Ladislav Kouba – the Rebel in the Coyotes system

By Robert Neuhauser
In the past years the Phoenix Coyotes have shown that they are able to recognise talent
coming from the Czech Republic and bring them into system. After picking two Czechs at the
last year’s draft show they walked away with a pair of Czechs again – the latest addition
being the Red Deer Rebels forward Ladislav Kouba.

The beginning of Ladislav Kouba’s career could draw comparisons to the start of Jaromir Jagr’s
career. Just like the Czech icon and Washington Capitals’ star forward Ladislav had his father
playing hockey till the junior cathegory. He brought his son to ‘his’ game as soon as he
could and Ladislav made his first strides at the local rink in his native city of Vimperk
when he was just four years old. Ladislav couldn’t see his dad play live or follow him to
the practices, unlike many of the sons of former players, but felt comfortable on the ice
surface very soon and began to like the game. His parents taught him skating and after the
small Ladislav could keep balance on the skates effortlessly, he felt that he is ready to
start a hockey career of his own. Ladislav joined the youngest kids’ team of Vimperk at the
age of five and his parents were also a factor in this decision. They supported him in the
first years a lot and his dad gave him lots of useful tips concerning hockey while his
mother was helping him more with the off-ice duties.

The coaches had another duties and they very soon recognised that they have a very talented
kid in front of them. Ladislav was doing all the drills and practices with ease and showed
a competitive demeanor with leadership skills. He turned into a real force for the Vimperk
1983 borns and his skills helped the team to win many games. No wonder that he was awarded
with a ‘C’ on his jersey, even if his talent was visible easily without this. Ladislav tried
to play also in the defensive corps, but his offensive instincts finally won and he was
slotted to play the forward position. How smart this decision was became evident when Kouba
was performing for the 5th grade of Vimperk. That year he gained a reputation of one of the
most talented kids in the southern region of the Czech Republic. The 11-year old Ladislav
was the top goalscorer in the whole southern Bohemia region and that was a thing which
attracted other teams, looking for a boost in their pipeline of prospects. He also quite
regularly won trophies for the top goalscorer at various youth tournaments.
Ladislav felt the
necessity of leaving his native, but provincial Vimperk and join a team where he would face
bigger competition. After some talk with his parents he finally accepted the offer from the
nearby Pisek, where he didn’t need to travel a very long way to the practices and games.

In Pisek Ladislav spent two years, where he was able to maintain his reputation of one of the
top 1983 born kids. His dedication to the game plus off-ice workouts payed the dividends
and his very solid two-way skills contributed to this. When Ladislav was reaching midget age,
Extraleague teams began to be highly interested in him. It was the Plzen team which won the
battle for the talented Ladislav Kouba and now he could join the system of one of the top
Czech teams.

Coach Vladimir Bednar has put the faith into the newcomer and Ladislav Kouba earned
a regular spot in the Plzen midgets offensive rotation. After learning the ropes and bounds
of the elite midget hockey in 1998-99 Ladislav was ready to emerge as an immediate presence
and one of the leaders.
He had his international experience as an advantage. After an impressive showing at the selection
camp for the Under-16 team consisting of the 1983 borns Ladislav was named to the team and
skated with the youngest Czech junior national team at the Five Nations Tournament in Finland
and in an exhibition game against Switzerland.

The 1999-2000 season was quite succesfull for Ladislav, who displayed his knack for finding the
net in full glance. He was a core player and earned lots of ice time in game-breaking situations.
With 48 points for 28 goals and 20 assists in 29 games
Ladislav finished second in Plzen midgets scoring behind Columbus Blue Jackets draftee
Jaroslav Kracik and also dressed up for 5 junior games. In those five contests he went scoreless.
A bit of a shadow on his season threw the fact that he didn’t play the whole schedule of the
Czech Under-17 season. Still, he played in series against the young Slovaks and Germans.

Ladislav didn’t think of playing in the junior Extraleague in 2000-2001 for Plzen, his eyes
were focused on Canada to play major junior. He knew that he had an outside chance to be
picked and declared his willingness to come over. It were the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL who
claimed Ladislav Kouba with the 28th overall pick in the 2000 CHL Import Draft, after
acquiring the pick from the Regina Pats.

