Czech Top 10 prospects for the 2005 draft

By Ivana Paulova

In the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, there is no one clear standout amongst Czech prospects. Instead, there are three leading Czechs: goalie Ondrej Pavelec, defenseman Jakub Vojta and forward Martin Hanzal. Any could be taken in the first round, but Vojta and Pavelec could slip to the second round.

The 10 players ranked below should all be drafted, though Alexander Salak, who is at No. 10, may wish that he was seen in more games where he played great for Ceske Budejovice.

The rules will be different for European players starting this year under the new CBA. Like players out of Canadian juniors, European players will need to be signed within two years of their draft. The previous rules were such that mid-low range talent Europeans were drafted in the later rounds and could be kept unsigned for years. With the change of rules, NHL teams are expected to change their tactics — instead of taking 18-year-olds in the later rounds, players 20-22 years old whose likely career path can better be predicted may be selected.

1.Martin Hanzal, F
Birthdate: 20 February, 1987
Team: Ceske Budejovice
Height: 6’4
Weight: 198
Shoots: L

One of Hanzal’s strongest attributes is his frame. At 6’4, 198 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 more accurate.

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, in 2004-05 season he managed to improve his skating but still needs to work on it. 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, WHL, in 2004 Import Draft but will most probably stay in Ceske Budejovice as he is likely to get chance to play Extraleague.
Hanzal had a good season in Ceske Budejovice. His performance was consistent during the whole season and he managed to keep high standards. In the junior team he played with David Kuchejda on a line and they created an offensively dangerous pair. Hanzal, as the junior team scoring leader, played few games for the senior team that played in the Division I in 2004-05 season.

Hanzal was the best Czech player at the U-18 WJC, he was the scoring leader and also the MVP. He worked hard for the team, fought equally hard in offense and in defense, showed good attitude, was the leader, and showed he is strong at the physical play.

Hanzal has the skills to be first round pick but he also has the right approach and personality to make a good NHL player with long career ahead of him.

2. Ondrej Pavelec, G
Birthdate: 31 August, 1987
Team: Kladno
Height: 6’2
Weight: 180
Catches: L

Pavelec has a good size, which helps him to cover a good amount of the net. He possesses decent skating skills and adequate lateral movement. He plays a quality butterfly style, displays strong athleticism and flexibility. As for the mental side he is calm and not overly wild when making his saves and also has solid focus and mental toughness. Pavelec shows above-average reading of plays and anticipation; he challenges the shooter well. He has solid reflexes and quickness and is tough to beat on initial shots. Pavelec orientates in traffic well, handles rebounds and plays the angles adequately well.

On the downside, Pavelec allows a good number of goals through his five-hole and needs to play better in position when making the saves. He could still improve his glove hand and often he seems to have trouble on high shots. His stickhandling ability is rather average and some of his moves can lead to risky plays. He also tends to play too deep in the net, thus being more vulnerable to shots than dekes.

Pavelec was only an average player last season even though his former coach in Kladno Jaromir Sindel knew that he is a great goalie. Pavelec was given an offer to go Sparta junior team which Sindel started to coach in 2004-05 season. But then Sparta acquired Slovakian goalkeeper Michal Valent and Pavelec feared he wouldn’t get as many chances and decided to stay in Kladno. His decision proved to be very wise. Pavelec moved from average not very well known goalie to one of the best among world’s 87 born. He was first invited to play on the national team a year ago. He never went to any major tournament until 2004 Junior World Cup in August taking place in Czech Republic and Slovakia. He was a starting goalie for the Czech team and did really well. The Czechs finished second after losing to Canada in the final. Pavelec showed himself in a good light there but after game against Russia began a fight between the players and one of the Russian players came to Pavelec, crosschecked him and he hit the ice with his head, suffering a mild concussion.

During the season Pavelec played great for Kladno juniors and he kept the same standard while playing on the U-18 national team too. At the U-18 WJC Pavelec was the key player of the Czech team. Once again he performed really well and also thanks to him the Czechs finished fourth. Only the bronze medal game didn’t work out as Pavelec would imagine and after third goal, Alexander Salak took over in net.

Pavelec was chosen in the Import Draft by Cape Breton, if he decides to take the QMJHL route it will be interesting to see how he copes with different style of hockey in a team which is used to having a top goalie talent on its roster. Pavelec is one of the top goalies in his class and he is predicted to be chosen in the first two rounds.

3.Jakub Vojta, D
Birthdate: 8 February, 1987
Team: Sparta Praha
Height: 6’1
Weight: 187
Shoots: L

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. He was a captain of Czech 87 born since they were in the U-16 and he remained until the U-18 WJC.

