We are now under a month away until the puck drops for the 2014/15 Czech Extraliga season, and with most team’s transfer business completed, what better time to offer a comprehensive preview of the coming year. With two new teams and a host of new faces, it is sure to be one of the best seasons yet.
Slavia Praha – How to solve a problem like Lubina?
Last season: 10th
Last season’s top scorer: Jaroslav Bednář (37yo, 47GP 12+27 +12)
Last season’s top goaltender: Dominík Furch (48GP 2.37GAA 91.5%)
|Slavia will need a stellar season from Dominík Furch|
Photo: Martin Prokop, hc-slavia.cz
I won’t make any apologies for being a Slavia fan, and although I can see that there are many holes to fill on the roster, I have a sneaky suspicion that Slavia will better last year’s performance which saw them lose to Pardubice in the play-ins. In goal, Dominík Furch enters his second season as an out and out starter since Miroslav Kopřiva’s departure. Furch, who has been playing with the senior Slavia team since he was 16, has a wealth of experience and I think can better last year’s save percentage.
Petr Kadlec may have gone and Pavel Kolářik is nearly out of the door, but in new captain David Štich and the resurgent 6’8¨ giant Juraj Valach, Slavia have two of the breakout defencemen from last season’s Extraliga. Valach had 22 points and anchored Slavia’s powerplay, and if the Slovak blueliner can get close to that total this season, it will go a long way to replacing Kadlec’s production. Returning to Slavia after a year on loan with Třinec, Daniel Krejči is one of the best young defencemen in the country, and I can see him racking up big minutes. Slavia’s defence has been on fire in pre-season so far, as they have won all seven games, including three shutouts. Three of these victories have come against KHL teams, whilst Slavia also were victorious in the Hockeyades tournament in Switzerland, where Slavia beat Geneve-Servette and Fribourg Gotteron. Furch has been in inspired form, picking up three shutouts along the way.
|48 points at 39 years of age, Bednář will be the go to guy once again for Slavia|
Photo: Martin Tellinger
With Vladimír Růžička jr’s tryout at Dinamo Riga being unsuccessful it remains to be seen if he will return to the club he’s played his whole career at so far. Slavia will be reliant on a number of youth team graduates taking on a greater role this coming season. Michal Poletín, Pavel Klhůfek and Daniel Vrdlovec can all contribute at the Extraliga level and will need to for Slavia to be successful.
Slavia’s preseason has been clouded by the protests by the fanclub over the appointment of Ladislav Lubina as head coach. Banners proclaiming ‘Lubina Ven’ (Lubina out) have been present at Slavia games and a petition containing nearly 1000 signatures is currently being shared online. I think that on the ice, Slavia have a great looking team full of promising young players. If they can for once sort out things behind the scenes, who knows, maybe they can spring a shock.
Player to watch: Daniel Krejčí (Defenceman. Last season: 45GP 3+8 -1)
I think Krejčí is one of the best young defencemen in the Extraliga at the moment. The 22 year old impressed last season after being loaned out to Třinec and returns to his parent club with the expectation that he will be playing big minutes. Standing 6’3’’, Krejčí can use his size to his advantage and has above average skating which makes him a solid contributor at both ends of the ice.
Top Scorer: Jaroslav Bednář
MVP: Jaroslav Bednář
Bílí Tygři Liberec – The Post-Nedvěd era
Last season: 9th
Last season’s top scorer: Petr Nedvěd (42yo, 49GP 19+31 -3)
Last season’s top goaltender: Marcel Melicherčík (30GP 2.59GAA 90.9%)
|Liberec are still yet to taste Extraliga glory|
Photo: Jiří Princ, hcbilitygri.cz
So who is going to replace Nedvěd? Well, it looks like it’s going to be more of a group effort than anything. It was key for Liberec to keep hold of Martin Bartek, whose 28 goals were the second most of any player in the Extraliga last season, although, he did have the perfect set up man in Nedvěd. Liberec raided Slavia for the pair of Petr Jelínek and Lukáš Krenželok, and while both will be good for 20 points or so, they are at best second liners and will struggle to have the game-breaking impact Nedvěd had. Liberec will be hoping that in his second full season with the club, Petr Vampola will get more than his 30 points last season, as Vampola has all the tools to be one of the Extraliga’s top scorers. Furthermore, the three Tomáš‘ (Urban, Filippi and Bulík) can be relied on to score points at the Extraliga, while young Michal Buliř is continuing to grow into a solid second liner.
