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Czech List, North American Edition: Hertl Off to an Amazing Start

By on October 16, 2013 in North American with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — After two weeks, the Czech List is back. This time to focus on Czech prospects based in North America, especially the Canadian Hockey League and the American Hockey League. There’s been quite a buzz surrounding one of them and even though he plays about a thousand miles away from Montréal, you must have heard of him.

(Photo by the Associated Press)

(Photo by the Associated Press)

Hands down nobody expected 19-year-old native of Prague, San Jose Sharks’ first-round pick from 2012 Tomáš Hertl, to have such an amazing start to his NHL career. In fact, most experts, including me, believed he’d need time to get used to American hockey and expected him to spend at least a half of his rookie season in Worcester of the AHL. After all, who knew he’d be given a spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns?

Earning the nickname “Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl” and a First Star of the Week, the flashy forward might as well be the biggest surprise we will witness in this young NHL season. That also puts him among the front-runners for the Calder Trophy awarded to the best rookie of the league. Colorado’s first-overall pick Nathan MacKinnon is most likely to challenge him, but there’s so many good-looking rookies that this battle is rather unpredictable.

About a year ago, I had a pleasure to interview the Czech ninja in my hometown of Liberec where he took part in a Euro Hockey Tour game between the Czech Republic and Sweden. That was actually the first time he played for the senior national team, adding an appearance at the 2013 IIHF World Championships a couple of months later. Back then, it felt like he wasn’t expecting to even play in the NHL in this season.

czechlist1bAnyway, there are more prospects to discuss and there are some who are ready to fully graduate from the AHL or other leagues and play their first full NHL seasons. The first name that naturally comes up is the name of Radko Gudas, a gritty bearded defenseman from the Tampa Bay organization. He has the potential to be the next Scott Stevens, dishing out punishment with his bone-crunching hits and not being afraid to drop the gloves while also efficiently supporting his team’s offence.

If he drops the gloves with George Parros after the big Canadiens enforcer recovers, don’t be surprised. Last year in a game against the Florida Panthers, Gudas stepped up to hit Parros hard into the boards and the two actually squared off just a moment later, but Gudas never stood a chance against the angry and taller American fighter.

Another rookie and a teammate of Gudas in Tampa, forward Ondřej Palát might pose a threat to opposing teams in this season. With two points in five games this year, he’s proving he deserves to stay up in Tampa and not go back to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Also, defenseman Andrej Šustr is getting settled in Tampa. Never heard of him? He’s 6-foot-8 and weighs in at 225 pounds which makes him the second-tallest player in the NHL only to Zdeno Chára.

In the AHL, Blues prospect Dmitrij Jaškin draws most attention as he had a huge season last year with the PEI Rocket of the QMJHL, but now is expected to play for the Chicago Wolves, Blues’ new AHL affiliate. Jaškin played with Hertl back home in Prague and at the 2013 Under-20 WJC. Canadian hockey taught him to be more physical and direct, but he’s a mastermind as well. Once it looked his NHL career might not even start, but now it seems to be not far away.

There are many names in the American Hockey League that will one day appear on NHL uniforms, some of them already have, just like those of Flames’ forward Roman Horák, Capitals’ blueliner Tomáš Kundrátek or Red Wings’ netminder Petr Mrázek. Sooner or later, Mrázek’s teammate from Grand Rapids and former QMJHLer, Martin Frk, will burst into the NHL, just as tough Oilers’ defenceman David Musil.

Let’s move to draft-eligible prospects for a paragraph or two. There were three CHL-based Czech players picked in the 2013 draft, that number might decrease to two next year while the number of those based in Europe should increase from zero to at least four and up to six or seven.

Going overseas with not much expectation inserted in him by fans and journalists, Václav Karabáček has just started his QMJHL career with the Gatineau Olympiques after spending a year in Austria. After ten games, Karabáček has nine points which places him second in team scoring only to Flames’ first-round pick from 2013 and Montréal native, Émile Poirier. The other who’s considered to be picked in the draft is fellow QMJHL forward Jiří Mandát, who plays in Victoriaville. Mandát has four points in his first nine CHL games for the Tigres.

Jan Košťálek

Jan Košťálek

To wrap this up, let’s take a look at how those who got drafted this year are doing. Winnipeg Jets’ fourth-round pick Jan Košťálek is back in Rimouski and it looks like a solid season is coming up with him having three points and a positive plus-1 rating in seven games. Selected by Los Angeles in the fifth round, goaltender Patrik Bartošák is finally a no-brainer as a starter with Red Deer in the WHL, looking to defend his CHL Goalie of the Year title. And finally, another Kings draftee Dominik Kubalík looks like he’ll have a point-per-game season with Sudbury of the OHL.

The North-American edition of the Czech List will be back in a month. In two weeks, Czech List is back with its European edition featuring news on a surprising outcome of the situation in Sweden where prospects Jakub Vrána and David Pastrňák battle for spotlight with William Nylander among others and a look at the top Czech-based prospect, Ondřej Kaše, who is already leaving a mark in the Extraliga.

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