Top prospects lead Vsetin in the Czech Extraleague

By Robert Neuhauser
Almost everyone of the core players of the mighty seven-time Czech Extraleague champion HC
Vsetin packed his baggage and said goodbye to the small arena Lapac in the provincial Czech
city Vsetin. Team’s owner Roman Zubik sits in jail and no salary was paid to the players,
therefore lots of them didn’t hesitate to sign with other Extraleague teams or move to another
country when the season was over. During the summer it wasn’t even sure that Vsetin will
be permitted to start the new season. No wonder that the summer acquisitations weren’t huge.
Former captain Rostislav Vlach returned to the city and stellar center Jiri Burger was
resigned, which brought a modest smile to the faces of Vsetin staff. But there were still
holes on the roster to fill. It was time fill those spots with youngsters hungry for a chance
among the seniors. Jiri Hudler and Ondrej Nemec practiced the whole summer with the seniors
and they were obviously ready for the promotion.

Jiri Hudler was an Extraleague rookie in no way. Still only at 17, he has already two
Extraleague seasons under his belt. But it must be said that the first season consisted
only of two games (Jiri still recorded an assist in his first Extraleague game ever) and in the
last season Jiri saw lots of ice time in the Extraleague only in the second half when he
was playing for HC Havirov Panthers. In the first half Jiri played for Vsetin and played
only sparingly, but still amassed 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 22 games. In the second half Jiri rebounded
with other 6 points (5 goals, 1 assist) in 15 games. He also played for the Vsetin’s juniors and was an
outstanding force there. His terrific vision, hockey sense and smarts allowed him to
dominate games and it was clear that he can’t learn anything in the junior ranks any more.
With one detail Jiri couldn’t be happy with the juniors. He likes to wear jerseys where the
digit 4 is included (last year among the seniors Hudler wore 42, this season a 24) and among
the juniors he wore a jersey with the number 10. It didn’t bother his play much.
As a son of a former Olomouc defenseman and current Vsetin midgets coach Jiri has hockey in his
blood. But when you will talk about his natural talent and that he is a perfect product who
mixes almost all plusses of the Czech hockey style in his person, you’ll on the other hand
immediately hear people rave about his size. That’s the only thing he lacks. In some sources
you can find Jiri oversized or undersized, he is listed between 5’8” and 5’10”, but Jiri
is at 5’9”, 150 lbs. right now (174 cm, 66 kg.). Jiri always played against guys older than
him, especially in the youngest ranks as peewees. At the mere age of 13 Jiri already entered
the midget Extraleague and he was still 8th grade eligible. He has put up impressing numbers
at that time (52 points for 24 goals and 28 assists) and the next season he totally ripped off
the midget Extraleague with
more than 110 points and it was the last time till now when a player recorded over 100 points in the
midget Extraleague. When the guys of his age were entering the midget Extraleague as rookies,
Jiri was a rookie with the juniors. This helped Jiri to hone his skills against older compe
tition and play with and against players who already played some games in the senior
Extraleague. A career with the junior national teams was also waiting for him. In fact, Jiri
never played for the team of his birthyear, only against older players. A short stint in the
senior Extraleague in 1999-2000 and the whole 2000-2001 season spent in the Extraleague and
it was clear that Jiri will be one of the top players of the 2001-2002 Vsetin squad. Only
a serious neck injury Jiri suffered when he stumbled over a goalpost after a breakaway and
then crashed with his head into the boards at top speed while playing for Havirov was a
shadow on Jiri’s current career. He had to spent some time in wheelchair and couldn’t help
the Under-18 team with their fight for a medal at the 2001 Under-18 WJC.
But in summer he was ready for the practices with Vsetin and he learned last lessons from
Jiri Dopita who practiced with Vsetin before joining the Flyers. Coaches Zdislav Tabara and
Jan Neliba prepared for him a center spot in the third line, the “Young guns” line. Hudler’s
genial playmaking abilities complement well Radim Kucharczyk’s scoring touch and Josef Lang’s
gritty play with defensive awareness.
Jiri Hudler gave us a taste of his skills already in the opening game when he recorded three
points to be tied for Extraleague scoring title. But this wasn’t just a coincidence. On this
day Jiri started his point scoring streak which lasted 8 games with at least one point
(in the first 5 games Jiri averaged two points pro game and he led the whole Extraleague
with 10 points for 3 goals and 7 assists). The last week it was the first time Jiri Hudler
didn’t lead or wasn’t tied for the Extraleague scoring lead. And that at 17 years, 10 months!
When we make a comparison with phenom Jaromir Jagr playing for HC Poldi Kladno in his draft year,
in the 1989-90 season Jagr was waiting 2 games for his first point of the season and he scored
just 15 goals after 70 games in the Elite league overall (Hudler now has 10 goals after 51
games in the Extraleague). Those numbers say something, I don’t wanna say that Hudler will
be better than Jagr, but this may help bring the scouts concentration away from his size to
his play.

