A total of eight Czech players were drafted just about a month ago at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s a part of what they’ve worked for since beginning their hockey careers and now another, even more difficult task lies ahead of them: get into The Show. It’s not easy, but who will make it and who won’t?
Jakub Vrána (13th overall, Capitals)
The immediate future of the 18-year-old Prague native is pretty much sealed. The Capitals signed him to an entry-level contract not long ago and didn’t hesitate with sending him back to Sweden, on loan to Linköping where he spent the last season of his young hockey career. He went north after a couple of spectacular midget hockey years with his hometown team, Letci Letňany (Letňany Flyers). Washington sure hopes this prospect will develop into a top-six forward that will be just as vital for the organization as guys like Alex Ovechkin or Mike Green. His rookie camp was amazing and so he and Ovi on the ice together pretty soon doesn’t look so realistic anymore.
David Pastrňák (25th overall, Bruins)
Just like the earliest of all Czech draft picks this year, Pastrňák will stay in Sweden after he signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins. The flashy forward transferred to Swedish Södertälje two years ago and was a fixture on the first team in the last season, leading it in points amidst a mediocre season in the Hockey Allsvenskan, second level of pro hockey in the Scandinavian country. The Bruins will soon have Pastrňák compete for a spot on the team and the way he’s been much more of a top-six forward in comparison to Vrána, who can fill in any role, will make it a little tougher for him as Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith currently occupy the right wing places in the top two lines.
Dominik Mašín (35th overall, Lightning)
There’s been a boom of Czech defensemen in Central Florida as besides offensive soon-to-be sophomore Ondřej Palát, big rearguards Radko Gudas and Andrej Šustr have been regulars on the team for quite some time. Mašín, a successful captain at international level, is not really different. He’s big and intimidating and much more of a leader than the other two. While he might turn out to be a steal for Tampa, nothing’s sealed yet. He’s got loads of competition to face in not only the two aforementioned Czechs, but also in franchise player Victor Hedman and journeyman veteran Eric Brewer.
Vítek Vaněček (39th overall, Capitals)
The second of three Czech-related Capitals draftees this year (the third being Nathan Walker, an Australian who went to the Czech Republic at a young age to hone his skills) is the most surprising of all. Formerly believed to be picked in later rounds, Vaněček may or may not become a big part of Washington future and much will depend on his ability to deliver. He’s been able to do that among juniors, but now there’s a leap into pros that he’s expected to make as the Caps and Vaněček’s Czech team, the Liberec White Tigers, agreed that he will spend the season in the First League, preparing to take on Braden Holtby, Justin Peters and Philipp Grubauer to earn a spot on the team next summer.
Václav Karabáček (49th overall, Sabres)
This very likable hard-working forward made some moves other players wouldn’t do, including a transfer to Austria at the age of sixteen. It only helped him and the last season which he spent in Gatineau of the QMJHL only proved that. He might not have the skills of Vrána or the speed of Pastrňák, but he’s a character forward that doesn’t ask questions, just gives his best all the time. Now Buffalo is full of top prospect looking to fill in the top two lines in a couple of years, but this young man will probably spend his inaugural NHL seasons in the bottom six. And he won’t ask you why, he’ll just do it and give his best again. Impossible not to love that, huh?
Richard Nejezchleb (122nd overall, Rangers)
The thing you have to love about Nejezchleb is that he finally convinced somebody that he’s worth a shot. When first passed up on at the 2012 draft, he didn’t give up and tried even harder. It’s not like he collected a hundred points in this past WHL season playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings and he also failed to make the cut of the Czech Under-20 national team just before the U20 World Juniors in Sweden. That didn’t prevent him from getting drafted by the Blueshirts and I think that should pretty much give you an idea of who he is. Won’t give up.
Pavel Jenyš (199th overall, Wild)
A similar story to that of Karabáček as Jenyš lost his form just around Christmas and just couldn’t get back into his best game in the rest of the season. Before that, he was an Extraliga player and a hero of the Under-18 national team. At the end of the campaign, he got rejected when trying to represent at the Under-18 World Juniors in Finland. Size, character, power, strength. These words describe him well and looking at current Minnesota team, I can see they sure love these players up in the State of Hockey.
Ondřej Kaše (205th overall, Ducks)
Kaše spent the entire season in the Extraliga on a team that won only a handful of games all season long and had a record-long losing streak. That team got relegated into the First League and so the older of the two brothers (look for David Kaše at the next draft) will get a lot of ice-time among pros in the upcoming season. Anaheim should like that because he’s also full of potential and if his development keeps going the way it has, he might turn into a steal for the Western Conference powerhouse.