Petr Vrana – Not a CHL but a NHL prospect

By Robert Neuhauser
For a long time the Czech Republic didn’t have such a dominant line in the international
competition as this year’s Under-17 team’s line of Vojtech Polak-Petr Vrana-Ivo Kratena.
You have to give credit to the coaches who could put together such a combo of players.
They understand each other well and draw many comparison to the Jaromir Jagr-Robert Reichel-
Robert Holik line, which was dominant in the late 80’s. All the three young players posess
top-notch talent and skill and have already proven it at many tournaments. This time it will
be the center of this line which will be taken into the spotlight. This is a story about
Petr Vrana.

Petr Vrana was a kid who had contact with hockey from the very beginning of his life. Like
most of today’s players, he had his dad playing hockey. Petr’s father enjoyed a career
as a goaltender and the little Petr was a frequent visitor at the rink in Sternberk, the city
where he was born. He watched his father standing between the pipes in regular games and
visited also the practices. He began to like the game of hockey and was thinking to start
a career of his own. But not necessarily as a goalie, it was still to decide what position
will suit him best. So at the age of six, which is relatively late for the today’s game, Petr
was admitted to play for the youngest grade team of Sternberk and began to attend the
practices. There all the simillarities between his father’s and Petr’s career ended. Petr
didn’t fall in love with the pads, blocker and glove, he was mesmerized by scoring goals
and thus the stoppers turned out to be his “enemies”.

So Petr was playing forward, mostly the center position. His dad as the head coach
taught him the basics of
skating and puckhandling and because Petr was a talented kid, he was soon among the best
kids on the team. His natural talent for hockey was evident and Petr wasn’t just ‘the son
of the coach’, but a real leader of the team. His elusive moves and strong skating helped
him to dominate games and Petr gained a reputation of one of the top players in his region
after a few tournaments of the youngest kids. When he was playing for the 3rd grade he tried
to succeed at the left wing position, but soon returned to his natural center spot.

In Sternberk he spent six succesfull seasons, which saw him to improve from an unknown kid
to one of the best pee-wee aged players. That was something for the Extraleague teams, looking
for a boost in their pipeline of young talent. Nearby Olomouc franchise has spotted him and
finally brought into the system. Olomouc was already stocked with elite 1985 born players
and at that time they had the strongest squad of that age in the whole Czech Republic. Petr
understood on the ice well with Ivo Kratena and the two created a terrific duo which was
ruling the games, both were blessed with impressive skills. No wonder that the Olomouc 1985
borns won three consecutive championship titles in their age cathegory, which is rare.
Petr was captaining the team and enjoyed a major success at an international tournament of
the 7th grades in Sweden, where he was declared the Best forward and honored with a selection
to the all-star team.

After the years of glory Petr finished without a championship title celebration
when he was performing for the 9th grade. That year Olomouc 9th grades finished third overall.
But Petr didn’t need to worry a lot. Olomouc midgets head coach Jaroslav Beck recognised
Vrana’s amazing talent and already in the 1998-99 season he promoted him to the midget team.
So Petr had a chance to play at the elite midget level as a twice underage and it was a
great school for him. He got used to the different midget game and could learn
from this experience in the next season.

As a rare talent, Petr Vrana was always meeting older opposition and this happened again in
1999-2000, when he was playing for the Olomouc midgets full-time as an underage. He had no
trouble with the faster and tougher game at the midget level and thanks to his impressive skill
for hockey he soon logged lots of ice time and could control the play of the whole line. He
was one of the most valuable players of the Olomouc midgets that year, playing 43 games
and registering 30 points for 12 goals and 18 assists. Seeing him make plays and score goals
at top speed made the coaches of the future Under-16 team Karel Najman and Jaroslav Beck to
consider Vrana as one of the leaders of the new Under-16 team of the 1985 borns. Petr left
a huge impression at the selection camp and there was no doubt about who will fill the spot
of the first line center. The left winger could also be foreseen, it was of course Vrana’s
twin from Olomouc, Ivo Kratena. The coaches knew that this combo clicked and now they could
use it against international opposition. Highly talented Karlovy Vary gem Vojtech Polak won
the right winger’s spot and the ‘Great Line’ was born.

But in the Olomouc midgets they couldn’t use Polak’s help. Both Petr Vrana and Ivo Kratena
proved their outstanding dominancy at the elite midget level and Petr even claimed the
scoring title after the regular season, 10 points ahead of second Ivo Kratena. In 34 games Petr
scored 74 points for 35 goals and 39 assists.
The energetic speedster was a steady producer all
the time and was ripping off the opposition. Overall in 44 games he notched 90 points for
39 goals and 51 assists.
He had clearly nothing to prove in the midget cathegory and was
promoted to the junior team during the season. With the Olomouc juniors Petr had to skate only
in the Div I junior league, but didn’t worry about this fact a lot. He better focused on
terrorising the goalies. In 12 Div I junior games he scored 16 points for 7 goals and 9

Petr Vrana coped with the role of one of the Under-16 team’s leaders well. ‘The Great Line’
started producing and leading the team, with Petr at center. He was very effective at the
first tournament of the season, a three-game series against Slovakia. In those three games
Petr averaged a goal and an assist per game as he registered 6 points for 3 goals and 3
He took a sniper’s role at the next tourney, a three-game series against Switzerland. There
he won the goalscoring title of the Czech team, with 4 goals. These were also the only points
he scored.
Then came the season’s top, the Four Nations Tournament in Voskresensk, Russia. After a wild
7:7 shootout with the host Russians the young Czechs were succesfull in games against Sweden
and Finland and grabbed the first place. En route to the win Petr Vrana scored 2 goals and
4 assists for a total of 6 points.
He had a bright showing also in a three-game series against
the Under-16 team of Russia. In this series he notched 2 goals.

