Sure, it’s been just a couple of weeks since the NHL teams picked the top of the 1996-born crop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but it’s never too early to let you know which players you should watch in the upcoming season. Eight Czechs were picked this year in The City of Brotherly Love and just as many can be expected next summer in South Florida. So, who are the guys to watch and what are their chances?
Pavel Zacha (6’3”, 203 lbs)
You might have already heard about this “wonderkid” a couple of times as he made a Czech Extraliga roster at the age of 16 last year and played with Petr Nedvěd on the same team in Liberec. Now, he decided it’s time to move on and a move overseas looks inevitable. There wasn’t much happiness in his camp when the Sarnia Sting selected him in the CHL Import Draft and so now he and his team are considering all the options, the USHL being one of them. Zacha has been praised for his mature attitude and play, willingness to work hard off the ice and use his size to his advantage.
Jakub Zbořil (6’1”, 187 lbs)
A friend of Zacha since they both were just little kids, Zbořil is a big defenseman that had a great Ivan Hlinka Tournament last year and will be looking to repeat that in less than two weeks. He played in the Under-20 Extraliga last year and did pretty well, also helping the Under-18 national team to add a WJC silver medal to its collection. Right now, he will be going to the QMJHL where he got drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs in the CHL Import Draft. A steal for the New Brunswick-based franchise, Zbořil has been praised by scouts for his versatility, using his tools to his advantage at both ends of the ice.
Michael Špaček (5’10”, 181 lbs)
Crafty forward from Pardubice who has some professional experience from the Czech Extraliga and played a key role at the Under-18 WJC where he scored seven points in seven games en route to the silver medal. After that, he got drafted into the CHL by the Medicine Hat Tigers, but it is unknown whether he’s going to transfer or rather stay home and look for a chance to be an Extraliga regular. Not one of the bigger guys, Špaček is known to rely on his smooth hands and offensive weapons. His shot is pretty lethal as well and he can also distribute the puck effectively.
David Kaše (5’10”, 150 lbs)
Smallish forward whose older brother Ondřej got drafted by the Anaheim Ducks at this past draft. The younger of the two Kaše brothers was essential for the Under-18 national team at the WJC in Finland, killing off penalties, working hard at both ends of the ice and even scoring the overtime game-winner in semifinals against Canada. He ended up with five points in seven games and loads of appraisal from scouts. While he really belongs to the smallest guys you’re going to see on the ice, he’s as fast as they come and has great character. Might end up having brighter future than his younger brother.
Filip Chlapík (6’1”, 183 lbs)
One of the Letňany-raised forwards, a hockey schools that has trained both Jakub Vrána and Václav Karabáček early in their careers, Chlapík looks like a natural goal-scorer at times, but there’s more to his game than that. He spent a year in the U20 Extraliga and added two starts among pros, and now he’s at a crossroads where he has to decide whether to stay and hope for more ice-time among pros or rather leave and play for the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL. He’s also been praised for his skating and hockey IQ.
Ivan Ďurač (5’10”, 163 lbs)
Versatile forward from Mladá Boleslav who has so far been just very underrated. So far he’s only had three starts for the Czech Under-17 national team, but since he made the roster for the upcoming Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, we are definitely up to see more of him. This young man is full of promise and still sort of undiscovered. That’s about to change in just a few days though and then we’ll be in for a hell of a ride.
Daniel Vladař (6’5”, 185 lbs)
This Prague native is just a huge goaltender that is so big he takes up the entire net. He’s been very effective using his size to his advantage and he’s even done that at Under-20 level already. Now, he’s ready to become the successor of Capitals-drafted Vítek Vaněček as the starter for the Under-18 national team. And he’s also a promise that the Czech goaltending school might have a member drafted in yet another consecutive year.
Aleš Stezka (6’2”, 176 lbs)
A year ago, Stezka was right up there with Vladař, but the bigger of the two has since gotten far far away. It’s not that Stezka had a bad season, it’s just that Vladař was simply amazing. Playing for Liberec Under-18 national team, Stezka had a great season as well, especially statistically, as he had a GAA of under 1.81 in every competition where he played. Sure, he had great defensemen everywhere as well, but he’s been very good, too. Will be interesting to see if he gets a spot at the draft as well.
Roman Dymáček (6’0”, 174 lbs)
A native of Hodonín, Dymáček is a forward that is just getting ready to play in the Under-20 Extraliga, but he’s far from being a lost cause. His team, Kometa Brno, used experienced players at the Under-20 level rather than the younger guys and so he only saw action in seven games besides becoming an Under-18 Extraliga runner-up. He will be under close surveillance at the Ivan Hlinka and later.
Daniel Krenželok (6’2”, 176 lbs)
Big defenseman that is going to North America now after a couple of years in the elite academy of HC Vítkovice Steel and a successful CHL Import Draft. Val-d’Or, the hometown of the reigning QMJHL champions, the Foreurs, will be his new home now and he’s got a lot to prove in Quebec while battling for a spot at the NHL Entry Draft.