Czech draft class blossoming

Special To FC2014 Draft Center

With only three players born and trained selected in the 2013 NHL Draft, it was a disappointing year for prospects from the Czech Republic.

No player was selected higher than the fourth round following a strong 2012 class, which included first-round picks Radek Faksa and Tomáš Hertl. But with how the 2014 NHL Draft class is shaping up, the Czechs could see another duo drafted in the first round.

The duo of Jakub Vrána and David Pastrňák resembles Faksa and Hertl in an interesting way. Hertl, prior to the draft, was an Extraliga regular with Slavia Prague and made National headlines numerous times that season. Faksa, a member of Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, didn’t receive as much attention early, but eventually ended up getting picked higher than his fellow countryman.

This year, Vrána is the one who gets more attention and it’s been that way for a while. This time, Pastrňák is the one who’s been rather overlooked and some rankings, including ours, have him higher than Vrána. Both are expected to travel to Malmö, Sweden, for the 2014 World Junior Championship, alongside Faksa and one other member of this draft class, Ondřej Kaše.

Kaše decided to fight for his place in the NHL by choosing a different, probably more natural path.

While both Vrána and Pastrňák play in Sweden, Kaše stayed at home. Coaches of the Piráti Chomutov Extraliga team trust him enough to have made him a regular on their roster and he belongs to only a couple of full-time Extraliga forwards from the junior category.

He’s on pace to roughly 12 points on the season, taking advantage of a great chemistry he’s been building over seasons of junior hockey with linemate David Kämpf, a soon-to-be 19-year-old who has yet to been drafted, but is most likely going to the World Juniors as well. It is expected that these two will team up with Vrána, just as they have all season long.

Pastrňák could well be the top-line center in Malmö, with Faksa on the left wing. He’s having a strong season in the Swedish Allsvenskan, playing for Södertälje. With 15 points in 25 games, his stats are better than those of Filip Forsberg or Patrik Berglund when they were drafted out of that very same league.

Vrána, on the other hand, has been struggling a little with transition to the SHL, the Swedish Elitserien. He’s collected no points in his 13 SHL games and is about a point-per-game in the junior SuperElit league. Pastrňák has two points in his only SuperElit game this year.

Both Vrána and Pastrňák are flashy forwards who can really cause mess in the offensive zone. While Vrána is rather a forechecker with great physical play and big confidence, Pastrňák is a goal-scorer and a playmaker who doesn’t shy away from contact either. Kaše, meanwhile, combines both these styles as he naturally does what Pastrňák brings to the rink, but playing fourth line in the Extraliga taught him the blue-collar game as well.

In the shadow of the two first-round prospects, Lukáš Vopelka is another Swedish-based Czech forward eligible for the upcoming draft. In his third year with Örebro, Vopelka has 15 points in 23 SuperElit games and has recently had his SHL debut. Another workhorse, Vopelka could be drafted in the later rounds.

Overseas in Gatineau, Quebec, Václav Karabáček is the lone Czech playing in the Canadian Hockey League that could hear his name called on draft day. Not much was expected from him, but teaming up with Émile Poirier and Slovak forward Martin Reway helped him gain recognition and put him on the rankings. A blue-collar type of player, Karabáček could be selected in the later stages of the draft, too.

These candidates, alongside the likes of Brno forward Pavel Jenyš and Liberec defensemen Filip Pyrochta with Tomáš Havlín, are shaping up to be one of the strongest drafts for the Czechs in recent memory.

Article by Radoslav Vavřina