The Czech Republic had one of its least successful drafts this year in New Jersey, but that doesn't mean the next one won't feature any Czech players that could be picked in the early rounds. Swedish-based offensive marvel Jakub Vrána, who will definitely be considered one of the top European skaters, isn't the only one though. Still playing in his homeland and just about to take a leap into the Czech Extraliga is young defenseman Filip Pyrochta.
Born in June of 1996, which makes him eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, Pyrochta has plenty of experience from not only playing at various Under-18 and Under-19 IIHF events, but also professional hockey as his current club, the Liberec White Tigers, provided him with ice time a level below the Czech Extraliga where its affiliation of Benátky nad Jizerou is based.
The 5-foot-11 blueliner, who was raised in Třebíč, the home of NHL players Patrik Eliáš and Martin Erat, now has a legitimate opportunity to make the lineup of the Tigers' first-team in the Extraliga, the league in which he would stand out as one of the youngest players. That is thanks to a new rule that was introduced by the Czech Ice Hockey Association earlier this year, saying that every Extraliga team should dress at least three players born in 1994 or later for each game.
That's one of the reasons why Pyrochta spent the off-ice training with an Extraliga team, just like five of his fellow teammates from the Liberec junior team, including tall forward Pavel Zacha who is eligible for the 2015 draft. Out of the six development players, three must be dressed in every game. Pyrochta, Zacha, former USHL player Adam Chlapík and Liberec native Matěj Psota are the only four of the group who already have experience with pro hockey.
Before the season starts, the coaches will give a chance to each one of the six players in preseason games. The team participates in the European Trophy, a prestigeous tournament where many youngsters from various countries are given an opportunity to showcase their skills. That's also where much of Pyrochta's near future will be decided as that's where he'll play for his place in the lineup. If he gets it, the question is if it isn't better for him to stay among juniors and play 25 to 30 minutes a game instead of 10 minutes in the Extraliga.
Pyrochta has already proved that he's a top-notch prospect. The Czech Under-18 national team trusted him at both the Under-18 WJC and the World Junior A Challenge even though he was underage. Collecting one assist at each of the tourneys, he wasn't only what he usually is for his team in the Under-20 Extraliga, but also showed maturity in his own end, even though the team itself had offensive troubles during the season.
Besides that, he has already appeared in five games with Benátky nad Jizerou, the minor-league affiliation of the Liberec White Tigers. And after the aforementioned appearance at the U18 WJC, Pyrochta is ready to take on another national team challenge. He is expected to be one of the top defensemen for the Czech Under-18 national team at the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. There, the teams are usually stronger as, unlike during the Under-18 WJC, the CHL season is not in progress.
Also, the event is watched by a large number of scouts from the NHL and everybody knows that it's the number-one place for the upcoming draft-eligible prospects to show off their weapons. Besides that, the Czech team always looks a little stronger than at other similar events, most likely because of the home crowd. So not only will the European Trophy play a big role in Pyrochta's season, but also the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Pyrochta is a versatile, mobile defenseman whose job is to lead the defensive corps of his team. Being given an opportunity to do that in an Under-20 competition at 16 years of age gave him a lot of experience, but he seemed to have no trouble quarterbacking the power-play and even minding his own end. Defensively, he's not afraid to throw his weight around, but among pros he shouldn't be considered much of a physical player.
One of the most impressive things about Pyrochta is his speed, but he also stands out as a go-to blueline sniper and a good passer. Seeing him among pros will more precisely tell how mature he is and who he's like, but among juniors, he looked like Matt Dumba or P. K. Subban, but a little more defensive-minded than those two. He's definitely got the potential to become a top-four NHL defenseman, it's only a matter of how well he can execute that.
Hockey's Future spoke with Pyrochta earlier this year.
Hockey's Future: Filip, what are your feelings about spending time with the Under-18 national team as an underager?
Filip Pyrochta: So far so good, I hope we can make something happen with the team. There's two of us from Liberec, me and Pavel Zacha, and we both want to stay on the roster.
HF: What about the success you had with your Under-20 team in Liberec?
FP: That was fantastic and it was even better that nobody at all expected us to go as far as the semi-finals. We were almost lost back in December, but our goalie came back and then we all started working harder and earned it.
HF: You played a couple of games in Benátky and Jizerou, which was your first experience with professional hockey. What does it mean to you?
FP: It's a huge experience for me, I'm happy that they gave me a chance and I hope it can help me in the future, maybe make the Tigers' first team.
HF: There's this new rule in the Czech Extraliga that might help you with that and your junior coach told me that he believes that you can use it to your advantage immediately.
FP: Yes, we'll see about that. There's five or six of us competing for three spots and two of those players are two years older than me. We'll see if I can make it later, but I believe there are some players whose chances are better than mine.
HF: A little further in your future is the NHL Draft. Are you confident about it as a 2014-draft-eligible prospect?
FP: It really is very far away, something can happen along the way. I'll have to work on myself a lot.
HF: What exactly are you going to work on?
FP: Definitely strength, especially upper-body.
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