Czech 2003 prospects – Lukas Pulpan

By Robert Neuhauser
NHL prospects, especially defensemen, will be always judged by many factors, but the size
factor is probably the first the scouts look at. Hulking behemots may have the way to the
NHL easier, but there are also NHLers which show that they are adept to handle the NHL
style of play despite their size deficiency. Those players with smallish size but a huge
heart often appear also among the Czech prospects. One of the best is diminutive blueliner
Lukas Pulpan of Plzen, a serious talent for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Since the time he was born Lukas Pulpan was an active kid. He liked to be outside, play with
the ball or just play for fun, like all the other small kids. His parents came to realize
that for Lukas will be very good if he will do some sport.
As soon as he could walk, his father took him skating to the frozen pond and under his tutelage
Lukas did his first strides. No one in his family was ever involved in playing hockey, but
Lukas was happy everytime when he was lacing up the skates, so hockey was definitely a choice
for him. And because he didn’t have one
exact sport he would prefer, his dad brought him to both Czech most popular sports – hockey
and soccer. That was in time when Lukas was just four years old, so it can be said that
he lives his entire life for sports.

The coaches of the youngest grade team in his native
Plzen immediately recognised that among the bunch of kids eager to start playing hockey
there is one who is naturally extremly gifted and does all the basic drills effortlessly
and with pleasure. It was the little Lukas Pulpan, younger than most of his ‘teammates’.
A smallish kid, but he very quickly learned how to skate and keep balance and could also
move the puck with ease. You would say a future forward, but you would be wrong. The coaches
have slotted Lukas to play defense and didn’t have any problem with that. In the tyke
cathegory the game is all about pure skill and who can skate, rules. Which Lukas, also thanks
to the lessons from his parents on the frozen pond, obviously could. So in rapid time he
became relied upon heavily on his team and turned out to be one of the leading personalities.

Lukas took advatange of his slick skating and smooth puckhandling not to only provide
outstanding defense, but also to contribute offensively and join the rush occasionally.
He only got tips that his offensive raids have to take place only after the defensive duties
are done and Lukas was aware of this. He tried to mix rock-solid defense with offensive
awareness in his play and was really successful. The Plzen 1985 born kids, like every team,
competed at various tournaments for kids of the respective age, mostly against teams from
their western region. And at almost every of these tournaments Lukas Pulpan was voted
the Top defenseman and one time even the Best scorer. From that time Lukas has lots of
trophies and awards at home.

But as he grew in age and was about to reach the pee-wee
level, he could see that the opposing forwards are becoming bigger and him not. That showed
that there will be a little change needed in his play. It was clear that he won’t punish
them with hard checks, he had to outsmart them and use his top-notch skill to his advantage
in this. Lukas has a terrific hockey sense and smarts so that he didn’t have much trouble
handling the hulking opposition and still could show his offensive flair and talent. Already
in the pee-wee cathegory Lukas began to be considered one of the best defensemen of his age
in the whole Czech Republic and a potential candidate for the junior national team jersey.
That also meant a loss for the Dynamo ZCE Plzen soccer team, Lukas stopped to attending the
soccer practices in order to concentrate fully on a hockey career.

No wonder, after performing
for the 7th grade of Plzen his career took a great rise. Plzen midgets head coach Vladimir
Bednar was confident that the shifty rearguard Pulpan is able to handle the midget
Extraleague even as a twice underage and promoted him over two levels right to the midgets.
Lukas is very thankful to coach Bednar for putting the faith in him and in the 1998-99 season
he learned the ropes and bounds of elite Czech midget hockey. Of course the opponents were
physically more mature and twice underaged Lukas had a tough time battling them physically,
but could rip them apart with his smarts, which was his secret weapon. So that at the end
of the season Lukas was a regular in the defensive rotation and was playing with terrific
poise for a 13-year old kid.

The next year Lukas was viewed already as an experienced player and was logging lots of ice
time. He didn’t rush forward a lot and took remarkable strides in his defensive zone coverage
which helped to boost his reputation as a rare two-way gem on the blue line. In 37 games
for the Plzen midgets in 1999-2000 Lukas notched 6 points for 3 goals and 3 assists along
with 46 PIMs.
The 1999-2000 season was one to remember for Lukas because of the fact that it was his first
international season. Even if he was one year younger than the rest of the players, he made
use of his midget Extraleague experience and made the Under-16 team of the 1984 borns.
With that team he participated at all important tournaments in the season, in a three-game
series against the young Russians he scored his first international goal and was also a
member of the winning squad at the 2000 Under-16 teams Four Nations Tournament, played in
Angerholm, Sweden. That win was the top of Lukas’ first international season.

In 2000-2001 Lukas was already practicing with the junior team of Plzen, but competed still
with the midget team as a third-year vet and the captain of the team. Lukas was really a
very respected leader who established a region of doom over the midget Extraleague with
his superb offensive instincts and defensive awareness. Lukas could always recognise the
right point to rush the puck and this brought him lots of points. He didn’t fire the pucks
a lot, but his quarterbacking skills and coveted outlet passing was essential in the Plzen
midgets run that year. Finally in 46 games Pulpan recorded 37 points for 5 goals and 32
assists. This terrific effort brought him also the first major trophy of his career – Lukas
was voted the Top defenseman of the Czech midget Extraleague in 2000-2001 and at the awards
show in Prague he received a mountainbike as a recognition.

