Slovak 2004 Entry and CHL draft review

By Tomas Egry

Ten Slovak players were picked by eight different teams in this year`s NHL Entry Draft. With the same quantity as last year, this draft class looks little bit stronger on quality. With two first round picks it was a good year for Slovaks.

Boris Valabik – 1st round – 10th overall – Atlanta Thrashers

Defenseman- 2/14/1986- 6‘7″- 212 lbs- Kitchener Rangers- OHL

Valabik‘s stock was constantly rising in his draft year and was finally picked at No.10. He was surprisingly picked before other defensemen like A.J.Thelen or fellow Slovak Andrej Meszaros. Valabik is a safe pick for Thrashers. He is a huge guy with solid mobility. His adaptation to the North American style was very quick. After a solid performance at last year‘s U18 world Championship where he played with Andrej Meszaros and won silver medal, he decided to move to OHL. He led the team of Kitchener in penalty minutes and get the description of the meanest guy in this draft. He doesn`t have a lot of offensive skill and mostly play strictly defensive role in his team. Valabik is mostly compared to Zdeno Chara since they have similar size and history. Chara was also drafted mostly because of his enforcer style of play and later developed into Norris Trophy runner-up. The Thrashers hope their similarity will continue and Valabik will develop into more complete player. If not, they will get a big, mobile enforcer who is reliable in his own end, but won`t create anything up front.

Andrej Meszaros – 1st round – 23rd overall – Ottawa Senators

Defenseman- 10/13/1985- 6‘0″- 198 lbs- Dukla Trencin- Slovak Extraliga

Meszaros first drew attention in 2002 when he represented Slovakia at U18 World Championship. Even if he didn`t dominate the tournament like then 16-year-old Alexander Ovechkin, he had a solid performance on a weak team. He continued developing constantly and in 2002-03 season he made his debut in the Slovak Extraliga. He also captained the Slovak team to a silver medal at the U18 World Championship. This season he became the vital member of Trencin men`s team. After a strong performance in playoffs and winning the title he was nominated to the Slovak National team for the World Championship. Getting minimum ice time, it was still a great experience for him to play with players like Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa.
Meszaros is mostly known for his offensive skills. He is good skater with smooth stride and solid agility. His passing skills and hard shot from the point make him perfect power play quaterback. In his own zone he provides some solid defensive reads and great work with his stick when he is able to block tons of shots. He was known for being soft, but this aspect of his game improved pretty well this season. He has an aggressive game along the boards and in front of the net. He also threw some big hits this year in Slovak Extraliga, but aggressiveness still doesn`t come naturally from this heart.

Andrej Sekera – 3rd round – 71st overall – Buffalo Sabres

Defenseman- 6/8/1986- 6‘0‘‘- 187 lbs- Dukla Trencin- Slovak Juniors

Sekera is another product of Dukla Trencin. This season he was a captain of Trencin`s junior team and Slovak U18 team. He also made his debut in Slovak Extraliga.
Even if not really big for modern defenseman, he is solidly built and doesn`t shy away of physical contact. He provides balanced offensive and defensive skills. He reads the play pretty well, plays aggressively along the boards and plays a good positional game in his own end. He is very poised with the puck and makes a great first pass out of the zone. His good passing skills give him a role on the power play. He should improve his shot to become excellent quarterback.
Sekera is natural leader and motivates his teammates perfectly. He is very comunicative. His physical condition might be a problem because sometimes when he plays a long shift he makes penalties or stupid mistakes. Sekera will probably join Slovak group in CHL next season while he was picked by Owen Sound in the Import Draft.

Peter Olvecky – 3rd round – 78th overall – Minnesota Wild

Winger- 10/11/1985- 6‘2″- 185 lbs- Dukla Trencin- Slovak Juniors

It was a big surprise that Olvecky went so high. He provides a solid combination of size, skills and grittiness. Native of Nove Zamky, he spent the last seasons in Dukla Trencin organization. Last season he played mostly for the junior team but gained some Extraliga experience, too. He is a versatile player, good at both ends although his dominance is in the offensive zone. He works hard along the boards, creates plays and is also able to finish them. He should get little bit stronger and become more aggressive in front of the net. He doesn`t have any major strengths or weaknesses. Olvecky is a long term prospect for Wild, but his work ethic could be a positive factor in his future development. He suits perfectly the Wild philosophy. Olvecky was recently picked by Sudbury in the CHL Import Draft.

Roman Tomanek – 4th round – 103rd overall – Phoenix Coyotes

Right Wing- 1/28/1986- 6‘1″- 176 lbs- Povazska Bystrica- Division 1

Tomanek is an extremely talented forward, a top skater in this draft class. He has great speed, acceleration and agility. He carries the puck at fast pace along with his great deking ability it makes him strong 1 on 1 player. He is a scoring threat every time he is on ice. Mostly known for his finishing abilities he can also create some nice plays. His great skating allows him to be great forechecker, but adding some pounds would make him even better and more punishing. Tomanek`s dominance is strictly is offense. With the system played in Slovakia he wasn`t really asked to play defensively.

