“Odd Couple” lead Czech hockey into the future

By Derek O'Brien

Photo: David Musil of the WHL‘s Vancouver Giants is a leading light among Czech prospects eligible for the 2011 NHL Draft (courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

While the Czech Republic may not be churning out young hockey players like it used to, a look at the list of projected first round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft indicates that the well isn’t completely dry.

Two players, defenseman David Musil and right winger Dmitri Jaskin, are both expected to be taken in the first round. Both players have taken different paths to make it to the top of the prospects list, and it is reflected in their personalities. But they have a lot in common as well.

First of all, neither was born in the Czech Republic. Musil was born in Edmonton, Alberta while his father, defenseman Frantisek Musil, was playing for the Calgary Flames. Jaskin, who was born in Omsk, Russia, is also the son of a professional hockey blueliner. His father, Alexei, began playing for HC Vsetin of the Czech Extraliga in 1993 and moved his family when Dmitri was an infant.

While Jaskin has spent his whole life living in the Czech Republic, playing in the youth systems of Vsetin and then Slavia Prague, Musil spent the first six years of his life in various North American cities following his father around. The Musils returned to the Czech Republic when Frantisek’s playing career was done, settling in Jihlava. David played there until 2009, when he had the chance to play in the Western Hockey League. Despite being born in different lands, they are both proudly Czech and their decision to represent the Czech Republic internationally is a reflection of that.

When watching them on the ice, they are two of the most noticeable players on the Czech team. They are both big, strong players that seem physically mature beyond their years. Musil is a physical defenseman and power-play quarterback, giving the team some much-needed stability on the back end. Jaskin, meanwhile, is like an ox. His skating looks so effortless that it appears he’s not working, and yet nobody can bump him off the puck when he has it. He also has soft hands and can handle the puck well while being pressured. With a year of pro hockey already under his belt, he looks like a man among boys when playing at the Under-18 level. He’s got a mean streak too, never backing down from an opponent when challenged.

When talking to Jaskin off the ice, he speaks with quiet confidence. He is a man of few words, which is doubtlessly due to his less-than-perfect English, but it’s not only that. Despite lacking fluency, he doesn’t get flustered, has an ever-present smirk, and seems unwaveringly sure of everything that he says. 

While many of his countrymen at the junior level seek greener pastures in North America, Jaskin seems more satisfied to stay at home. “Playing in the Czech professional league is better,” was his response when the possibility of playing junior hockey in North America was raised. He was equally dismissive about playing in the KHL, where many of his countrymen have gone. “No. No. No,” was his response, with a smile on his face, reiterating the fact that he is Czech and not Russian.

You know, everyone has a different opinion on this,” was Musil’s response, speaking English like a native-born Albertan and as comfortable with the media as any CHL player who is projected to be taken in the first round. “Some players want to play (in Europe) so they can get more ice time, but when I was young my dream was always to play in the NHL and I think that in the Canadian Hockey League, the hockey is more similar to the NHL and that’s why I decided to go there.”

Other than being drafted and making the NHL, the pair share another common goal for the 2011-12 season. Both were locks to be on last season’s Czech Under-20 team that competed in the World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Unfortunately, both were injured. Jaskin injured his knee in a collision, while Musil broke his ankle blocking a shot. Both want to make up for that omission by playing in next year’s tournament.

I hope to play in the World Junior Championships,” was Jaskin’s response to what he looks forward to in 2011-12. His injury also limited the number of games he played in the Czech Extraliga, and he wants to increase his production there.

It was pretty disappointing,” was Musil’s reaction to the mention of the World Juniors. “I had a foot injury so I couldn’t play there, I just hung around the camp. I went there with the mindset that I was going to play but I tried to skate a couple of times and it wasn’t possible.” 

While they may seem like The Odd Couple when speaking to them off the ice, on the ice they represent the biggest hope for the future of Czech hockey.