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, his defensive zone coverage is first. Vojta still suffers from the odd positional breakdown and has to stay with his man all the way. The versatile rearguard can play wing as well. The biggest question with Vojta is his attitude, though he is a good leader in the national team, he lacked passion and determination in many games played for Sparta juniors. At the U-18 WJC Vojta together with Hanzal and Pavelec were the best players of the Czech team.

Vojta was very different player with Sparta then when playing for the national team. When performing on the international scene Vojta showed consistency and played well. In juniors he was a player that overhandled the puck quite often and was inconsistent in his own zone. Vojta has the potential to be a great offensive defenseman but whichever team takes him must know that they need to pay attention to how they motivate him. He could be a boom or a bust, depends all on the team’s approach to him.

Even though Vojta wanted to stay in Czech Republic and play Extraleague next season, he was the first pick of the Import Draft chosen by Ottawa so he will play in OHL next season. Judging by his abilities and performance when well motivated and interested in game he is definitely a blueliner that should be chosen in the first two rounds.

4.Petr Kalus, F
Birthdate: 29 June, 1987
Team: Vitkovice
Height: 6’1
Weight: 183
Shoots: L

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, shows a good attitude and is very hard-working.

Kalus doesn’t play afraid, but he should show his nasty edge more often. 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 had bad luck right at the start of the 2004-05 season. After first few games he got sick and was out more than two weeks. He struggled to catch up to game speed, but during winter he started to score goals and this boast his confidence. He became more consistent, moved to first line in Vitkovice juniors and became one of the leaders. He played well for the national team. At the U-18 WJC he played mostly on the third line, trying to create offense every shift but also responsibly returning to his own zone.

Kalus wanted to leave to play in CHL last year, but went unselected in the Import Draft. His determination to leave persisted and he even considered going to the USHL. At the end he decided to stay in Vitkovice for another season. In this year’s Import Draft he was picked by Regina. It was wise to stay another season at home, now he is more mature and ready for WHL. As for the NHL Draft, Kalus won’t slip lower than the third round.

5.Tomas Kudelka, D
Birthdate: 10 March, 1987
Team: Zlin
Height: 6’2
Weight: 183
Shoots: L

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 is poised when moving the puck. Kudelka uses his reach effectively and is adept at distributing 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 much more. At 6’2, 183 lbs. he possesses a solid frame, but doesn’t use it to his advantage often. Once he develops his aggressiveness enough, then he can possibly think of a career in North America. Going to play in WHL for Lethbridge would help him in this aspect but he is more likely to stay in Zlin, where he could get a chance to play in Extraleague.

Kudelka didn’t have a great season, injury slowed him down and he didn’t show such a progress as other Czech players like Hanzal, Pavelec, Kalus or even Pospisil. Kudelka’s performance is almost at the same level as he was last year, yet overall he is a good package of skill, smarts and offensive upside.
Going to WHL might upgrade Kudelka’s play, this route is still possible, it all depends on the draft. Kudelka has the potential go in the first three rounds.

6.Tomas Pospisil, F
Birthdate: 25 August, 1987
Team: Trinec
Height: 6’0
Weight: 174

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 good 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 for him to work on is defensive play.

Pospisil is a solid but unspectacular skater and for a player of his current size 6’0, 174 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 was the leading figure in Trinec juniors and though he was already given a chance in the Extraleague in 2004-05 season, he will go to play for Sarnia. Last season he already worked on his strength and became more physical, but he still needs be tougher should happen in the OHL next season.

Pospisil used to be one of the top talents among Czech 87-borns when he was in the midget category. He was predicted to be a great player but stopped improving as much as others did. He lost confidence and was not performing very well, however, his talent was still apparent. During 2004-05 season he made another major improvement, he was given trust by coaches in Trinec juniors and also in the national team, he started to score points and became more confident.

At the U-18 WJC Pospisil joined Vladimir Sobotka and David Kveton to form the first line. Pospisil played well in this very creative formation but he mostly supplied his linemates with smart passes. Though he faced the goalie several times, he didn’t manage to score. In the game against Canada he experienced different style of hockey and while fighting for the puck near boards he injured his ribs. He is still determined to try his luck in Canada. It will all depend also on the draft where he should be taken near the fifth round.

7.Vladimir Sobotka, F
Birthdate: 2 July, 1987
Team: Slavia Praha
Height: 5’9
Weight: 176
Shoots: L

At 5’9, 176 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 which make him a good playmaker and smart passer.