Much like Vitkovice, Liberec scored goals last year and will continue to do so. However, defensively Liberec were all at sea last year, conceding 155 goals in the regular season, more than relegated Kladno. So how has this been rectified? Well, Jirí Hunkes, the core of the defensive unit, has left for the new Extraliga central, Lada Togliatti. Hunkes was one of the premier two-way defencemen in the Extraliga, and left a massive void. Liberec picked up Martin Skoula who most recently played for Slovan, but having watched many Slovan games over the last two years, I can’t really say that I rate the former Minnesota Wild blueliner. The signing of Michal Plutnar from the CHL is a solid pick up and he’ll get regular ice time.
|Martin Bartek's goals will be crucial for the White Tigers|
Photo: Jiří Princ, hcbilitygri.cz
Player to watch – Tomáš Filippi (Forward. Last season – 38GP 11+10 -1)
Out of Liberec’s young forwards, I think Filippi has the best potential. The speedy forward who can play both centre and wing scored four goals at the WJC in 2012 and since returning from a two year spell in the QMJHL has been a consistent scorer. Injuries restricted him to only 38 games last year, but with a clean bill of health and a bigger role to play now that Nedvěd has moved on, I think the 22 year old will break out and get close to 40 points this season. He needs to work on using his 6‘1‘‘ frame more to his advantage, but Filippi is a name to remember, having made his Czech national team debut this year in the Euro Hockey Tour.
Top Scorer: Martin Bartek
MVP: Petr Vampola
HC Vitkovice STEEL – Home isn’t where the heart is
Last season: 8th
Last season’s top scorer: Ondřej Roman (25yo, 51GP 13+35 +12)
Last season’s top goaltender: Filip Šindelář (24GP 2.66GAA 91.3%)
|Richard Stehlík headlines a|
depleted defensive unit
Photo: Petr Kotala, hc-vitkovice.cz
Vitkovice have ended up losing half of their defensive core this summer, leaving almost bare bones at the back. Karol Sloboda (Lada Togliatti), Tomáš Kudělka (Pelicans) and Michal Barinka (Sparta) have all departed, and the remaining unit anchored by veteran Richard Stehlík isn’t exactly impressive. The signing of Slovak prospect Peter Čerešňák is a positive step, but the 21 year old is not going to have an easy ride and will be thrust into big minutes almost instantly. Vitkovice are an incredibly youthful team, and it will be good to see the likes of Jan Štencel, Marek Bail and Lukáš Klok following the departure of the three aforementioned defencemen. (Edit: Early in September, Vitkovice agreed a deal with Třinec for the transfer of Lukáš Zib. Now 37 years of age, Zib has been one of the best Extraliga defencemen in the last decade, and is a solid signing after the defensive losses Vitkovice have suffered this summer.
At least the Ostravans have managed to keep a hold of all of the top scoring forwards. Ever present captain Jiří Burger enters his 14th season with the club, and the 37 year old centre shows no sign of slowing down, coming off a 40 point season last year. Burger is a tireless worker at both ends of the ice. Ondřej Roman has been a valuable addition since his return from North America in 2012. The 25 year old top scored for Vitkovice with 48 points last season, but is known for his streakiness. Vitkovice have a fearsome top six in all as Vladimír Svačina, Rudolf Huna, Peter Huževka and Roman Szturc all impressed last season, making Vitkovice the third top goal scorers in the Extraliga last season. Couple that with the addition of exciting prospect Patrik Zdráhal, Vitkovice will score goals this season.
|Slovak forward Michal Vandas scored 15 points in his|
debut season for Vitkovice.
Photo: Petr Kotala, hc-vitkovice.cz
Player to watch: Erik Němec (Forward. Last season – 36GP 8+9 +6)
I think Němec will be one of the breakout stars in the Extraliga this season. The 20 year old centre is another product of the Vitkovice system, and he impressed in his debut Extraliga season, especially in the playoffs as he scored 6 points in 8 games. He has continued this in pre-season, scoring one goal and assisting on three through six games. Alongside other young forwards Lukáš Kucsera and Petr Kolouch, Němec could be a mighty surprise for Vitkovice’s already strong looking offence.
