LIBEREC, CZE — The 2014 NHL Entry Draft is knocking on the door here in mid-June and Philadelphia better be ready for what’s coming. The battle for number one might be decided already or might not at all, but it is believed that defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart all have a chance on being selected first overall by Florida and Leon Draisaitl can also get picked among the top three. And did you know Leon’s father is from the Czech Republic?
Anyways, the Montreal Canadiens are drafting 26th in the first round and that’s probably what you want to hear about. Guys like those mentioned above are getting selected long before the Habs get to make their pick and there are two Czech forwards ranked right around number 26 in most rankings.
Let’s talk about Jakub Vrána first. He’s a real scoring threat as he’s a natural sniper, able to knock knock guys down onto the ice and pass the puck well. He just has it all offensively and back in his own zone, it’s his determination and willingness to be the winner that makes him so special.
Vrána is that kind of a forward that can end up filling roles in any of the four lines each team has available, it just depends on how he turns out in the years to come. He has the potential to lead a team and be it’s number-one point-scorer, but he can also become an efficient third-liner thanks to his great character.
Spending most of his time playing for Linköping in Sweden, lately among pros as well, not just juniors, Vrána could be ready to join whoever drafts him in two or three years if things go right. ISS has him ranked 21st, TSN’s Craig Button would draft him as number 23, NHL Central Scouting Service sees him as the 4th best skater out of Europe and Future Considerations has him at no. 25.
Earlier before the season started, Vrána was ranked even higher, but a slow start prevented him from keeping a top-fifteen ranking. However, he eventually became solid both among pros in Sweden and at for the Czech Under-20 national team at the U20 World Juniors.
Vrána’s not the only Czech that could end up becoming a Canadien in the first round. Also based in Sweden, David Pastrňák seems to possess killer instincts and resembles Tomáš Hertl very closely. He’s as fast as they come and he uses that well jumping into the offensive zone with the puck on his blade. Pastrňák is more of a shoot-first kind of player compared to Vrána and is not so physical which separates him from Hertl, but doesn’t render him less effective.
Pastrňák’s potential could be a top-six forward in the NHL with a lot of goals. He could be a true goal-scorer wherever he ends up playing. I’m not sure how much of a bottom-six forward he is as even among pros, he’s a top-six, unlike Vrána. But, he has some solid speed and that could help him become a solid penalty killer. It is, however, more likely that he will be killing goalies in their dreams. Nightmares.
The Södertälje leading point-scorer from the 2013-14 campaign started the season well at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and has only slowed down a little in the second half of it. He, alongside Vrána, was critical en route to two medals from two top Under-18 international competitons, the Ivan Hlinka and the U18 World Juniors, a bronze and silver respectively.
While ISS doesn’t believe he is a top-thirty-worth player, Future Considerations believes he should be ranked as high as number 18. NHL Central Scouting has him right behind Vrána as the 5th skater out of Europe and Craig Button sees him as a potential number 25.
These are not the only two, of course, but the rest is way out of first round. Two more forwards have their spots at the draft guaranteed. A defenseman most likely gets picked as well with another blueliner very much hopeful, just like a netminder and two more Czech-based forwards.
The next on the list is Ondřej Kaše, a flashy winger that is sort of something between Pastrňák and Vrána. Having spent the last season among pros in the Extraliga, he became a solid offense-first forward that can adjust to a bottom-six role as a relentless forechecker and speedy penalty killer. He also played a big role at the U20 World Juniors and is supposed to become a second- or third-round pickup.
Kaše is a workhorse and as such he can adapt to any of the roles that are needed in the NHL, he’s just kind of smaller than others so he’s not becoming any type of a tough guy.
Václav Karabáček is next up and it’s a Quebec-based forward who had a little Cinderella story going in the last season. Just last summer, he decided to join the Gatineau Olympiques following a couple of years in Salzburg, Austria. He had a huge season in Gatineau and some say he’s going to get picked in the second round for sure.
Karabáček also played with a Canadiens prospect Martin Reway in this season and in case you missed it, the Prague-born Slovak national team player is turning pro this summer with Sparta Prague of the Czech Extraliga.
The list goes on with two defensemen on the radar. Dominik Mašín even attended the NHL Scouting Combine where he did pretty well and proved he’s ready for the challenge. Spending the whole season among juniors with Slavia Prague, he is a shutdown defenseman that may turn into a game-changer eventually.
Another blueliner has been interviewed by teams prior to the draft and his name is Filip Pyrochta. While his spot at the draft is not guaranteed, he has the tools to get there despite his size. Offensively, this mobile defenseman has been compared to Marek Židlický a lot and if that’s what he’ll bring to the table one day, everybody should watch out for him.
Playing with Pyrochta in juniors, athletic goaltender Vítek Vaněček was one of the reasons why the Czech Under-18 national team had such a memorable season. Not only he can move around the crease effectively, he’s also able to backstop a team through most critical under-pressure situations and he makes a highlight-reel save or two in every game. This late-round prospect could turn into a steal eventually.
Also pretty hopeful for this draft is a linemate of aforementioned Kaše, David Kämpf. This two-way forward has played among pros for a year and also had a great showing at the U20 World Juniors. He was already eligible for the draft last year, but none of the teams picked him up and so he’s going to be trying his luck again.
Big forward Pavel Jenyš is the last of Czechs with a pretty high chance of getting drafted in Philly. Although his form decreased from a game changer at U18 international level to not even getting a spot at the U18 World Juniors, he showed some potential this year and if coached and guided well, he can be a really good character forward, too.
The list doesn’t end with Jenyš though. Big goalie Karel Vejmelka, tough defenseman Tomáš Havlín and hard-working forward Radek Veselý and Daniel Voženílek all have a moderate to small chance of hearing their names on Saturday. Safe to say, the draft is going to be fun to watch, just like every year.