After one of its strongest NHL Entry Draft showings ever in 2004, Slovakia followed that up with a rather average crop this year. In total, seven Slovakians were selected in the 2005 draft, two of whom were taken in the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning took three of the seven.
Marek Zagrapan – 1st round – 13th overall – Buffalo Sabres
Center – 12/06/86 – 6’1 185 – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
After finding himself stalled in the Zlin (Czechia) system, with no spots on the senior roster for him, Zagrapan moved to the QMJHL to play for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. His first season in North America was a success as he adapted quite easily to the smaller ice surface and more physical game. Zagrapan, who teamed up with fellow Slovak Stanislav Lascek, put up 82 points in 59 regular season games and 17 points in 17 playoff games, earning top spot among rookies and finishing 12th in the QMJHL overall, despite missing 12 games. Zagrapan topped this off with a standout effort at the CHL Top Prospects game, where he found instant chemistry with Czech prospect Radek Smolenak.
Zagrapan is a very smooth forward who makes plays look exceptionally easy and effortless. He gets a lot of criticism for his uninspired play, but this is the same kinds of criticism that was thrown toward players like Vladimir Malakhov and Sergei Fedorov – players who have exceptionally powerful and natural skating techniques that make it appear like they aren’t working hard. Zagrapan has tremendously quick hands and strong lower-body balance. He could play both center and right wing, and will give the Buffalo Sabres an injection of offense.
Vladimír Mihalík – 1st round – 30th overall – Tampa Bay Lightning
Defenseman – 01/28/87 – 6’7 220 – Presov (Slovak 1st Div.)
A product of the neglected Presov program, Mihalik split time between the Slovak Junior Extraliga and 1st Division teams, displaying rapid improvement throughout the season.
The towering defenseman sticks out due to his massive frame and physical maturity, but is not a particularly aggressive player. Earlier in the season, he showed a wince-inducing tendency to ‘stick-check’ rather than bodycheck, allowing far too many opposing forwards easy access to his own net.
As the season progressed and Mihalik played more with the senior 1st division squad, he learned to use his body more effectively and developed more of a mean streak in his own end. By the time the Under 18 WJC rolled around, he was delivering some thundering bodychecks and making life tough for opposing attackers buzzing around his crease.
Mihalik’s skating, the biggest question mark for any large prospect, has progressed well throughout the season and his first-step quickness is no longer a liability for him. He will have to continue on working on his front to back speed, however.
Offensively, Vladimir is very limited. He put up some big numbers in the junior league, but doesn’t have the stickhandling and playmaking sense to translate those numbers into production at the higher levels. Mihalik has a powerful (but slow) slapshot and has played up on front of the net on his team’s power plays, which makes him a useful option in those situations.
Mihalik was selected by the Red Deer Rebels in the recent CHL Import Draft and all indications point to him coming over to the WHL. Mihalik’s shortcomings should be somewhat masked by the smaller ice surface. Mihalik is an intriguing project with a lot of work to do in all facets of his game, so it was somewhat surprising to see him jump up to the first round, given his ‘rawness’.
He compares more to Marek Malik or Hal Gill than countryman Zdeno Chara.
Marek Bartánus – 3rd round – 92nd overall – Tampa Bay Lightning
Right Wing – 02/13/87 – 6’2 198 – Kosice (Slovak Jr. and Sr.)
After a successful junior campaign in 2003-04 with Kosice’s junior squad (34 points in 41 games), big Bartanus started off the 2004-05 season with Kosice’s senior team and had to fight for regular ice time on a veteran-laden squad.
After 24 games on the senior squad, where he scored just 2 goals and 1 assist, Bartanus was demoted back to the junior team, as there was no room for him on the pro squad. He put up decent numbers back in juniors with 14 goals and 14 assists in 34 games with a +35 rating. He frustrated his coaches with a lazy attitude and spotty performances.
Bartanus is a tantalizing box of tools with his big frame, strong balance, effortless stride, and slick stickhandling. He is at his best when he’s driving the puck to the net and creating chances for his teammates from his own forays to the net.
Bartanus ‘should’ be better than many of his peers, but a lack of elite hockey sense and passion caused much frustration for his coaches.
Marek’s father, an NHL agent, pushed for his son to go to the CHL like his cousin, Karol, did back in 1996. He was selected in the OHL Import Draft by Owen Sound and will report next season.
Juraj Mikus – 4th round – 121st overall- Montreal Canadiens
C/RW/LW – 02/22/87 – 6’0 185 – Skalica (Slovakia)
Mikus was a revelation for the Skalica organization in 2004-05 as he managed to pile up 35 points in 30 junior games as well as 12 points in 46 Extraleague games.
Mikus spent much of the early part of the season on the fourth line with the senior squad. As the team continued to lose an astonishing number of games, star veterans such as Zigmund Pálffy and Miroslav Zalesak left for other teams. Coach Ivan Cerny promoted Mikus and other young players up to the top 3 units and gave Mikus ice time in all game situations. Mikus capped off his incredible season with 7 assists in 6 games at the Under 18 WJC for Slovakia.
Mikus is an attack-minded forward who stands out from his Slovak peers for his willingness to crash the net and his versatility. He can play all three forward positions and point-man on the power play. Mikus has great skating speed, balance, and puck protection skills. The only drawback to his offensive game is his lack of elite finishing skills. Mikus creates plenty of chances for himself, but doesn’t always bury many of the chances he gets. Defensively, Mikus has made strides in his tenure with the senior squad, but still has much work to do in this area, especially when he is playing the center position.