Top Scorer: Ondřej Roman
MVP: Jiří Burger
HC Verva Litvinov – Searching for optimism
Last season: 11th
Last season's top scorer: Viktor Hübl (36yo, 46GP 14+24 -8)
Last season’s top goaltender: Pavel Francouz (48GP 2.02GAA 93.2%)
|Can Radim Rulík turn around Litvínov's downward spiral?|
Viktor Hübl leads the charge, but at 36 years of age, his career is starting to wind down. He is still a valuable first line centre, but will need more help from his teammates if Litvinov want to return to the playoffs. If there is a crumb of comfort, it is that Litvinov had many players who underachieved last season compared to their 2012/13 efforts. Juraj Majdan, the speedy 22 year old Slovak, went the whole 2013/14 goalless after posting 31 points in 48 games the year before. Majdan returned to form in the relegation playoffs, scoring six times in six games. František Lukeš followed up his 54 point season in 12/13 with a paltry 23 points. Litvínov have players who have a proven track record in the Extraliga, and if they put it together then they will do well. However, behind these three, Robin Hanzl will score points, but there is very little in the way of secondary scoring on the roster. Litvínov will also be hoping that former KHL and SHL forward Kamil Piroš will finally bring his scoring touch to the Extraliga.
|Jiří Šlegr. The Nagano Gold Medalist will play his|
first full season since 2008/09, now 43 years of age
If there is one area where Litvínov don’t need improvement, it is between the pipes. They can count themselves very lucky that Pavel Francouz has decided to sign on for another season, although I don’t think it is too long before KHL clubs come sniffing for the 24 year old Plzeň native. His statistics are remarkable for a goalie on an 11th placed team, and he is easily in the upper echelons of Extraliga goaltenders. Francouz is the sort of goalie to give his team a chance every game, but far too often Litvínov’s anaemic offence let him down.
One to watch: Juraj Majdan (Forward. Last season – 41GP 0+3 -9)
This is a bit of a weird one, but I think that this season is going to be Majdan’s year. It could just be that his 31 point season in 2012/13 was a flash in the pan, but the speedy winger is the most exciting player on Litvínov’s roster, and I think his six goals in six playoff games will the confidence boost that the Slovak forward needs going into the coming season. Paired with Hübl, Majdan will score goals.
Top scorer: František Lukeš
MVP: Pavel Francouz
BK Mláda Boleslav – Safe for now
HC Olomouc – Tough Beginnings
BK Mláda Boleslav – Safe for now
Last season: 1.liga Champions
Last season’s top scorer: Tomáš Klimenta (30yo, 49GP 22+36 +39)
Last season’s top goaltender: Michal Valent (31GP 1.66GAA 94.3%)
|Mláda Boleslav were a class above in the 1.liga|
Photo: Jan Pavlíček, bkboleslav.cz
While I criticised Olomouc for their lack of signings, Mláda Boleslav look to have learned from their last experience in the Extraliga, which resulted in three painful years at the bottom of the table. Mláda finished 19 points clear of Olomouc last season averaging nearly four goals scored a game. The core of this was the front trio of Tomáš Klimenta, David Výborný and Michal Broš, who all remain with the club going into their second foray in the Extraliga. Milan Toman, who had 31 points in 41 games from the blueline also remains, leaving Mláda a solid core on which to build on.
The Jaromir Balaštik experiment failed in 2011/12 for Mláda, so it is good to see that this time round they have looked to invest in promising younger talent rather than old veterans. The signings of promising young Czech forwards Tomáš Hýka and Dominík Pacovský are a great coup for the club, with Pacovský having a proven record with Sparta Praha before his season spent with HC Lev Praha. Also joining Mláda this summer is former Třinec forward David Květoň, which could arguably be their signing of the summer. He will be looking to bounce back from a poor season which resulted in him scoring 19 points following his return from Finland.
|Mláda have impressed so far in pre-season.|
Photo: Jan Pavlíček, bkboleslav.cz
Ctirad Ovčačík and Michal Barta will help bolster the blueline, along with 23 year old defenceman Matěj Stříteský who joins from Litvinov. Mitja Robar, who was part of the Slovene Olympic squad has also joined the team from Krefeld in the DEL. Mláda are definitely built to score goals rather than keep them out and I think their blueline unit will struggle. However, I think they have enough firepower to keep them out of the relegation playouts.
Michal Valent will have to be in top form though, and while his statistics in 1.liga last season for Mláda were exemplary, the 28 year old Slovak will be hoping that he can play a lot better than he did when he was Mláda’s goalie in their last Extraliga stint. It remains to be seen whether or not Valent will be the reliable goaltender that Mláda need to push on. This perhaps explains the signing of Dukla Jihlava youngster David Rittich. After a very solid season with the third best team in the 1.liga last season, Rittich has been Mláda’s go to goalie in pre-season so far, and has picked up two shutouts already.
