Jiri Cetkovsky – A Czech darkhorse of the draft

By Robert Neuhauser
Every NHL Entry Draft there appear players, who can be called as dark horses, sleepers
or even diamonds in the rough. It’s up to the scouting staffs of the teams to reveal those
gems and then bring to the NHL a player who would make the other scouts kick their butts
for not taking. Also Czech players sometimes become those sleepers, the typical example
being Toronto Maple Leafs star blueliner Tomas Kaberle, who was drafted by the Leafs as
204th overall in 1996. Or there suddenly before the draft a player rises who was off
the scouts’ radar for most of his career, just like another example from the Leafs draftees,
last year’s pick Jaroslav Sklenar. The second cathegory also fits Zlin juniors forward
Jiri Cetkovsky.

Jiri Cetkovsky should orginally be enjoying a succesfull handball career. His father played
in the elite handball league of the former Czechoslovakia and the little Jiri also liked this
game. He also wanted to do some sport, but not necessarily only handball. Things turned out
differently. Just as he started attending elementary school, his steps also directed to
the hockey arena in his native town of Prostejov. His father wanted him to be active and
hockey looked to be the best solution. He didn’t want to force his son to play “his” handball,
he liked hockey very much and supported his son a lot. Among the Prostejov 1983 born kids,
who were taking their first strides in a hockey arena, was also a name, which is now
household to many NHL fans, especially those rooting for the Florida Panthers. It’s Lukas
Krajicek, the defenseman who already skated five games for the Panthers.

The seven-year old
Jiri was also soon among the top kids on the Prostejov team. He didn’t have the blistering
skills of a future sure-fire NHLer, but was always very intense, tenacious and gave
everything to the team’s success. Plus also a solid portion of skill, of course. Jiri kept
improving on a steady course and while Krajicek was outstanding on the blue line, Jiri led
the Prostejov kids up front. His dedication and natural leadership brought the coaches to
the decision to honor him with a ‘C’ on his jersey and for three years Jiri Cetkovsky
was captaining the Prostejov kids. During that time he had some exceptional showings at
various youth tournaments and sometimes he went home with an individual trophy. Jiri often
got some new sticks as the award for the top scorer. But he wasn’t a pure sniper in no
way. Jiri tended more to a playmaking role and because he was always a tall kid, he tried
to make use of his physical advantage to help the team. Coach Ivo Horak taught him how to
play a two-way game, which suits Jiri best, and he was willing to listen to the advices.

He also did various off-ice workouts and earned a reputation of one of the top forwards in
the region. That meant interest from Extraleague teams, which are always looking for a boost
to their prospect pipeline. From Prostejov 1983’s, Jiri Cetkovsky and Lukas Krajicek were
the two gems who were the target for them. Krajicek accepted the offer of Zlin, while Jiri
Cetkovsky joined the system of Olomouc. That was when Jiri was 12 and was going to perform
for the 7th grade. At that time in Olomouc was an established Extraleague franchise, these
days Olomouc fans can only dream of such a thing, but there is still a great system for
raising young kids and turning them into legitimate prospects. And Jiri was a kid with talent.

After the next two years he already was considered as the top player coming out of the
Olomouc 8th grade team and a future huge boost for the midget team. But first he had to
play his season for the 9th grade. Once again he
enjoyed a highly succesfull run. For his great contribution he was rewarded with a nomination
to the unofficial Czech Under-15 team and headed Finland for his first international
tournament. It was held in the cities Lahti and Marjomemi and under coaches Pestuka and
Kuridym there besides Jiri also played current Under-20 team players Petr Dvorak, Lukas
Chmelir, Lukas Dobry and the goalie Lukas Plsek.

After this success it was time for Jiri to make the jump into the midget ranks and start
performing in the midget Extraleague. He had a solid but unspectacular 1998-99 rookie season
in which he got used to the faster midget hockey and prepared for a bigger role next season.
He was eligible to play for the Under-16 team, but wasn’t invited to any tournament.
In 1999-2000 he was supposed to be one of the leaders of the Olomouc midgets and he handled
his duties very well. His gritty two-way play was an aspect coach Jaroslav Beck was looking
for and Jiri saw a lot of ice time. Even if he played only 25 games, he still amassed 10
points for 7 goals and 3 assists. In the last games of the season he captained the team.
For five games he also returned to his native Prostejov to play in the Midget Div I league.
Jiri was outstanding at the lower level as he averaged exactly one point per game, in 5
games he recorded 5 points for 3 goals and 2 assists. As the season came to the end, it was
a question for Jiri where to play now. Senior hockey in Olomouc faced huge financial trouble and
the young prospects were all leaving. Finally there remained only Div I juniors, midgets and all
the nine grades team in Olomouc and Jiri Cetkovsky returned to the home Prostejov.

