Czech 2004 prospects: Stanislav Balan

By Robert Neuhauser

A player who still fits the ‘lanky’ category, Stanislav Balan won’t jump at you as a devastating bone-crushing hitter. But he has other assets which will NHL scouts take into account when making their choices at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He is one of the smartest players from this year’s crop of young Czech hockey talent.

A native of Hodonin, Czech Republic, Stanislav Balan wasn’t brought to hockey by anyone in his family, but more by his hometown. Hockey is by far the most popular sport in the small city close to the Slovak border and when it was time to decide about what sport to play, Balan had an easy choice. When Balan was seven years old and attending the first grade of elementary school, his steps took the direction hockey arena for the first time.

Hodonin 1st grade coach Arnost Sifl has put the tall Balan on defense. He didn’t have trouble with preventing the others from scoring, but he also occasionally joined the rush when he had a chance to do so. Balan was born with an above-average talent for sports and it was visible. He learned quickly how to skate and move the puck, which brought him success at the youngest levels. He emerged as a defensive anchor of his team and opponents had a tough time against him.

Stanislav Balan, nicknamed ‘Stan’ or ‘Stanley’ from his first name, spent three years with playing for his hometown team, but after he finished his season for the 3rd grade team he was on the move for the first time. Rather unusual for a kid just nine years old, but his parents felt that he needed to play for a better team against stiffer competition in order to keep a steady improvement. In Hodonin he was clearly the best player, but in the nearby cities like Breclav, where Balan could travel each day, there was no elite team. So Balan’s parents have allowed their son to play even in a foreign country and placed him on the 4th grade team of HK 36 Skalica, one of the best teams in Slovakia. Balan didn’t need to learn a foreign language as there is almost no language barrier between Czech and Slovakia and had to travel just a few miles from his hometown, even if had to cross the border.

Coming to the Slovak team Skalica wasn’t the only major change for Balan that season. Skalica 4th grade head coach Frantisek Kazinota recognized his offensive upside and has switched Balan from defenseman to a forward.

“I was very happy with the chance to move up front. I had more fun with scoring goals and creating offense, so I asked the coach if he would let me come to the forward lines. He agreed and I never wanted to return to the back rows again.”

Balan proved that the coach made a smart decision very quickly. At a tournament of the Slovak 4th grade teams, played in Skalica, he was awarded with the Top Goalscorer trophy and was the back-to-back receiver of the award next year for the 5th grade. In the season when Balan performed for the 5th grade he had his playing schedule shortened by a concussion, but could recover from it quickly. At that time Balan created a strong duo with Slovak forward Martin Stepanovsky and the two provided lots of Skalica 1986 borns team offense.

After finishing his season for the 8th grade team of Skalica, Balan, who prefers to wear either number 7 or 12 on his jersey, had some arguing ahead of him. He received a serious offer from the Czech Extraleague team HC Hame Zlin and now had the opportunity to return to his home Czech Republic and perform for one of the best developmental systems in the country. He agreed on the offer in the end and joined the Zlin 9th grade team just in time before the beginning of the 2000-2001 season.

There he left an immediate impression on a squad loaded with highly skilled players and coached by experienced coach Zdenek Svoboda. The combo of him and the twins Roman and Michal Psurny regularly terrorized the opposition with their offensive raids and all three finished in the top eight of the 9th grade scoring chart among players from the whole Czech Republic. Stanislav Balan proved that he is ready for the leap to the midget ranks as he amassed 71 points for 41 goals and 30 assists in just 30 games for the Zlin 9th grade team. He had his feet wet in the midget Extraleague already at the end of the 2000-2001 season when he dressed out for 1 midget game, in which he went scoreless with 2 PIMs.

The 2001-2002 season saw Stanislav Balan burst onto the midget Extraleague stage full-time. He had the transition eased by the fact that lots of his teammates from the 9th grade team made the successful jump to the midgets along with him. He benefited from his cohesion with the Psurny twins and could get valuable ice time from coaches Jaroslav Stuchlik and Radek Psurny. The Zlin midget team had solid offensive power up front, but Balan could grab a bigger role as the season went on thanks to his consistency, before seeing his ice time take a drop in the playoffs. In his rookie midget Extraleague season Balan averaged nearly a point-per game when he recorded 46 points for 22 goals and 24 assists in 50 games, along with a plus/minus of +9 and 60 PIMs.

During spring of 2001, Balan performed at the meetings of the regional teams, consisting of the best 1986 born players of the respective region. Those contests are used to evaluate the talent of players who are eligible to play for the Under-16 team next season and Balan impressed the coaches enough to earn an invitation to the summer Under-16 team camp in Nymburk, Czech Republic. He succeeded in getting a roster spot already for the first tournament of the season, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Slovakia. In this series Balan found the net once to record his first international goal. After performing in the games against the Slovaks he was left out from the next two events before going to the Czech Republic capital, Praha, to play at the Four Nations Tournament. This event is the first meeting of the Under-16 teams of Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland and Russia and Balan was held scoreless.

No sophomore jinx affected the play of Stanislav Balan, who captained the Zlin midgets in 2002-2003. He proved his preparedness for the next season with winning the top goalscorer title at a summer midget tournament, played in Havirov, Czech Republic. The Zlin midget team recorded a coaching change as Eduard Svoboda took over as the head coach. The team was ready to chase the midget Extraleague championship title and Balan was counted on to be an integral part of the team. He skated on the elite two lines all season long and made decent strides also in his defensive awareness, even if his main goal was still to provide offensive output. He set up the plays for the Psurny twins and showed that he is also capable of finishing scoring chances.