Player to watch: Tomáš Hýka (Forward. Last season - Färjestad: 40GP 4+5 -5)
The above statline may not been impressive, but the 21 year old Mláda Boleslav native returns to the Czech Republic following a very successful junior career with Gatineau in the QMJHL. Hýka was almost signed to an entry level contract following an impressive stint at the Philadelphia Flyers, but elected to move to Sweden last season. Hýka is an offensive dynamo, and his speed and scoring touch will be a welcome addition to Mláda’s ranks. Out of any of the teams in the bottom half of the table, Mláda out of any have the potential to surprise. However, I think their defence and goaltending will see them scrapping it out towards the bottom of the table.
Top Scorer: David Květoň
MVP: David Výborný
MVP: David Výborný
HC Energie Karlovy Vary - Another season of struggles
Last season: 12th
Last season’s top scorer: Martin Zaťovič (29yo, 50GP, 20+17 -1)
Last season’s top goaltender: Tomáš Závorka (52GP 2.52GAA 91.5%)
|It has been a rough few years for Karlovy Vary|
Photo: Kateřina Macečková, hokejkv.cz
It was not too long ago that Karlovy Vary were in the Extraliga Finals two seasons in a row. However, it has been five years now since the Spa team has come close to repeating their triumph. In fact, it has now been five years since KV have made it to the Extraliga play-ins (Played between the 7th-10th ranked teams to decide who gets the final two playoff places), let alone the playoffs. The rebuild began in earnest last season, as star forwards Lukáš Pech and Petr Kumstát left to join Sparta Praha, while a whole host of loan players were signed in order to get KV back to the playoffs, but it didn’t work as they finished in a disappointing 12th place.
It is another fresh start for KV as five of their six top scorers last season will not feature on the 2014/15 roster. Martin Zaťovič (Lada Togliatti), Roman Vlach (Zlín), Petr Pohl (Eisbären Berlin), Marek Hovorka (Chomutov) and Michal Gulaši (Södertälje) have all departed, with Stanislav Balan being the one remaining forward of any note. The only area where there appears to be any sort of stability is in goal, as Tomáš Závorka will likely retain the starter’s position with Vladislav Habal and David Honzík backing up. Závorka had a so-so 2013/14 in comparison to his first season as a starter the year before. A 91.5 save percentage is not going to cut it if KV want to be contenders for playoff action this coming year.
So if there has been a massive exodus from KV this summer, how come they have been able to beat Plzeň, Litvínov and the KHL’s Medveščak Zagreb in pre-season? Well, in the latter game, new signing Radek Duda scored twice, once on a goal assisted by Balán before burying a penalty shot. Like him or loath him, Duda is going to score points at the Extraliga level. The now 35 year old winger, who has tossed away the #69 along with mirrored visor, joins after a near point per game season with Plzeň. The journeyman forward has been given the captaincy at KV and will be relied on to lead the charge back to the playoffs. Although, part of me doesn’t think that Duda is going to be the best captaincy in all honesty.
Joining Duda and Balan up front is Juris Štāls, who joins from a near point-per-game season with Poprad in the Slovak Extraliga. Veteran David Hruška also joins after scoring 32 points for Chomutov last season, but the scoring depth then drops off. There is a glut of young forwards who may be able to have a breakout season, mainly graduating from the KV team in the MHL. Look for Martin Kohout, Jakub Flek and Tomáš Harkabus to have their first real taste of Extraliga action this coming season.
|Radek Duda, now at his seventh Extraliga club|
Photo: Kateřina Macečková, hokejkv.cz
If anywhere, KV have bolstered their blueline, the two biggest signings being Radek Deyl from HC Košice and Jēkabs Rēdlihs from Dinamo Riga. Whether or not they will be able to right the sinking ship remains to be seen, especially with the departure of Radim Bičánek. However, Deyl has been on the cusp of the Slovak national team for two seasons, and Redlihs has over 150 KHL games to his credit.
Player to watch: Radek Duda (Forward. Last season: 47GP 17+24, 141PIM, +6)
It couldn’t be anyone else really. Duda always draws attention, and he can still produce at the Extraliga level. He will more than likely be KV’s top scorer and he can be guaranteed to get himself into trouble at some point this season. The Duda sideshow rolls on to KV, and to be honest with his antics it is no surprise it has been 11 years since he has tasted Extraliga glory.
