Jiri Novotny – a darkhorse of the draft

By Robert Neuhauser

Name: Jiri Novotny
Position: Center
Team: HC Ceske Budejovice
Birthdate: August 12th, 1983
Birthplace: Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB mid-term rank: 9th
NHL draft prediction: mid-first round

When you watch the junior team of Ceske Budejovice hit the ice, you can see a player with the
name Novotny. You say: Wow, that’s the NHL prospect, I’m curious how he’ll play! But you’re
wrong. This isn’t Jiri Novotny. This is Roman Novotny, his teammate of the same age. Jiri
already plays for the senior team of Ceske Budejovice and it is obvious that he’ll be on his
way to the NHL after the draft in Florida. It may take some time, but Jiri looks like a solid
future NHLer. How did he manage to reach this level?

Jiri, a native of Jindrichuv Hradec, a city in the southern part of the Czech Republic, started
playing the game at the age of 6. While many of the players who turned into NHL prospects
had their parents involved in hockey, Jiri was without this chance. But his natural talent
was immediately clear to see and Jiri soon dominated the rink when the kids of the smallest
classes had their practice or game. He began to play against kids older than him, like all huge
talents and this brought a necessity to streghten his body. While among guys of his own age he
could easily outplay the opponents with his skating and skills, older kids were able to bring
him out of scoring positions. So Jiri started to work a lot, but a kid can’t enter the weight
room, this would damage his body, he worked with the weight of his body. Jiri was always a
sized guy, though the coaches didn’t force him to play defense like they do when a kid is bigger than the other ones.

Jiri posesses a great ofensive potential, he has a knack for making plays. He passes the puck more than he shoots it and
probably will never be a 50-goal scorer, but he can create the big plays. Jiri is a very
talented centerman with excellent puck skills and he ins’t afraid to play aggresive. He had
to do this while playing against older kids. His first success came when he was playing for the
7th grade kids. Jindrichuv Hradec won the championship title of the 7th grades in the whole
Czech Republic and Jiri was one of the leading personalities. That didn’t remain unnoticed by
hockey scouts and agents, who knew that this 12-year old guy will be something special.

Now people involved in hockey got to know about Jiri and offers from other teams appeared.

In the Czech Republic top talents always move to cities with Extraleague teams when they’re
about midget age. Jiri was playing for Jindrichuv Hradec, a minor league team, and he was a bait
for people responsible for midget hockey in the Extraleague teams. He stayed with
Jindrichuv Hradec kids for one more season, but then he had to change teams to have a chance to
play in the elite midget league. Jiri choose Ceske Budejovice, it was the nearest city with
an Elite league team and Jiri hoped to make that team when it will be his time. Jiri skated
for the 9th grade kids of Ceske Budejovice in the 1997-98 season and was as usual among the
best. Then came an important hurdle in everyone’s career, transition to the midget league.

Players who were stars at younger levels can disappear here easily. But the transition was
smooth for Jiri. He also made the Under-16 team after the selection tournaments, when he
displayed his great style of play. Jiri is a big player who is ready to contribute every game,
excells with the puck and can dominate the games. With his size he is a hard nut for checking
opponents and also for goalies when he is standing in front of them. He isn’t a great skater,
but a very good forechecker and is effective on the powerplay a lot.

In his first year with the midget team of Ceske Budejovice he played on a team full of great
players. For example 1982 born Vaclav Nedorost, Stepan Hrebejk or Lukas Chaloupka. But Jiri played well
and showed that he is really a huge talent as he finished 25th in midget league scoring as a rookie
with 45 points (23 goals + 22 assists) in 46 games for Ceske Budejovice, who reached the ELHD
title that season. He was a future champion among champions. His season with the Under-16 team
was also succesfull, Jiri notched his first goal in the “most honored jersey” in his first
turnament, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Switzerland. The Four-nations tourney,
the first meeting of top 1983 Euro prospects that season was good for Jiri, too. He shared the
second position in goal scoring for the Czech team (2 goals) with Petr Domin, a fellow 2001
prospect of Karlovy Vary.

Also in the 1999-2000 season Jiri stayed under the famous junior coach Jan Tlacil in the midgets
of Ceske Budejovice for the first 10 games.

But in the junior national team he didn’t return to his 1983 born buddies,
who moved up to the Under-17 team. Jiri spent the last season already with the Under-18 team
and played all tournaments of the team during the season. NHL scouts could watch him on the
smaller rink when the Czech Under-18 team participated at the Viking Cup. Smaller guys like
Tomas Plekanec, Frantisek Lukes or Tomas Netik made their names there in goal scoring, but
Jiri showed respectable numbers for a 16-year old. He scored 7 goals and was also very realiable
defensively. He contributed at both ends of the ice, that’s what the scouts liked.

As I said, Jiri played 10 games for the midets of Ceske Budejovice in their back-to-back winning
championship series, scoring 11 points for 5 goals and 6 assists.

For most of the season Jiri played for the junior team. In 36 games he scored 11 goals and added 10 assists
to finish at 21 points. After that came the hilight of the season. Jiri was selected to play at the World Championship
of the Under-18 teams in Switzerland. He appeared there with his number 25 (says that he likes
to wear a number where the digit 5 is involved) on a line with Vaclav Nedorost and Martin Frolik
for most of the time. But this was a disaster for the Czech hockey, sixth place. Jiri was very
disappointed with result, but his play wasn’t bad. Even if he recorded just 2 assists, he was
playing good defensively and showed a well-rounded game. Also showed that he knows how to use
his body to stop the opposition.

The guy who names San Jose Shark Teemu Selanne as his hockey idol prepared for this season
with the senior team of Ceske Budejovice. He also left school to concentrate only on hockey.

Besides, he was named captain of the Under-18 team. His big moment came soon after the season
started. In the game when Ceske Budejovice visited Zlin Jiri played his first game in the
Extraleague. He split this season between the juniors and the seniors of Budejovice, appearing
in 19 games in the Extraleague. Jiri notched 4 assists in those contests, three of them came
in the last two games of the season when Jiri had a lot of ice time, though Ceske Budejovice
were fighting to make the playoffs. But they failed and Jiri’s club season is already over.

He can concentrate at the Under-18 WJC. As the captain he should lead the team and as one
of the top European prospects he’ll watched carefully by the scouts. But I think he has the tools
to handle all this well!