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Czech List, North-American Edition: QMJHL Prospects, NHL Draft, 2014 Olympics

By on November 11, 2013 in North American, Player Draft with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — The season is reaching its first quarter in North America while in Europe, it’s already past that mark. Many things are getting clearer, still others promise a lot of drama at the end of the year. The NHL entry draft race is one of those things, too. Of course, most of the attention will be given to the leading pack of Canadians Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad and Swedish forward William Nylander. As mentioned in previous editions of this year’s Czech List, the best Czechs of this draft class are based in Europe.

There’s one exception though.

Vaclav Karabacek

Vaclav Karabacek

Over in Gatineau, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a Czech forward took over from his countryman Tomáš Hyka as team’s hottest import this season. Václav Karabáček spent his previous season in Austria, playing for the Red Bull Salzburg organization. Powered by the mighty Red Bull company, the team has loads of money and brings over prospects from all over the hockey world, including Croatia, Estonia or Japan.

Karabáček was just one of many Czechs to play in Salzburg, just one year after scoring 104 points in 32 games (yes, averaging 3.25 points per game) of the Czech U16 Extraliga. That’s an achievement so even though he played in what’s not really a big-time hockey country, there were expectations. He wasn’t quite living up to them when he played for the Under-18 national team, not even at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August.

Teamed up with Canadiens prospect Martin Reway and Flyers first-rounder Émile Poirier, Karabáček is off to a huge start with the Gatineau Olympiques. It’s a start that has lifted him up into the top hundred of draft rankings for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Currently, the hard-working winger has 18 points in 21 games so he could be considered one of the leaders of the team – Poirier has 29 in 18 and Reway has 17 in 15 so obviously he’s still in the shadow of the two.

Out of the upcoming draft class, however, Karabáček is at number five in the QMJHL (what might be shocking is that Danish forward Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax) and Dutch winger Daniel Sprong (Charlottetown) are ranked even higher). The Quebec league had six players drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft so, over here in Europe, we hope that it means something.

I had an opportunity to watch Karabáček at the Ivan Hlinka tournament — he looked to me like a great character forward and a hard worker. Unlike David Pastrňák and Jakub Vrána, however, he wasn’t so dangerous with the puck. He made up for that with his work without the puck as he’s a great forechecker and his willingness to battle hard in the corners make him a valuable asset in that area of play, too.

So what you might be getting by drafting Karabáček is not another version of Tomáš Hertl or Aleš Hemský, but rather a solid forward like Vladimír Sobotka. I say Sobotka every time I have to choose him over Hemský or even Patrik Eliáš, because players like him are priceless.

That can change the subject of discussion, too. Hockey fans are up to a perfect second half of the season in early 2014. Loads of outdoor games, rivalries that might spark NHL playoff battles, tight race for the first overall draft pick, annual World Championships (this time in Minsk, Belarus) and, of course, the only reason I’m bringing this up, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Czech-Republic-Hockey-UniformsPersonally I’ve got mixed feelings about it as I will be in Minsk for the Worlds, but many players will be missing because that’s what they usually do in an Olympic year. I don’t really enjoy watching European hockey all the time, but we’ll see. Let’s focus on the Olympics now. I’d start with a quick thought on the jerseys – have you seen them? Nike designed them and they decided to make them look like flags, but they look horrible and both the Sabres and the Islanders have better third jerseys. The only good one is the Slovak jersey which has words of their national anthem written on it.

The Czechs have to submit their lineup by December 28 so that’s less than two months away. There will be only one North American edition of the Czech List until then so I want to tell you my lineup. It’s obvious that the coach is going to have many more European players on the ice for us in Sochi, but this is the way it should be:

Czech Republic 2014 Olympic hockey team (as envisioned by Czech List)

Goalies:

1 – Ondřej Pavelec, 2 – Michal Neuvirth, 3 – Petr Mrázek.

czechlist1bDefence:

1st pair – Marek Židlický, Radko Gudas

2nd pair – Zbyněk Michálek, Roman Polák

3rd pair – Jan Hejda, Ladislav Šmíd

Offence:

1st line – Martin Hanzal, David Krejčí, Milan Michálek

2nd line – Tomáš Plekanec, Jiří Hudler, Jiří Tlustý

3rd line – Jakub Voráček, Jaromír Jágr, Tomáš Hertl

4th line – Vladimír Sobotka, Michael Frolík, Radek Dvořák.

Let us know what you think and what you’d change or just make up your own lineup here!

My list is based on my hockey philosophy that you should pair an offensive defenseman with a defensive one and you can have a pair of two two-way or defensive defenseman, but never one consisting exclusively of offensive defenseman. Mistakes happen if you do. Up front, the first two lines should contain a tough guy (Hanzal), a goal-scorer (Hertl) and someone smart who can set up the goal-scorer (Jágr, Krejčí). Here I have three lines like that because it’s Olympic hockey. One line should consist of specialists and hard-working players (here it’s the fourth line, but usually I have it as the third line). Of course, if this was the NHL, the fourth line would be fighters and more utility players.

Anyways, that’s it for this week. We’ll be back in two with an European edition that will include the promised closer look on Ondřej Kaše and the November junior national teams events, especially the Under-20 tournament in Novogorsk, Russia, and the World Junior A Hockey Challenge in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where our Under-18 national team played.

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