Even though he has a ton of offensive skills, Tomanek is still an extremely risky pick. He decided to move to bigger club, Slovan Bratislava. Unfortunately, he wasn`t able to adapt there and started to cheat his hockey duties. Later he decided to move back home to Povazska Bystrica and it took him a long time to get back the reputation he deserves. At the begining of this season it looked like this will be another average year for him and he would have big trouble getting drafted. He spent the season playing for Povazska Bystrica in Division 1 (second men‘s hockey league in Slovakia) putting some solid numbers with 20 points in 29 games. His situation changed dramatically after his strong performance at U18 Four Nations tournament in February. He continued his great play and dominated highly scouted U18 World Championship winning the goal scoring race.
Once he is motivated Tomanek is almost unstopable. He needs to improve his off-ice habits, consistency and defensive play. To make this, he decided to move to the WHL where he was drafted by the Calgary Hitmen.

Roman Kukumberg – 4th round – 113th overall – Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward- 4/8/1980- 6‘1″- 196 lbs- Dukla Trencin- Slovak Extraliga

The only Slovak overage player picked in this year`s draft. Kukumberg was a member of Slovak champion`s elite line. He also represented Slovakia at World Championship.
He is a versatile forward who can be used for any game situation. Can play right wing or center and provides solid play at both ends. He is a good combination of size, skill and grit. He works hard along the boards and in front of the net, but can also make some finesse moves. He doesn`t have any major flaws just needs time to develop. Recently signed a new contract with Metalurg Nizhnekamsk of Russian Superleague.

Michal Sersen – 5th round – 130th overall – Pittsburgh Penguins

Defenseman- 12/28/1985- 6‘1″ – 200 lbs- Rimouski- QMJHL

Sersen is second Slovak CHLer picked in the 2004 Entry Draft. The expectations were high when Rimouski selected him as No.1 pick in last year Import Draft. Sersen missed World Junior Championship due to injury.
The native of Gelnica began his career in near Spisska Nova Ves. At a young age he moved to Bratislava to play for Slovan. He won the midget title twice and in 2003 made his debut in the first team. In the same year he was a member of Slovak U18 National team that won silver medals at the World Championship.
Sersen is a solid shot blocker. He carries the puck pretty well and has some offensive instincts. He needs to improve his consistency and defensive reads.

Juraj Gracik – 5th round – 142nd overall – Atlanta Thrashers

Right Wing- 8/14/1986- 6‘3″ – 187 lbs- Topolcany- Division 1

Tall, lanky Gracik is a typical power forward. He doesn`t possess breakaway speed but his other skating skills are on a good level. He has a complete shot arsenal and won`t miss any chance to take a shot. He also won`t give up for scoring garbage or rebound goal. Gracik likes to play agggresively and works hard along the boards and in front of the net. His vision and creativity are only average, but he is usually the finishing man. Playing with some playmaking linemates, he becomes a great goal scorer. Otherwise, he needs to work hard for scoring goal and he accepts it. An accomplished forechecker, he is able to win the puck and create some solid play with the puck or make a snapshot.
Gracik had a very busy season, but his physical condition and work ethic allowed him to play many games. He played both for the men‘s and junior team of Topolcany. He was also the member of elite scoring line Gracik-Scurko-Bacek of Slovak U18 National Team. Gracik works hard every shift and never gives up. Recently drafted by Tri-City, he has an opportunity to move to North America. After adding some pounds he will be a punishing power forward with scoring touch.

Michal Valent – 5th round – 145th overall – Buffalo Sabres

Goalie- 3/5/1986- 6‘2″- 176 lbs- Martin- Slovak Juniors

Michal Valent was a starting goalie for both Martin junior team and Slovak U18 National Team. He is a stand-up goalie with good reflexes. The areas he should improve are recovery and puckhandling skills. He usually stays in the crease and doesn`t skate out to create the play. Recently signed a contract with Czech team Sparta Prague where he should be a starting goalie for their junior squad. With some good coaching he could develop into a solid goaltender. He is a long term prospect for Sabres.

Ladislav Scurko – 6th round – 170th overall – Philadelphia Flyers

Center- 4/4/1986- 6‘0″- 187 lbs- Spisska Nova Ves- Division 1

Scurko`s season was similar to the one of Juraj Gracik. He also played for both the men‘s and junior squad of Spisska Nova Ves and was his linemate in Slovak U18 National Team. Scurko dominated in juniors, but unlike Gracik he was able to make big impact in Division 1. He usually centered the third or fourth line and didn`t get a lot of ice time.

