas Hertl, C, HC Slavia Praha
6’0, 183 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 11-12-1993, Prague, CZ

Tomas Hertl came almost out of nowhere in 2011-12 to become the best prospect developed by the Czech system in years. At this point a year ago, he was barely on the radar of potential 2012 picks, but he surprised many with the season he had. Not only did he crack an Extraliga lineup at age 17, but he played on the team’s second line, producing 25 points to lead all junior-age players in scoring, despite the fact he played in only 38 of 52 games as he missed some time in November and December with a shoulder injury. He easily won the league’s rookie-of-the-year award. Most North Americans got their only look at him at the U-20 World Junior Championship in Alberta, where he led the Czech Republic with 5 points in six games. In the opinion of many, he outperformed teammate Radek Faksa, who is ranked 7th among North American-based prospects.

Easily the best draft-eligible Czech playing in Europe, Hertl is ranked 5th among European skaters. What puts Hertl in this class is ability to see the ice and his playmaking ability; he is especially dangerous on the power play. Additionally, he does not shy away from physical play, even at the professional level.

2. Marek Langhamer, G, HC Pardubice Jr.
6’1, 181 lbs, Catches: L
Born: 07-22-1994, Moravska Trebova, CZ

Marek Langhamer is ranked 5th among European goaltenders and could be the second Czech-based player taken. His fine season with Pardubice in the Czech Junior Extraliga got him a brief call up to the big club as a 17 year old.

Playing goal at the national team in an age group where the Czechs are weaker than most of the traditional hockey powers, Langhamer has shown an ability to face a heavy shot load and keep his team in games where they might otherwise suffer a blowout. Traffic in front doesn’t faze him, and he has good reflexes. The Czech team was planning to rely on him heavily at the U-18 World Junior Championship that they hosted, and he performed well in the brief portion that he played, but he sustained a knee injury late in the second game against the USA and didn’t return. Since it ended his season, it remains to be seen if the injury scares some teams away from drafting him. Otherwise, he could be a middle-round pick.

3. Nathan Walker, LW, HC Vitkovice
5’9, 176 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 02-07-1994, Cardiff, UK

Nathan Walker may be the most intriguing Czech prospect, just because he’s Australian. As a 17-year-old, he split time between Vitkovice’s Extraliga and junior clubs, as well as a few games with Olomouc of the Czech Republic’s second-tier pro league. In 34 Extraliga games, he recorded 9 points, which is decent considering he played mostly on the fourth line, often seeing limited ice time.

The highlight of his season no doubt was the Spengler Cup, where he tied for the lead of Vitkovice’s team scoring with 3 points in four games and gave European and North American audiences a chance to see what he could do.

Walker has exceptional speed, but his size makes some doubt his ability to be an impact NHL player, which is why, if he is chosen, it will be as a late-round pick.

4. Erik Nemec, C, HC Vitkovice Jr.
6’0, 163 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 12-21-1993 Metylovice, CZ

Frequently Walker’s linemate in the Vitkovice system growing up, Erik Nemec stands a good chance of being a late-round pick as well. After spending the 2010-11 season in the US Tier II EJHL, where he developed into a good playmaking center, Nemec returned to the Czech Republic, where he had a solid Junior Extraliga season, scoring at a point-per-game clip. A late ’93 birth, Nemec is eligible for the Draft for the first time, though he was not able to play in the recent U-18 World Championship.

Nemec is a couple of inches taller than Walker, though he doesn’t quite match his speed. His primary asset is his flexibility, as he can play all forward positions and is a capable playmaker and finisher. If he could add some weight to make himself a greater physical presence, it would increase his value.

Beyond those four, there are several Czechs who are far from sure things, but could possibly be taken. A lot of them are late bloomers who have relatively little international experience.

5. Ales Kilnar, LW, HC Vitkovice Jr
6’0, 185 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 10-05-1993, Ostrava, CZ

Another of Vitkovice’s stable of young gifted forwards, Kilnar wasn’t really on the radar at the beginning of the year, but greatly increased his stock this past season with 51 points in 39 Junior Extraliga games, which ranked third in the league. He also uses his size, as he racked up a league-leading 107 minutes in penalties.

With very little international and no senior level experience, he is still relatively unproven, therefore he may or may not be picked. However, he will probably either move up to Extraliga or across the pond to the CHL next season. If he can show that combination of scoring and toughness in either of these leagues, there could be a lot of teams interested at next year’s draft.

6. Jakub Izacky, LW, HC Ocelari Trinec Jr
6’1, 187 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 11-25-2003, Trinec, CZ

Another unproven late ’93 birth, Jakub Izacky just completed his first year at the junior level. Although somewhat of a late bloomer, scouts are impressed by his size and skills, but would like to see him take advantage of both of these more.

7. Petr Koblasa, RW, HC Karlovy Vary Jr
6’0, 196 lbs, Shoots: R
Born: 11-07-1993, Karlovy Vary, CZ

Petr Koblasa had a strong showing at last year’s World Junior Club Championship, where his 3 points in four games for the defensive-minded Karlovy Vary club helped them reach the tournament final. A big forward, Koblasa was undisciplined in past years but showed a lot more discipline this past season while still being a physical presence, and increased his scoring touch with 22 points in 38 Junior Extraliga games.

8. Richard Nejezchleb, RW, HC Slavia Praha Jr
6’2, 187 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 05-02-1994, Prague, CZ

A highly-touted player heading into the 2011-12 season, Richard Nejezchleb was injured for about half of this past season which undoubtedly hurt his ranking. Nonetheless, Nejezchleb still managed 23 points in 24 Junior Extraliga games. It was the combination of size, toughness and scoring that alerted scouts to Nejezchleb early on, but despite his numbers he seemed a bit more timid this past season. He will hope for a big return to form next year, in which he should see some time in the Extraliga.

9. Ronald Knot, D, HC Slavia Praha Jr
6’3, 198 lbs, Shoots: L
Born: 08-03-1994, Prague, CZ

A big, steady, defensive defenseman, Ronald Knot was a busy man clearing out the front of the net for the Czech Republic at the 2012 U-18 World Junior Championship, and his job became even more important after starting goalie Marek Langhamer went down. His physicality and refusal to give opposing players any room was a big reason his team was able to shut down Finland’s dangerous top line at that tournament, though they still lost the game.

10. Martin Prochazka, LW, HC Sparta Praha Jr.
6’2, 187 lbs, Shoots: R
Born: 03-01-1994, Roudnice, CZ

Another forward with size, Martin Prochazka recorded a respectable 23 points in 41 Junior Extraliga games. A strong two-way player, he earned a spot on the national U-18 team for his positional play and scored 2 goals in six games. A big scorer at the U-18 club level, scouts hope he can increase in this regard in what will likely be another season at the junior level.

Other Czech players ranked on Central Scouting’s draft list include Tomas Nosek, who performed well as the captain of the 2012 World Junior team, followed by Matej Zadrazel, Adam Hawlik, Ondrej Slovacek, Karel Plasil, and Jiri Sekac. Though ranked low, perhaps no Czech player’s stock rose more than Sekac this past season. After two seasons in the USHL, he split 2011-12 between Lev Poprad of the KHL and their MHL farm team.