Mikus declined any opportunity to play in the CHL (given his pro contract status with Skalica) and was not picked in the recent CHL Import Draft.
Ondrej Otcenas – 4th round – 123th overall – Carolina Hurricanes
Center – 03/06/87 – 6’1 185 – Trencin (Slovak Jr.)
Entering the season, Otcenas was not considered to be much of a legitimate prospect, but he quickly climbed the charts with his hard work and constant improvement.
He split time between Trencin’s midget team with 10 points in 8 games, and junior with 33 points in 45 games this past season. He was one of Slovakia’s best players at the Under 18 WJC with 4 goals and 1 assist and a +2 rating in 6 games.
Otcenas is not your typical ‘slick’ European player, as he relies solely on his work ethic and determination to make a positive impact for his team. Offensively, he loves to camp in front of the net and down low in the offensive zone. Within the ‘Dave Andreychuk Zone’, Otcenas is effective at picking up garbage goals and digging out loose pucks. He does not possess a whole lot of vision and passing ability, making him an atypical centerman in that regard.
Otcenas’ main value comes from his leadership and defensive skills. While Bartanus was given the Captain’s “C”, Otcenas was the real leader on the ice as he led by example with his dogged work ethic.
Otcenas was drafted 25th in the CHL Import Draft by the OHL Plymouth Whalers and is expected to report for the 2005-06 season. He could carve out a Joel Otto-type career if he develops well.
Stanislav Lascek – 5th round – 133rd overall – Tampa Bay Lightning
Center – 01/07/86 – 6’1 191 – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Lascek is a scout’s nightmare — he’s wispy thin, a knock-kneed skater, and not particularly polished. This lack of physical tools caused Lascek to go undrafted in 2004 despite the fact he produced 57 points in 59 regular season games and 18 points in 18 playoff games for Chicoutimi in 2003-04.
For all of his faults, there are things Lascek can do very well, mainly score goals and produce offensively. There was once a poor skating right winger who lacked strength, yet went on to score 50 goals with the Detroit Red Wings one season. His name? Ray Sheppard.
Like Sheppard, Lascek is a master of reading the play and being at the right place at the right time. To make up for his lack of speed, Lascek will be sure to put himself in position to accept the puck, or break up opposing plays. Lascek is very good at a ‘ninja’ style of hockey; sneaking in behind enemy defenses undetected.
International Scouting Services was also very high on Lascek prior to the 2004 Entry Draft, having this to say in their 2004 Draft Guide, “If character, work ethic, determination, and oh yes, throw in unquestionable leadership qualities count for anything, then this kid will be an NHL hockey player someday.”
Lascek took his draft snub as a challenge and worked hard on his skating ability. Meanwhile, he had another very productive season with Chicoutimi as he potted 90 points in 53 regular season games and 22 points in 17 playoff games.
Lascek will have to continue improving his skating if he is to make the jump to the NHL. Given Tampa Bay’s record with improving the skating of players such as Brad Richards, he should be in good hands.
Mario Bliznak – 7th round – 205th overall – Vancouver Canucks
Center – 03/06/87 – 5’10 160 – Dubnica (Slovak Jr. and Sr.)
While Spartak Dubnica of the Slovak Extraleague was putting together the worst season in that league’s history, Bliznak was safely tucked away for the most part on the junior squad, where he dominated (22 goals and 17 assists in 36 games). Bliznak earned a late-season promotion and finished the season with 0 points and a –9 rating in 13 games for an extremely overmatched senior squad.
Bliznak is a talented offense-first center who is very slim and isn’t blessed with good physical tools or hockey vision. He has a great attitude and is a great team-first player who works hard in every zone and isn’t too shy about heading into the corners.
He compares to an early-career Herbert Vasiljevs, and will require a great deal of work, luck, and progress to make a dent in the North American pro ranks.
Canucks fans will get a first hand look at Bliznak as he was selected by the Vancouver Giants 27th in the CHL Import Draft. At the very least, he should make a pretty good second line center in the WHL ranks.
Richard Lelkes, the highly talented winger from Trencin who was ranked 54th by ISS went undrafted by all 30 NHL clubs. 6’2, 210+ pound wingers with great hands and offensive ability rarely last past the third round unless they have issues. This is precisely the reason why Lelkes wasn’t even taken in the seventh round.
Lelkes once appeared to be the top Slovakian forward prospect out of the 2005 crop, but constant fights with coaches and teammates pushed down his stock drastically during the second half of the season. If Lelkes can ever get rid of his 10-cent head, he has the potential for a JP Dumont type of career.
Lelkes was selected by the Swift Current Broncos ninth overall in the CHL Import Draft, but he told the Slovakian media that he would not come to the CHL if Trencin offered him a pro contract for next season.
(1) 13th – Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo
(1) 30th – Vladimir Mihalik, Tampa Bay
(4) 92nd – Marek Bartanus, Tampa Bay
(4) 121st – Juraj Mikus, Montreal
(4) 123rd – Ondrej Otcenas, Carolina
(5) 133rd – Stanislav Lascek, Tampa Bay
(7) 205th – Mario Bliznak, Vancouver
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.