But Jiri Hudler isn’t the youngest player on Vsetin’s roster. Defenseman Ondrej Nemec is.
And they have one thing in common. Both are undersized. When somebody would judge Nemec only
by his size, he would most likely discard him as “no NHL potential”. Ondrej nears 6’0” now,
but is still listed at 5’11” now, not exactly a prototypical size for a NHL defenseman.
Ondrej was born in the city of Trebic but joined Vsetin when he was at peewee age. Vsetin
was building a whole new prospect pipeline and the highly skilled right-shooting Trebic
native was exactly the man they needed. Like Hudler Nemec is a very smart player who won’t
deliver bone crushing hits. Ondrej relies on his very good reading of plays, excellent smarts,
poise and sound defensive play with lots of offensive upside. Ondrej skates and stickhandles
well enough to handle all the abilities. Only the size and toughness are missing. Ondrej isn’t
soft but for Canadian style he has to show much more of his nasty edge.
He wasn’t such a bright gem as Hudler but Ondrej Nemec still usually played against one year
older competition in comparison to Hudler’s at least two. He played as an underage in both
the midget and junior Extraleagues and the same fact was in the junior national team. Ondrej
played most of the schedule of the Under-16 team of the 1983 born players but while Hudler
played with the 1983 birthyear also in the following seasons, Nemec stayed in the Under-16 team
for two years and played for the 1983 only occasionally. In 2000-2001, when he was eligible
for the Under-17 team, Ondrej played for the Under-18 only at one tourney, three-game series
against Finland. But he spent the whole season playing already for the Vsetin juniors and
a promotion was waiting for him. The defenseman with the number 2 on his back was very good
with the puck and useful on PP units, had a nice hockey sense and vision so he could prepare
with the senior team for this season. At the beginning of the season Ondrej was benched for
the senior games and was a blueline leader on the junior team, when he amassed 9 points after
6 games. But a chance was waiting for him. Poor play of defenseman Marek Vasut forced the
Vsetin coaches to make some changes to the lineup and Ondrej Nemec gained a regular spot
in Vsetin’s defensive rotation while Vasut is mostly benched. In a pair with more proven
defenseman Michal Safarik Ondrej Nemec learns the tools of the Extraleague trade and he looks
more and more confident on the ice. Still waiting for the first point, Ondrej tries to keep
the play simple and not to make any mistakes. He distributes the puck wise, but when under
pressure, he doesn’t hesitate to fire it simply away. With the seniors he doesn’t join the
rush so often as he does with the juniors, he stays more back and plays defensively, but he’ll
learn soon when to join the rush and when to stay back. He has undoubtedly very high individual
skills, skating, passing and a quite accurate slap shot, but the lack of size is still there.
It is very likely that Ondrej will be over 6’0” coming the NHL draft and he could be around
6’1” when his growing is finished. He is also quite stocky, now he stands at 190 lbs. and
has lots of strength. It would be a huge mistake to overlook this prospect, he may not have
the perfect size but he won a spot in the senior Extraleague with his play and he is an
alternate captain for the Under-18 team where he plays almost every powerplay. He will develop
into a top two-way defenseman and he should be drafted sooner than later.

To sum up a bit, Vsetin has two bright gems on his senior roster and both lack size, not
individual skill and hockey talent. Both have enough upside to reach the NHL. Let’s hope they
will manage to do it!