At mid-season it was obvious that the midget Extraleague provides no more valuable competition for Balan and Zlin juniors head coach Stanislav Prikryl gave him a lift to the junior team. Balan was used as a purpose player on the junior squad but could also chip in offensively as his transition to the junior Extraleague went on. He performed on the third or fourth line and registered 11 points for 4 goals and 7 assists in 21 games to go along with 8 PIMs.

Two weeks before the beginning of the playoffs Balan broke his wrist and spent three weeks with re-habing before he was returned to the midget squad to help them in their playoff run. Zlin midgets fought all the way to the midget Extraleague finals, where they squared off against the Trinec midgets. Zlin was considered underdog in this series and really lost 2-0 in the best-of-three series, but Balan still recalls the silver medals a considerable success.

“Making it to the finals was a huge experience for me and all the guys. We wanted to win, but still the second place in the midget Extraleague is the biggest success of my career so far.”

En route to the silver medal Balan played 30 games for the Zlin midgets, where he scored 49 points for 25 goals and 24 assists to go along with an above-average number of 91 PIMs.

Stanislav Balan’s 2002-2003 international season consisted of four tournaments. In November he made the trip to Finland to take part in the three-game series against the Under-17 team of Finland. There he amassed 1 point for 1 goal. In February Balan traveled with the Czech Under-17 team to Podolsk, Russia, to play at the Four Nations Tournament. He finished the season with an appearance in a three-game series against the Under-17 team of Switzerland and the following three-game series against the Under-17 team of Germany. In the 11:1 drubbing of the host Germans in the first game he lit the lamp twice, the only points he notched in the two tournaments.

The summer of 2003 Balan spent practicing with both the junior and senior team of Zlin. He could see what it takes to make it to the senior Extraleague and appeared in three exhibition games, where he scored 1 point for 1 goal and 2 PIMs. But before thinking about cracking the senior roster he had to be industrial in the Zlin juniors road through the 2003-2004 junior Extraleague regular season. Logging a good chunk of playing time also on the powerplay units, Balan impressed with his deceptive playmaking skills and returned to the point-per-game average from the midget category. Despite playing against players sometimes three years older than him, he scored 32 points for 13 goals and 19 assists in 32 games so far. Balan also averages more than 2 PIMs per game with 84 till now as the doesn’t hesitate to display his mean streak occasionally and makes strides in his toughness.

Month December of 2003 will be a milestone in Balan’s career due to the fact that he got promoted to the senior team and in the game against Vitkovice he recorded his senior Extraleague debut. Just before Christmas he scored his first senior multiple-goal game as he scored a pair in the exhibition game against the Czech Under-20 team. On January, 3rd, 2004, Stanislav Balan notched his first senior Extraleague goal in a home game against Trinec.

He began to make a good name for himself in the games of the Czech Under-18 team in front of the watchful eyes of NHL scouts this season. He was red-hot in the first tournament of the season, the World Junior Cup, played in August 2003 in both Czech Republic and Slovakia. Balan skated mostly on the top two lines and showed his strong shape as he ranked second after Jakub Sindel the Czech team scoring race and was tied with Michal Birner as the best Czech passer with 8 points for 4 goals and 4 assists in 5 World Junior Cup games.

In November he was a member of the Czech roster of the Under-18 team which competed at the Four Nations Tournament in Prievidza, Slovakia. After this event he participated in the Christmas evaluation camp, where the Czech Under-18 team squared off twice against the Under-18 team of Denmark and once against Czech Div I senior teams of Beroun and Mlada Boleslav.

Stanislav Balan is a good skater for a player of his size. He takes advantage of his fluid stride and possesses a solid agility. He has an adequate first-step quickness and is able to execute at a high velocity. Balan is a tremendous puckhandler who sees the ice well. He is a deft playmaker who utilizes on his strong hand-eye coordination. Balan has an above-average hockey sense and plays well in position. He is capable of finshing the scoring chances, too, as he boasts a good wrist shot with a fast release. His slap shot could see some improvement in accuracy and hardness. Balan doesn’t refuse to help out the defense thanks to his solid defensive awareness, but still could block the opposing passing lanes more effectively. At 6’1”, 163 lbs. Balan has a very skinny frame at this point. He doesn’t play a physical style and relies on his finesse more than on his toughness.

Balan admires the style of young upcoming NHL stars like Ottawa Senators winger Martin Havlat and Atlanta Thrashers prodigy Ilya Kovalchuk. “Both players are very flashy and entertaining to watch. I like their styles a lot.”

Balan isn’t a player who would rely on pre-game superstitions. “I don’t have any exact order of things I would do before each game. I’m not superstitious at all.”

A third-year student of the secondary school for business in Zlin, Stanislav Balan has to fill school duties besides hockey. But when he has some free time and isn’t playing hockey or studying, then you will find him mostly resting by watching TV movies or spending his time in front of a computer. When it is time for some active resting, then Balan prefers to join his friends for a game of soccer, basketball or the now very popular floorball. Even if he is a music fan, he doesn’t have any favorite group.

“I just like to listen to pop or rock music and I don’t have anyone who I would prefer.”

Represented by agent Jaroslav Jirik, who works for North American-based agent Mark Gandler, Stanislav Balan isn’t rushing to the CHL.

“I would like to stay at home more than come over to the CHL, the European route to the NHL is better for me I guess.”

He follows the NHL quite closely and cheers for teams from both US and Canadian capitals, the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators. Balan has the tools to become a mid- to late-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.