Top Scorer: Radek Duda
MVP: Radek Duda
HC Olomouc – Tough Beginnings
Last season: 1.liga Runners up – Promoted in Extraliga playout
Last season’s top scorer: Denis Kindl (22yo, 52GP 16+31 +26)
Last season’s top goaltender: Tomáš Halász (25GP 1.62GAA 94.3%)
I love to see an underdog do well. I really do. However, one look at the HC Olomouc roster for the coming season and it is clear that this a good 1.liga squad, but it just won’t cut the mustard at Extraliga level. Olomouc’s roster last season was heavily reliant on loan talent. For example, top scorer Denis Kindl joined the team on loan from Třinec, and the 22 year old will play for his parent team this coming season. Additionally, Olomouc’s top player in the playoffs, forward David Ostřížek, has signed for Kometa Brno full time after also coming from Třinec. To be fair to them, Olomouc have managed to sign Jan Knotek full time from Havlíčkův Brod, while Rostislav Marosz, who had 11 points in the 1.liga playoffs, signs for another season on loan. However, the loss of Kindl’s points up front will be a massive blow for Olomouc, and none of their summer signings seem to suggest that these points will be replaced.
|Tomáš Vošvrda returns to the Extraliga|
Photo: Karolina Martinková, hc-olomouc.cz
Pavel Patera, now 42, leaves Rytiři Kladno following their relegation and is Olomouc’s marquee summer signing. He picked up 26 points for Kladno last season and no doubt his two way game will be valuable for the club, but I doubt he will match his points target last season. Jakub Matai, the 21 year old Czech forward who split last season between HC Lev Praha and HC Litomeřice in the 1.liga is a good signing and he will relish his first crack at the Extraliga. His points totals were rather disappointing for Litomeřice (7 points in 18 games), but his KHL experience will be vital. If one of these forwards can strike up a partnership with Radim Kucharczyk, then maybe Olomouc will be on to a winner.
In goal, Tomáš Halasz, who was on loan from HC Košice, has joined Pardubice, leaving Tomáš Vošvrda and new signing Jíři Trvaj. Vošvrda had near identical statistics to Halasz in the regular season, but the former was disappointing in the post-season. Vošvrda has extensive Extraliga experience, having been 1b to Marek Pinc at Liberec. Pinc’s tendency for playoff meltdowns saw Vosvrda feature in the post-season heavily for Liberec over the course of three seasons, however, he has struggled to hold down an Extraliga starting post. Trvaj has already picked up a 31 shot shutout in a pre-season victory against Pardubice last week, and is still one of the best ‘one game goalies’ in the Extraliga. Olomouc have picked up another victory over Pardubice and also have a win over Dinamo Minsk to their credit so far in pre-season, but this has been juxtaposed with a loss at relegated Chomutov.
|Jakub Herman wheels away in celebration|
Photo: Zdeněk Polák, hc-olomouc.cz
The defence has been strengthened with the signing of Finnish defenceman Joni Tuominen, a 31 year old veteran has extensive Liiga experience. At the time of writing, Olomouc have also announced the signing of 36 year old Pavel Skrbek, who has played the majority of his career in the SHL. It is a fantastic coup for Olomouc and he easily slots in as their number 1 for the coming season. However, one player won’t solve all of Olomouc’s problems and they will be hoping that some of their younger talent steps up to the plate. It remains to be seen whether Czech U18 representative Alex Rašner will play with the senior team in the coming season, while up front, a number of players will be getting their first taste of action. Roman Rac and Lukáš Králík will be relied on to contribute, and Olomouc will need them to get on the board if they have any hope of not being bottom of the table.
One to watch: Jakub Herman (Forward. Last season: 48GP 16+13 +12)
Out of Olomouc’s young forwards, Herman in my opinion, is the one who will have the best season. He has had two solid seasons with Olomouc since joining in 2011, and the former U18 national team player will be looking to get somewhere close to his 16 goal tally from last season. The goal-scoring forward will have to quickly get up to speed in the Extraliga, and with some work on his skating I think he has the potential to hold down a regular spot in the Czech top flight.
Top Scorer: Radim Kucharczyk
MVP: Pavel Skrbek
So with the bottom half of the table covered, the time comes to look at the championship contenders. Check back next week, when Velvet Hockey will bring you the run through of the top teams in the Czech Republic for 2014-15. Will Pardubice bounce back? How will Hradec Kralove do in their second season? Will Sparta dominate for a second season? Velvet Hockey will have the answers.