There he was served with a chance to start his junior career, unfortunately not at the
highest level, Prostejov plays only in the Junior Div I league. He added a solid portion
of toughness to his performance and even if he was a rookie, he was able to lead his team
in many games. Jiri wasn’t a huge scoring threat, but a two-way forward who showed up every
game. In 28 games he scored 7 goals and added an equal number of 7 helpers for a total of
14 points and a solid number of PIMs with 75. Jiri’s poised game didn’t remain hidden to
the Extraleague teams, seeking for their future prospects. Jiri received an offer from the
nearby Zlin team to join their system and play in the junior Extraleague. He accepted the
offer and started to wear the yellow-blue colors of Zlin.

In the Zlin juniors he is coached by excellent coach Zdenek Cech, who is respected by
Jiri a lot. This past season he played his rookie season at the highest junior level and
coach Cech worked with him a lot and gave Jiri the needed tips. No wonder that he point-wise
enjoyed his best junior or midget season so far. In 30 games Jiri notched 15 points for
9 goals and 6 assists plus 44 PIMs. But the defensive awareness of Jiri isn’t included in
the numbers, unfortunately.

The somewhat disastrous Czech 2002 WJC also predicted many changes in the Under-20 team.
1983 born players began their one-year preparation course for the 2003 WJC in Halifax, Canada,
and it was time for Jiri to wear the Czech national team jersey again. After three years
of international competition drought he got invited to perform at the Five Nations Tournament
in St. Petersburg, Russia. He enjoyed a great tournament, which is very promising for the
next season. He scored a goal in the game against Sweden and added one assist in games against
the Finns and Russians. In the game against the senior team of the local St. Petersburg
team Jiri went scoreless, but the game was decided by penalty shots after the overtime was
over and Jiri was a succesfull scorer.
It remains to be seen, if he’ll wear the national team colors also in the near future.
Jiri Cetkovsky is heading North America to try his luck in the CHL and is very likely to
come over. But if he won’t play major junior in Canada, then he’ll be probably a lock to
play for the Under-20 team the whole season.

And what type of player will likely come over? Jiri’s biggest asset is his giant 6’4”,
210 lbs. frame. He is a ferocious hitter and a tenacious forward. He gives everything to
the team’s success, can play both center and right wing and isn’t afraid of the rough
play. He works hard in the corners and often positiones himself in front of the net,
where he looks for rebounds. Jiri is also a very good forechecker and brings a terrific
portion of defensive awareness to the table. For a man of his size Jiri skates well, even
if he still has some reserves. He handles traffic well and has a very hard, accurate
slap shot. On the downside Jiri has just average stickhandling skills and could use
a better vision, at times he doesn’t seem to read the play terribly well. Jiri needs how
to use his teammates more and gain more maturity. He can develop into a typical diamond
in the rough if he pans out and puts the intangibles together. Jiri has the potential to
be a NHL power forward someday.

Besides hockey Jiri also has school duties. He is visiting a secondary school for mechanical
engineering in Zlin and school is quite important for him. In the offseason Jiri turns from
a hockey player into a handball player, just like Philadelphia Flyers’ center Jiri Dopita, who
used to play handball for Sumperk in summer. Handball suits him well because he can make
use of his size and he likes this sport a lot. Just like tennis and squash, which Jiri plays
often against his dad, who is an accomplished tennis player and can still beat his son.
If he would have more time in winter, he would do more skiing. Jiri is a very good skier, but
the coaches don’t like this fact very much, because he can get injured easily. Relaxing
is also important in Jiri’s life, he likes to watch TV movies, mostly comedies.
Jiri prefers to wear the number 22 on his jersey for one simple reason – this number can
be easily remembered. His nickname can also be hardly forgotten, since his childhood is
Jiri nicknamed ‘Ceca’. He even doesn’t know why, his teammates just began to call him this
way. But he knows that 1985 World Champion Dusan Pasek, who recently passed away, was also
called ‘Ceca’. This is the only thing Jiri knows about his nickname.
Jiri is now a Detroit Red Wings fan. Like most Czech hockey fans, he supports the legendary
Czech goalie Dominik Hasek on his tour to the elusive Stanley Cup. In Europe he of course
supports his team, HC Continental Zlin. But coming the NHL Entry Draft the first thing could
change. Jiri has solid chances to be selected as a mid- or late-round pick. Good luck!