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 better 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. During 2004-05 he found himself a regular spot on Slavia’s Extraleague roster, playing mostly on the fourth line. He was not afraid to fight for the puck in the corner or near the boadrs. He gained a lot of experience both on the ice and off the ice while in the locker room he met with Zigmund Palffy, Jozef Stumpel, Jaroslav Spacek and Josef Vasicek.

At the U-18 WJC Sobotka didn’t fulfill the expectations, as a center of the first line he was only average compared to his performance in Slavia. After long season when he was playing for men and for juniors he seemed not to be able to find the right poise at the WJC.

Next season he will try to crack Slavia senior team roster, but if he doesn’t succeed he could play for some Division I team. As for the draft, Sobotka is very skilled, he is not afraid of the rough stuff but player of his size needs to be visible every shift and work much harder than other players. Despite his size Sobotka should be drafted near the fifth round.

8.David Kuchejda, F
Birthdate: 12 June, 1987
Team: Ceske Budejovice
Height: 5’10
Weight: 192
Shoots: L

David Kuchejda is a slick skater who utilizes his speed and agility to create offense. He has solid balance and despite his smallish frame he is strong on the puck. Kuchejda is an intense forward who inspires with his never-give-up attitude. He fights for pucks and sticks his nose into tight corner battles. His combative play is very helpful for the linemates, Kuchejda is a smart passer with good 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 with 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.

In 2004-05, Kuchejda was paired with Hanzal, which turned out to be very productive. They clicked well and they became leading players of Ceske Budejovice. Coaches of the national team left the two of them play together at the U-18 WJC as well. Kuchejda played well, scored important goals but didn’t have a good outing against Canada. All the good he had done so far in the tournament was washed away by Kuchejda’s diving in response to clean hits. This game was broadcasted all over Canada, so Kuchejda didn’t make a good introduction of himself but hopefully he learned his lesson and if he goes to OHL to play for Sault St.Marie he will stay away from such a behavior. Yet, his departure is not definite since Ceske Budejovice made him an offer that he could play for their senior team. If Kuchejda thinks of a career in NHL he needs to learn how to play tough, how to hit but also how to receive hits. However, Kuchejda is very gifted player who will be picked at this year’s draft.

9.Lukas Vantuch, F
Birthdate: 20 July, 1987
Team: Liberec
Height: 6’4
Weight: 202
Shoots: L

The gangly centerman Lukas Vantuch boasts the least junior Extraleague experience of all the players in the Top 10. 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 an average 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.

During 2004-05 he gained more ice time with Liberec juniors and had a good season there, though he didn’t make the team for the U-18 WJC. He has decided play in WHL next season for the Calgary Hitmen. A lot of working out and mental preparation is a head of Vantuch to get ready for the physical play. If Vantuch doesn’t work on the toughness he would be called ‘soft’ compared to 5’10 Fredrik Pettersson from Sweden who will be joining Vantuch as the other import. Due to Vantuch’s size, skill and skating, he should be drafted.

10.Alexander Salak, G
Birthdate: 5 January, 1987
Team: Ceske Budejovice
Height: 5’11
Weight: 170
Catches: L

Salak is a butterfly goaltender who displays good movement in the crease. He is a solid skater and moves side-to-side with adequate effectiveness and is quick to recover after dropping to the butterfly. Salak shows decent poise and confidence. He is tough to beat on the initial shot and is very unpredictable for shooters. He possesses a solid athleticism, while the above-average reflexes enable him to handle most rebounds well.

On the other hand, Salak lacks size and doesn’t have any outstanding intangibles to make up for this drawback. He is more vulnerable top shelf thanks to an average glove hand and a penchant to go down sometimes too early. He isn’t a total liability when handling the puck, but still needs further progress in this area. He needs to upgrade on fundamentals and stay in position.

One of Salak’s biggest successes was at the 2004 Viking Cup in Alberta where he received a trophy for the best goalie. Czech U-17 team, which the 87s were during the 2003-04 season played against other countries’ U-18 teams. Salak was chosen ahead of goalies like Michal Velent from Slovakia or Tuukka Rask from Finland.

During 2004-05 season Salak was the key player for Ceske Budejovice, while Hanzal and Kuchejda ruled in offense, Salak was their key defensive force. At the U-18 WJC he was the backup goalie, and he made only one showing, in the bronze medal game. In a quite desperate situation for the Czechs, he remained poised and made some good saves, even though he eventually let one goal in.

Salak is a smallish goalie but during the season with Ceske Budejovice he displayed his skill which includes both physical and mental abilities.

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