What are chances of 6 Czech players to make NHL out of camp?

There are six Czech players that played first part of their 2020-2021 season in Extraliga in the Czech republic. Now they are going to compete for a roster spot on their NHL teams. This article looks at their performances (using data) in Extraliga in order to estimate their chances to make their NHL teams.

Who are we talking about? Three defencemen in Filip Hronek (Detroit), Jakub Zbořil (Boston), Libor Hájek (NY Rangers) and three forwards in Lukáš Jašek (Vancouver), Filip Zadina (Detoit) and Radim Zohorna (Pittsburgh).

Let´s do this.

I´ve decided to split the article into three parts:
– Player´s role on Extraliga teams
– Player´s performance in Extraliga
– Expectations before heading to NHL camps

1. Player´s role on Extraliga teams

Following graph looks at how much time players spent on ice and in which situations.

Filip Hronek was heavily used in all situations and was a key guy for his team Hradec Králové. Jakub Zbořil and Libor Hájek played both for HC Kometa Brno, the team that struggles a bit in the league. Zbořil was used a lot at even strength, Hájek had more limited ice time and was used more in defensive situations (penalty kill, defensive zone draws). Moving onto three forwards. They all played for strong performing teams. Especially Jašek and Zadina played on stacked Třinec team and that influenced their ice time. Jašek played in all situations with an average ice time overall. Zadina played a bit more and was put out there mainly to create offence. Zohorna was a key guy in Mladá Boleslav especially offensively. Overall all players unsurprisingly saw enough ice time except Hájek who was a bit limited.

2. Player´s performance in Extraliga

Let´s see player´s performance graphs (values are in percentiles ranging from 0 to 1 and players are compared to league or if stated „rel“ relative to teammates) right away.

I have tried to display only important metrics so we can have a quality tool to evaluate player´s performance. For the data I combined publicly available ones (source: hokej.cz) and my own from the tracking project xGextraliga. So what does this tell us?

Hronek was the key player for his team. Not only he played a ton but he was productive to a level this league does not remember. He was able to get chances for himself and was very solid with his passing as well. His overall offensive and defensive impact was solid not spectacular but that is understandable for somebody playing so many minutes.

Zbořil was good. His impact on defensive game was standing out even though his team was rather poor overall. There was no apparent area where he would struggle and his passing and production were very nice as well.

Hájek with his specific and somewhat limited role did not shine much. His best asset seems to be passing (breakouts) as he was able to help his team that way and his impact for team´s offence was solid. He is not someone to put up many points though and the disappointing area was shot volume control (corsi). Yes he was put in defensive situations but still with his pedigree having 33 NHL games under his belt one should expect more.

Jašek has a specific performance results in the graph and it tells a story of his game quite a bit. Overall he did not disappoint. His offensive impact was great as well shot volume control. He added very solid production and some fine passing abilities (he helped defence with some breakouts too). Two areas where his outputs were not impressive were individual chances as he played role more of a passer rather than finisher and defensive impact. Opponents created chances with him on the ice.

Zadina came to Extraliga as advertised. Great offensive talent who put up great production, ability to get to chances, offensive impact (high xGF when on the ice) and also he dished many creative passes (especially to the slot). This are all crucial metrics for him and he was awesome. His defensive impact was the worst from his team (remember the best team in league) and opponents had chances with him on the ice. Sure there is work to do in that area and he will have to continue refine his defensive game for the NHL but he dominated the league in all other categories. Those he was drafted for.

Zohorna led his team Mladá Boleslav to surprising top area of the standings. And boy was he strong. His production exploded this year. He controlled shot volume like nobody else, he got to the chances himself and what more? For someone who is 6´6´´ and 229 he was one of the best passers (many slot passes and added some breakouts) in the league.

3. Expectation before heading to NHL camps

SURE THINGS

Starting with the easiest one. Hronek is not going to Detroit to fight for his spot on the team. With more than 100 NHL games he is a lock on Red Wings blueline. It was a priviledge for the Czech league to have him and he was so strong offensively there. Let´s hope he can continue that in the NHL and break the 0.5 point per game threshold this season.

GREAT SHOT

Zadina showed that his offensive game does not belong to Extraliga. He should continue to battle for his role on Detroit team. He will need time to refine his defensive game but also should be one of the leaders offensively. Detroit is in rebuild and so it would come as a big surprise seeing Filip not cracking the team longterm and that starts now.

FAIR SHOT

Zbořil´s game is at near top or top level in Extraliga. Still he is not someone who would wow you with one specific asset. It´s more about having all around solid game. At the age of 23 this should be his time to make steps close to the NHL. He is yet to play an NHL game and so it won´t be easy for him to crack strong Bruins lineup. With departure of Chára his chance is there though and he will be someone to watch in the NHL training camp. I am curious how this will unfold for him.

Honestly Zohorna would be in upper category than Zbořil if this was all based on this year´s Extraliga performance. At the same time he is a freshly signed free agent coming to North America for the first time. He will need to beat group of players before earning a spot on Penguins team. Many people might put him straight to the AHL but if it is on me I expect him to be in serious consideration for the NHL team. It all depends on if he will get a fair look at camp, really! I don´t think transition to the NHL should be a too big of an issue. He is big, strong, wins battles regularly and recently he added his offensive game. Lastly he is a tremendous skater (look at gif below where he -no. 97- maintains possession in transition against two opponents) which might be the crucial asset that gets him to the NHL. I am already cheering for him.

LONG SHOT

Hájek did not look like an NHL player in his Extraliga games to be honest. I understand he is more of a role player taking on defensive assignments. Still he did not provide much of an impact even defensively playing for rather poor team. What does play for him is the fact that Rangers are in a rebuild mode and there is a room to get onto the NHL squad. He already has an NHL experience which is a plus but with arrival of young defenders (esp. Lundkvist) he will have a hard time to maintain his spot on the team longterm. Still his shot at this year´s camp might be better than what I am giving him.

Jašek is an interesting player. He was taken in late rounds, went to the AHL where he slowly developed his game. His game looks solid in more areas and I believe coaches are happy working with him. I am not sure if he has enough talent for the NHL. Some standout skill could help him to be inserted as a role player for the Canucks one day. I don´t think he si there yet and at the age of 23 who knows where his next two seasons will take him. Don´t get me wrong I personally like the player, he does many things right and I will cheer for his success moving forward.

Please remember that my expertise are data and I am using here limited ones from first half of this season. Let´s keep an critique eye on that. Players develop their games and evolve and so that will be a welcomed feedback to see how everything unfolds for this article. Thanks a lot for reading!

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