Lukas split the 2000-2001 international season between the Czech Under-16 and Under-17 team.
With the team of his birthyear, the Under-16 team, Lukas skated at three tournaments – a
three-game series against the young Slovaks, a three-game series against the Under-17 team of
Switzerland and at another succesfull Four Nations Tournament, this time in Yaroslavl, Russia.
The Czechs won the tournament, but it was the only where Lukas didn’t score a goal, at the
other two he scored always a pair of goals. Even if he played just 9 games, he was able to
win the defensemen scoring of the Under-16 team with 9 points for 4 goals and 5 assists plus
an eye-opening +/- rating of +18, third-best on the team.
With the Under-17 team Lukas played in a three-game series against the Germans, a three-game
series against the Finns and most importantly the World Hockey Challenge. There he scored
one goal in the game against Finland and left a solid performance. Overall Lukas scored
5 points for 2 goals and 3 assists for the Under-17 team in 2000-2001.

It was clear that he has nothing to prove on the midget level in 2001-2002, even if he was
still eligible. Lukas moved to the junior ranks for his underaged campaign and was even
playing one exhibition game with the senior team of Plzen. And during the season he was
attending practices of the senior team regularly. To the midget team he was sent only for
4 games where he scored 2 points for 2 goals but also showed his aggresivness when he
notched whooping 33 PIMs in those four games. He was a steady force for the Plzen juniors,
he diminished the number of his offensive raids and tried to avoid any mistakes when
battling players sometimes four years older than him. Just like in his beginnings with the
midgets Lukas wasn’t a feared hitter but could contribute with his elite skill a lot. In
38 games he recorded 4 points for 1 goal and 3 assists, along with 61 PIMs.

Lukas Pulpan is a superb skater with a great burst of speed, balance and agility. It is
extremly hard for the opposing forwards to outskate him or catch him out of position. Lukas
takes pride in his very sound positioning and is always at the right place on the ice. With
this he compensates his severe size deficiency, at 5’9”, 165 lbs. Lukas won’t probably
ever be much of a physical presence, even if he has precise timing of his hits. He beats
the opposition with his smarts and positional play. Pulpan sees the ice very well and is
capable of very accurate outlet passes. Also useful as a powerplay quarterback, Lukas has
a decent offensive flair, but could work on his shots from the point a bit. He handles the
puck well with his soft hands and has a very good hockey sense. Lukas is a waterbug on the
defense and has everything but size. He probably won’t be bigger than 5’11”, 190 lbs. when
he is done with his growing, but the NHL teams should take a close look at him.

Lukas, who likes to wear the number 5 on his jersey, didn’t return to the Under-17 team
for the 2001-2002 season and played the schedule of the Under-18 team. Even if he finally
got scratched from the Under-18 WJC team, he had some very good showings during the season,
at two Four Nations Tournaments and didn’t look lost also on the smaller ice surface on the
Viking Cup. There he scored 2 points for 2 assists and 4 PIMs. Overall for the Czech
Under-18 team Lukas played 15 games in which he scored 4 points for 1 goal and 3 assists,
just like among the Plzen juniors. The number of +/- dipped to -5, along with 18 PIMs.

Lukas is a New York Rangers fan, but his hockey role models don’t come from the Rangers
team. He admires local Plzen hero, smallish vet Josef Reznicek for his heart-and-soul style
and Detroit Red Wings rearguard Jiri Slegr for his toughness and determination.
From things he doesn’t like there is the brass music, else Lukas listenes to almost every
kind of music. He has an interesting nickname, ‘Pupik’, which means little paunch in Czech.
Also because of attending a secondary school for sports in Plzen, Lukas doesn’t have lots
of free time. He takes his studies very seriously and besides hockey career wants also to
achieve a good mark level at school. Right now he is in half-time of his secondary studies
and will graduate in two years, if nothing unpredictable happens. When he finds a free while
for him, then he tries to take a rest to gain strength for the games. Besides resting Lukas
also likes to play tennis or ride his bike. When it comes to TV movies, Lukas prefers to
watch the legendary Sylvester Stallone in the ‘Rocky’ series of movies about a boxing champion.
As far as the upcoming season is concerned, Lukas has clear plans. Because he wants to take
the European route to the NHL, he avoided the CHL Import Draft and is looking to have a sniff
with the Plzen seniors the next season. Lukas wants to play in the Extraleague first and
from this point then think about a possible NHL career. One thing he would miss among the
Canadian juniors definitely. The spaghetti from his mother, Lukas’ most favorite food, along
with food from chicken meat. But because he is a serious prospect for the 2003 NHL Entry
Draft, it is very likely that sooner or later he’ll cross the sea to challenge for a NHL
job. Good luck!