After the 2000-2001 season was over, Petr along with lots of other quality prospects of Olomouc
felt the necessity of joining a team with an Extraleague franchise again. In Olomouc the
senior team during the time Petr was there fell to the Div II league also thanks to financial
He received various
offers but finally decided to accept the offer of Havirov, just like the goaltender Jakub Cech
or forward Marek Frieb.
His way with Ivo Kratena parted now, Kratena joined the HC Sparta Praha system, a team
where also his older brother Ondrej performs.
Even if he was still midget Extraleague eligible, Petr spent most of the 2001-2002 season
playing for the junior team of Havirov coached by his midget coach from Olomouc, Jaroslav Beck.
For the midgets he played just 6 games where he
continued his region of doom with 19 points for 10 goals and 9 assists, good for an average
of more than 3 points per game.
He was a steady performer for the Havirov juniors, appearing
in 38 games and scoring 23 points for 11 goals and 12 assists, which are very solid numbers
for an underaged player. On the junior team Petr flourished on a line with overager Radek
Krestan and the duo combined on the ice well.
But the play for the juniors
wasn’t the top of Petr’s season. He even got promoted to the senior team and made his senior
Extraleague debut. Overall he skated with the Havirov seniors 6 games, in which he went
scoreless with 4 PIMs. After Vojtech Polak he became the second player from ‘The Great Line’
to play at the elite senior level.

Petr, nicknamed “Havran” (vrana means “female raven” in Czech and “havran” is the male raven)
was amazing also on the international level. He got promoted already to the Under-18
team for the first major tourney, the Six Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic.
The famous World Hockey Challenge was another major success for Petr. He was outstanding
on the smaller ice surface and showed his usual top-notch skill. In the game against Germany
he even recorded a hattrick along with Vojtech Polak. Just like in the game against Russia,
he was selected the first star of the game.
But Petr Vrana became the scoring
champion on the 2002 World Hockey Challenge with 15 points for 6 goals and 9 assists in 5
games, a terrific effort! Ivo Kratena also notched 15 points, but scored only 5 goals, thus
Vrana became the champion.
He also performed in an exhibition game against the Under-17 team of Finland and at the
Five Nations Tournament, played in Sweden. He closed out the season with a terrific performance
in a three-game series against the Germans, played in Germany. As usual, Vrana and his linemates
were the clear leaders of the Czech squad.

When looking at Petr Vrana, you’ll immediately notice his intriguing skills. He has great
wheels and lot of quickness. He is both very agile and balanced on his skates and can be
slotted as a terrific skater. Petr is a dynamic forward who has a natural gift for irritating
opponents and generating scoring chances using his superb stickhandling skills and persistence.
He is an intelligent pivot who is very strong on the puck. Thanks to his superb vision and
hockey sense he seems to always make the right decision. He isn’t over-enthusiastic and
has an above-average ability to maneuver in high-traffic areas. He thrives on powerplay
units where he can use his exceptional smarts and creative playmaking. On the downside Petr,
who is a finesse type of center, has never offered much of a physical presence also thanks
to his frame size. He needs to bulk up and upgrade his aggresivness. Petr isn’t
also a lethal shooter and even if he has a strong wrister, his slap shot could definitely
see some improvement. But overall is Petr an incredibly talented forward who will barring an
absolute collapse next year challenge for a first round selection in 2003.
He is aware of the fact that also due to his size deficiency the CHL wouldn’t be the best
solution for him and he wants to take the European route to the NHL. He plans to hone his
finesse skill in Havirov where he has signed a professional contract
which is valid also for
the next two seasons. There he has a chance to play in the senior Extraleague the next season
which would definitely help his development a lot.

His free time Petr splits between school duties and resting. He is about to finish his second
year at a secondary school in Havirov, where he has an individual plan for his studies. That’s
a thing Petr appreciates, because as a top athlete he is sometimes missing from school. And
a minor factor is that he doesn’t need to wake up early almost every day, because waking up
early in the morning is a thing Petr hates. He knows how strength is important for the games
and is resting a lot. During that time he often watches TV movies or plays videogames, which
are his favorite activities. From other sports Petr prefers to play floorball, which is very
simillar to hockey, soccer, tennis or he rides his bike. If he could order something for his
dinner then it would be “china” with rice and strawberry juice to drink.
He also follows the NHL quite close and is a New York Rangers
fan. Petr doesn’t have an exact player he tries to pattern his game after, he just watches
all the skilled players and tries to take best from what he saw. But with his skill and
dedication to the game it is very likely that soon the NHL fans will be those who will be watching
and learning from his game. Good luck!