Ladislav Kouba is a typical two-way forward with a very solid frame as a bonus (is listed
at 6’2”, 210 lbs.). He is a solid skater with a smooth stride and is very hard to get
knocked off the puck thanks to his superior strength and balance. Puckhandling isn’t an
issue for him, Kouba has very soft hands and is a very smooth puckhandler. Ladislav
contributes defensively a lot and is usually the first forward back to help the defense.
Both of his wrist and slap shots are above-average and Ladislav unleashes his blasts quite
often. He has a decent vision and hockey sense which enable him to deliver solid passes,
but he is a better shooter than passer. The things to work on for him are the first-step
quickness, acceleration and explosivness. On those things Ladislav also concentrated this
summer in his workouts and practices.

So in August 2000 Ladislav found himself aboard a plane heading western Canada. After battling
the usual trouble with the new language and culture Ladislav began to feel comfortable in
Red Deer quite soon. He was able to crack the lineup of one of the top WHL teams and was
always accompanied by a Czech teammate as Martin Vymazal and offensive sparkplug Martin Erat,
now with the Nashville Predators, have spent playing time for the Rebels. Ladislav logged
decent ice time for a rookie and mainly got tips from the more experienced Erat. For the first
time he had to face such a tough schedule and could along with the teammates also call the bus
his second home. But he could handle it and as the season progressed, his problems with
English disappeared, too. Finally, in 62 regular season games Kouba notched 12 points for
5 goals and 7 assists before being benched for most of the playoffs. Ladislav dressed up for
3 playoff contest, going scoreless. At least he had the best ‘tickets’ to watch his Red Deer
teammates winning the legendary Memorial Cup and he could also get his hands on the holy
grail of junior hockey. That belongs along with the WHL championship title to the highlights
of Ladislav’s previous career.

Kouba was eligible for the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but got overlooked after his WHL rookie
campaign. He knew that with a good showing in his sophomore season the chances to be drafted
will be much higher, so he spent the summer with workouts and arrived to the Rebels’ camp in
good shape. Coached by ex-NHL player Brent Sutter, the Rebels were hoping to defend their Memorial
Cup title. Just like the head coach Sutter in his NHL days, Ladislav prefers to wear the
number 21 on his back, the number he wore already in the junior national teams. Kouba played
with the number 26 in the past, but then decided to change it for 21, the number he wears till
now. Mostly on a line with Joel Stepp and 2002 first-rounder Boyd Gordon, Ladislav bounced
back from the past season. Now fully accustomed to the WHL hockey, he dealt with the
increased role on the team well. In 62 regular season games he recorded 30 points for 16 goals
and 14 assists. The playoffs began succesfull again and then after ousting the Moose Jaw Warriors and
Brandon Wheat Kings the Rebels stood in the WHL finals again. But there the Kootenay ICE, the
eventual Memorial Cup champions, made a sudden end to the Rebels season. In 23 playoff games
Ladislav notched 8 points for 5 goals and 3 assists.

Ladislav hates boredom, so he tries to be active and have fun all the time. He likes to organize
some kind of fun and action for himself and his teammates. When it is time for another sport
than hockey, then you’ll see Ladislav play most likely tennis, soccer or golf. These are
besides hockey the most favorite sports for him. When it comes to resting, then it’s
time for a computer game, a movie or some music. Ladislav is a huge fan of music and prefers
to listen to techno, trance dance or rap music. Group Blank and Jones is the favorite for him
and from rap II Pack, Snoop Dogg or Eminem belong to the music Kouba likes to listen. He
relaxes also by watching movies, mostly comedies, action films or dramas.
School isn’t a closed chapter for Ladislav, who has an individual plan in his studies at
the secondary school for business and sports in Plzen. When his season in the WHL is over and
Ladislav returns home, then he has to pass also the exams at school besides preparing for
the new season.

He knows that the upcoming season will be important for him. It will be most likely his final
junior campaign. And now he’ll be counted to the drafted players. The Phoenix Coyotes were
impressed by his skills well enough to call his name in the 7th round, 216th overall in the
2002 NHL Entry Draft. Kouba, just like fellow Plzen forward Jakub Koreis joins a system
which is already stocked with Czech prospects like Martin Podlesak or Frantisek Lukes. Phoenix
is of course now the most favorite team of Ladislav, but when the Patrik Elias-Jason Arnott-
Petr Sykora line was present for New Jersey, Ladislav was a Devils fan. But these days are
gone, he
is ready to prove everybody that he is ready to move up to the pro ranks coming 2003-2004
and compete for a NHL job. This is along with winning the Stanley Cup Ladislav’s biggest
hockey dream. Good luck!