2001 Prospects: Martin Podlesak

By Robert Neuhauser
From the hockey point of view, Martin Podlesak wasn’t born very lucky. He saw the light
of the world on September, 26th, 1982, just a day after fellow prospect Frank Lukes, who
played for the Toronto St.Mike’s Majors of the OHL this year. He missed the 2000 NHL Entry
Draft eligibility only by 11 days.

He could shine among the Czech 1982 born forwards, as
only three were selected in 2000. That concerns the players playing in Europe. Vaclav
Nedorost was of course the huge star, but Podlesak’s great size and potential could have earned
him a second round spot at the 2000 draft. But this simply didn’t happen.

The crop of the
late-born 1982’s and 1983’s Czech forwards seems to be stronger than the previous year, but
people are talking mostly of Jiri Novotny and Ales Hemsky as potentional stars. Podlesak
seems to be hidden a bit, even this is almost impossible when you would meet him. Martin could
become the tallest Czech forward to ever play in the NHL.

Originally born in Melnik, Czech Republic, Podlesak started playing hockey at the early age
of five. The coaches usually let the tall guys play defense, but Martin wasn’t such a high
tower when he was playing for the first grades. He had exceptional puck skills, which every
coach would love and so he wasn’t forced to call the blue line home. His tough workouts
allowed him to gain the power and Podlesak was able to play with guys older than him. He had
to work on his shooting a bit, but his power helped him to make his shots hard and quite
accurate. He was a strong guy who was almost unable to get knocked off the puck and he
usually brought it into the net. Podlesak wasn’t such an effortless skater as for example
fellow 1982 late-born Tomas Plekanec, but he was a strong guy who was evidently turning into
a future prospect.

Moving to the Czech capital Praha allowed him to play for an elite team,
with good chances to play for one of the top midget teams in the country. Podlesak started to
play regularly for the Sparta Praha midgets in the 1997-98 season. Even before he attended
the selection tournament for the Under-16 team and was selected to play for the youngest
junior nats. He impressed the coaches with his natural talents – very good puckhandling
ability, vision, hockey sense, willingness to play hard, good play in traffic and solid
defensive play. He had to work on his skating and scoring touch, Podlesak seemed to overhandle
the puck a bit sometimes or he passed instead of shooting the puck into an almost empty
net. But he was a good leader and a very feared opponent. Already at 6’3 at 15, he was
there when his teammates needed his rough play along the boards or put the opposing defensemen
under some physical pressure.

Podlesak broke out with the Sparta Praha midgets during the 1998-99 season. He played a lion’s
portion of ice time and took some practices with both the midget and junior teams of Sparta.

Besides, he attended all tournaments of the Czech Under-17 team during that season. He scored
a goal in the first two meetings, three-game series against Finland and Russia, but was held
scoreless at the Four nations tourney and the European Youth Olympics. Podlesak was a playmaker
there, he controlled the play of the whole line, but brought himself into scoring situations
only rarely and tried to take care of his own end.
For the 1999-2000 season Martin moved up to play for the junior team of Sparta Praha. As almost
a rookie Martin didn’t play a lot on the first line, older players like Josef Slanec or
Martin Tvrznik also saw more PP time, but Martin was still able to score 14 points for 8
goals and 6 assists in 35 games. Take into account that he never was a huge goalscorer and
you’ll see that these numbers are quite solid. But his strenghts are that he can control the
pace of the game and play smart on almost every situation. Paired with offensive wingers
Podlesak can be the brain of a succesfull line.

The coaches of the Under-18 team of course knew this when they made Podlesak one of the players
who played all games of the Under-18 team schedule in the 1999-2000 season. He went scoreless
at the first two contest before the Canada touney began, Viking Cup 2000. Smaller speedsters
Tomas Plekanec and teammate Tomas Netik have lightened the lamp much more than Podlesak, who
scored 3 goals, but his hard play must have impressed the scouts. Podlesak saw, that he is able
to play against North American opposition very well and this helped him with the decision
whether to move to North America or not. But before there was the Under-18 WJC. The sixth place
disaster was no success, but Podlesak showed that he could also be a goalscorer. With three
goals he was tied with Martin Frolik for the second place among goalscorers of the Czech
team, behind Vaclav Nedorost.

Then came the summer of 2000 and Podlesak along with his teammate of nearly the same size, Jiri
Jakes, decided to try their luck in the CHL. The Tri-City Americans of the WHL grabbed him
with the 8th overall selection at the 2000 CHL Import Draft, one spot behind Ales Hemsky. Tri
City team seemed to like young Sparta Praha players when they selected Martin Liba of the
Sparta midgets with their second selection. Podlesak could also look forward to meeting Jiri
Jakes, who was also drafted to the WHL by the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Podlesak impressed the scouts again when they could see him in the WHL action. The toughest
of the CHL junior leagues seemed to suit him well. Podlesak was dominating with his size and
his ability to play in traffic payed dividends on the smaller ice surface. He also was
traded for the first time – the Americans dumped the promising prospect for a first round
choice in the 2001 WHL Bantam Draft, first round choice in the upcoming CHL Import Draft
and forward Derrick Atkinson.
So Podlesak moved to Lethbridge to play for the Hurricanes. He surely was happy because he
also had an invitation for the CHL Top Prospect Game in his pocket. He could look forward
to his elite skill – the puck control relay at the Skills competition. Carlo Colaiacovo won
this event, but Martin finished only 0.296 seconds behind him at the fifth place. In other
events he didn’t perform so well, but his showing at the Top Prospect Game didn’t hurt his rankings.
Martin finished with 40 points for 21 goals and 19 assists in his inaugural season in North
America. His 59 PIM were modest a bit, but Podlesak is no goon. He prepared for the playoffs,
where Lethbridge met the clear favorite Red Deer Rebels. Even if the Hurricanes were defeated
4 games to 1, Podlesak led the team in scoring with two points for 1 goal and 1 assist in three
games he played. A short playoff ride could affect his ranking a bit, so Podlesak dropped from
the 24th spot he held at midseason to the 38th place. But he is still one of the best
puckhandling players in the draft.

Podlesak will likely be drafted late in the second round and that he is at least three years away from a NHL job. But his size and raw skills make him
a very solid prospect.