Czech 2003 Prospects: Jiri Drtina

By Ivana Paulova

Every year many talented Czech juniors leave their home country to try their luck in the CHL. Many times they leave not knowing the language and with no familiar faces near them. But that is just how hockey is, you have to sacrifice to succeed. One of the rookies who left with mixed feelings last season was Jiri Drtina, to the Soo Greyhounds and later to the Guelph Storm. His position was unique because he was the number 1 pick in the import draft meaning that he had very high expectations.

The Prague native was brought to the game by his mother who didn’t want to let her child just to fool around and be bored. For half a year Drtina played tennis and soccer but nothing impressed him. Then when Drtina was seven his mother took him to the nearby stadium of HC Hvezda Praha where Drtina kept on playing till the 9th grade. The 9th graders were coached by Mr. Nikl who influenced Drtina a great deal. “He really understood the game and he knew what he wanted. We got along very well.”

Then scouts of HC Slavia saw Drtina’s outstanding puck control and great offensive play and called his mother to have this talented prospect on their team. In Slavia he played in the midgets for two years, last season he played as an underager for the juniors. In his rookie season for the midgets in the Slavia Drtina played 47 games and registered 6 points for 2 goals and 4 assists plus he had 28 penalty in minutes. In his second season he played 43 games and had 28 points (10G, 18A) and 30 PIMs but he was also given the opportunity to play for the juniors in 10 games having only 2 PIMs. Before the start of the last season Drtina was one of the best blueliners in Slavia and even though he was still underage he was playing in the first defensive pair with Martin Cizek. He played 38 games scoring 1 goal and assisting to 8 goals, plus he had 18 PIM. He helped out to the midgets in the playoffs and he played 9 games gaining 3 points for 1 goal and 2 assists.

Due to Drtina’s stellar performance in Slavia, he was soon invited to the U-16 national selection and he was there as an underager. He played with the 84 borns till the half season of their U-17 season and then he was sent back to the U-16’s to play with the 85 borns. On the World Hockey Challange with the 84’s Drtina had a bad start and the whole tournament did not work out well for him. After that he was only invited to the national selection’s events with the 85’s and he played well on all the tournaments. His best tournament happened to be the World Hockey Challenge the year after. He ended fourth among the scoring leaders and first among defensemen scoring. Thanks to his excellent two-way play Drtina impressed the scouts from the CHL very much, and not only them, hockey fans also started to be curious of this talent as well.

He opened up the doors to the CHL for himself and it was no doubt that many teams had an interest in him. In at the end he was chosen number 1 in the 2002 Import Draft by Sault Ste. Marie. In most of the tournaments Drtina was paired up with a teammate from Slavia, Lukas Spelda. They took advantage of knowing each other but Drtina does not really mind with who is he playing as long as it is a good defenseman. Drtina and Spelda they were the first defensive pairing and at the forward were Ivo Kratena, Vojtech Polak and Petr Vrana. This was an elite Czech formation and the biggest threat to the opponents and mainly on the already mentioned World Hockey Challenge where they had hair-raising showing.

Drtina was also invited to pre-World Championship camp of the U-18 selection last season. After a solid performance he did not get chosen to the final roster as well as the rest of the 85 born players. This season he had a chance to play on the U-18 World Championship even though the Czech Hockey Federation voted not to allow players who decided to go the CHL to play on the Championship. They then changed their mind but as Guelph Storm proceeded to the second round of the playoffs he missed the Championship by two days.

Jiri Drtina is an offensive-minded defenseman. Some people describe him as the fourth forward. It would not be an usual situation for him to suffer from defensive zone gaffes. He is an imposing skater with an extremely fluid stride which helps him reach blazing speed. Drtina adds to this “When I was among the graders I could easily skate away from anyone who tried to catch me but now there are much better hockey players around me and it is more tougher and challenging.” Mostly you recognize him patrolling the blueline with his perfect outlet passes. He possesses a rare talent to find the open man. In his arsenal there is also a hard slap shot and an accurate wrist shot, but he prefers to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. The other skill that make Drtina a top prospect is his dazzling puckhandling which makes him able to slip through defenses as any skilled forward. He is blessed with superb ability to read the play, bright hockey sense and superior vision. The only weakness in his game is the physical part of it, he is not tough enough but it does not mean that he shies away from physical play. This season he was getting used to the OHL style of play and next season he is prepared to make bigger impression and improve not only his results but mainly his style of play and will adjust more to the North American style.
Still there can be something done about his ability to solve the one on one situations . He plays with great poise and confidence, the only thing that makes him angry is his own poor performance. Dtrina is better to be paired with a stay-at-homer, who will take care of his own end once Drtina joins the rush. This agile defender does not posses a hulking frame but he can make up for that thanks to his smart sound positional play. This was spotted in Slavia and later in Soo Greyhounds, Drtina already achieved some success with Slavia midgets when they won the Midget Extraleague title in season 2000-01 and he was one of the key players there. Off the ice Drtina is a kind and modest guy.

Until the 9th grade Drtina was attending an elementary school where the hockey class was guys who were playing hockey for the same team this was HC Hvezda Praha. After that he started attending high school with major in economics. He managed to successfully complete the first two years and he has two more to go. The future of his studies will be on hold because he was sure to leave to play in CHL. He would like to have high school diploma but it will take some time, in Sault Ste. Marie and in Guelph he only took English classes. After he came back home after the season he had two months to finish the third year of his studies on the business academy.
Apart from his school duties he mostly relaxes or watches TV. This year as he decided to try his luck oversees he saw the biggest advantage in learning English and being more under the scouts’ watchful eyes.

He was drafted as number 1 of the Import draft to the Soo Greyhounds who last year chose another Czech top prospect Petr Taticek. Taticek left Czech Republic as not a very well known player in the shadow of Jiri Hudler. But OHL suited him just perfectly and after an excellent performance through out the whole season he was the highest Czech player chosen in the 2002 NHL entry draft being Florida’s 2nd pick and overall number 9. The similar future was predicted to Drtina before the start of 2002-03 season but he did not keep on with the expectations. Maybe he was not given enough chance maybe he was not doing what the coach wanted but definitely he still has the same skills and the same potential as he had at the beginning of the season. Until Christmas he played for Soo but then it was inevitable for Drtina to change the environment and trade between Soo and Guelph gave Drtina new motivation. For five weeks he was out because of shoulder injury, but all together he played 74 games registering 28 points for 9 goals and 19 assists and collecting 28 PIMS.

When Drtina played for HC Hvezda he regularly went to watch the midgets and junior games. In Slavia he went to watch the games only from time to time. Among the older players he did not have any role models, not even in Slavia A team. The only player that captured his attention was Antonin Stavjana the former player of Zlin but as Drtina says “there are a lot of good players and it is hard to pick one, well I really admire Paul Coffey, but I play my style I do not try to copy anyone.” Among the NHL teams Drtina does not have a favorite one that he would fancy but he follows the league in general. As for the NHL entry draft Drtina would like to be picked by a team in which he would have a chance to play.
Drtina had the advantage of having his mother near him, her unconditional support was one of the key factors in his development. She is definitely his biggest fan. But he is more mature now and needs to stand on his own feet. This guy has all the tools to play at least a decent role in the NHL, no matter that Central Scouting did not even include him in their final rankings, he just has the talents and the smarts to make his way up to the NHL. He definitely deserves attention because he has an amazing potential that can be build upon. He is great offensively and will develop defensively as well, as he matures and bulk up with time. Next season he will be back in Guelph and hopefully drafted be a team that really wants him in their organization.