Scurko is versatile center with dominant defensive skills. His defensive reads are very good and often replaces his defense who joins the rush. He is a dependable player and accepts the tactic set by the coach. He works hard every shift and won`t give up on any battle. On offense he doesn`t possess a lot of natural talent. He handles and passes the puck pretty well, but he isn`t typical playmaker, because his vision and creativity are only average. He is a gritty player along the boards and in front of the net. He is capable of puting the puck in net when asked to play offensively. He scores goals by his grit and hard work rather than finesse moves.

Scurko is average skater and it keeps him low in development. He has improved this area of play but it is not enough. He needs to improve his acceleration, speed and balance to be more effective at both ends of the rink. Another guy who is set to move to WHL, he was taken in the Import Draft by Seattle and should spend the next season over there.

CHL Import Draft

On Wednesday June 30, the CHL Import Draft was held and eight additional Slovak players were selected.

Chicoutimi (QMJHL) picked Slovak center Marek Zagrapan

Born late in 1986, Zagrapan is a 2005 draft eligible player. He is a creative playmaker with great vision, creativity and passing skills. He carries the puck at a high pace and along with his great deking ability he is capable of carrying it end-to-end. His biggest flaw is his softness when he doesn`t finish his checks. Leadership, grit and aggressivity are areas to improve in his game.

Native of Presov, he played in Zlin, Czech Republic. He has some Extraleague experience, but wasn`t able to find regular spot in the team of Czech Champion. Zagrapan represented Slovakia at last two U18 World Championships. In 2003 he centered the fourth line and finished pointless in six games, in 2004 he was the top scorer of the tournament playing in line with another talented player Roman Tomanek.

Lewiston (QMJHL) picked Jaroslav Halak

Habs prospect Jaroslav Halak is a top goalie prospect in Slovakia. Halak is silver medalist from the 2003 U18 World Championship where he was named the best goalie in the tournament. In 2002-03 season Halak played for Ruzinov in Division 1. Seeing approximately 50 shots per game he was team`s MVP but Ruzinov couldn`t avoid relegation. Last season Halak played mostly for Slovan Bratislav junior team, but has some experience from Extraleague. He represented Slovakia at World Junior Championship in December.

Halak already wanted to move to CHL last year but no team selected him. After losing their starting goalie Matt davis due to age, Lewiston decided to pick Halak, a goalie with great international experience.

Cape Breton (QMJHL) picked Vladimir Kubus

Kubus is a smallish center who could easily find his place in Quebec. He is skilled playmaker but not of as high a quality as Zagrapan. On the other hand he brings more grit to his play. He possesses great vision and combination skills. Kubus was ranked by CSS 84th among European skaters for the 2004 NHL Draft. Kubus used to play defense but he moved to forward and rapidly became the top scorer. Kubus spent the recent season playing for Poprad junior team and had some experience with Slovak U18 National Team. He had trouble staying healthy while he was extremely lanky at the beginning of the season. He was out for couple months in the middle of this season.

Prince Albert (WHL) picked Marcel Ulehla

Ulehla is tall left wing. He is a good skater with solid speed and agility for his size. He carries the puck pretty well. He isn`t overly creative and his passing is average. A gritty forward, he needs to work on his consistency. Will be a good addition to the third line as he provides aggressiveness, grit and some ofensive skill.

Ulehla played last year for Slovan Bratislava junior team. Mostly playing on the third line, he didn`t get a lot of ice time. He was a permanent member of Slovak U18 National Team and represented Slovakia at the World Championship of this age category.

Val d`Or (QMJHL) picked Lukas Martinka

Martinka was a member of Dukla Trencin, playing for both junior and midget team. He also played some games in U18 National Team. Martinka will go the same way as his former teammate Juraj Liska from Acadie-Bathurst.

Lewiston (QMJHL) picked Marek Korenko

1987 born Korenko was a member of the Slovak U17 National Team. He also played for the Poprad midget team which won the second place in Slovak midget league. He has solid size, but isn`t overly aggressive. Solid passing skills and he could develop into good power play player.

Tri-City (WHL) picked Igor Bacek

Bacek was Ulehla`s teammate from both Slovan junior team and U18 National Team. He was a creative element in scoring line Gracik- Scurko- Bacek. He is smallish left wing, but he doesn`t shy away of physical contact. He finishes his checks, but should bulk up to be more punishing. Good skater with speed acceleration and agility he carries the puck very well. Had a strong performance at the Viking Cup.

Medicine Hat (WHL) picked Juraj Prokop

Born late in 1985 Prokop was eligible for this year`s NHL draft. He was ranked 56th among European skater but no team picked him. Until last season, he spent his whole career in Slovan Bratislava usually playing with 2003 draftees Branislav Fabry and Ivan Dornic. He moved to Czech Vsetin where he mostly played for junior team but get some Extraleague experience as well. Prokop has solid offensive skills, good creativity, puckhandling, passing and he doesn`t shy away from physical contact.

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