The year started out as the last finished for the enigmatic Martin Réway. He was leading his team — HC Sparta Praha — in scoring both in the Czech Extraliga and the Champions Hockey League tournament.
When contract negotiations on an extension with the team broke down after a disagreement about his ice time, Réway notified the club that he was no longer interested in sitting on the bench for the team anymore. Sparta countered by assigning him to their development team.
After a splendid German Cup tournament as a member of Team Slovakia, where he played the best game I have seen him play, he was signed by Fribourg-Gottéron of the much tougher Swiss National Liga - A.
Réway still produced at an impressive rate of 1.11 points per game, placing sixth in the league rankings for the regular season. A lot is being said that he was close to Auston Matthews, who had 1.28 PPG with Zurich last season, but with the top spots claimed by the likes of Robbie Earl (with a league-best 1.43 PPG), Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and David Runblad, it’s hard to judge the significance of that production.
The season finished on a disappointing note for Réway. A vicious open-ice bodycheck hit him square in the face after he had completed a pass, and he suffered a heavy concussion. Upon his return, he was benched because the coach wanted a bigger lineup in the first round of the playoffs, which Fribourg-Gottéron lost four games to one to Genève-Servette.
Just before the World Championship in Russia, Réway was laid out once more in a friendly game against France. While he was good at the Worlds, he wasn’t up to his normal level of play, and admitted as much after finishing the tournament with only one assist in seven games.
"I don't care what people think about me because, first of all, I disappointed my teammates. I was given their trust and was supposed to score points, but throughout the whole tournament I was unlucky," he said to Slovak national sports service RTVS, via CAS.sk.
The biggest change this season for Réway was that he started to produce more at five on five, after a year in Sparta where he produced 82% of his points on the power play. He took a step up to a better league, and still produced at a high level.
He was highly sought by Slovan Bratislava of the KHL during his stalemate with Sparta Praha, as sources within the Slovan organisation as well Réway’s agent, Michal Sivek, confirmed to EOTP when asked directly over the phone. “Slovan’s offer was very good and fair to a player of Réway’s calibre,” stated Sivek. “Montreal stepped in at the last minute, and Martin’s dream has always been the NHL.”
The panelists all had Réway ranked within a very tight range, between votes of 10 from Scott, Veronica, and Cara, to 15s from Andrew and Nicolas. The EOTP community vote had him at 12; more or less in the middle of the pack. There won’t be another range this small until we hit the top five in September.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Martin Réway has made the list for three seasons in a row, after finishing 33rd in his draft year of 2013. With this year’s ranking at 12, he has moved up one spot each time. Staying in this position is a strong statement, as younger, higher-drafted prospects comes in, and other players get traded or graduate from the project. But it also points to the fact that he hasn’t progressed within the ranks of the organization.
He can’t be counted out, but he also can’t advance as much as we’d hoped because of lack of information and the unusual season he just had.
Réway is gifted with fantastic puck skills. His hands are silky smooth, and he has great vision to go with them, allowing him to set up shooters to finish off plays. His skill set draws comparisons to a familiar name, Alex Kovalev, but he is also consistently compared to one of his own favourite players: Zigmund Pálffy.
The vision and hands make Réway a playmaker first and foremost. What stood out to me watching him live in the NLA is that he is elusive. He more or less glides around on the ice, and it seems he doesn’t have to exert much energy getting up to speed. That makes it hard for defenders to become aware of his motion or hear his stride, and lets him sneak into prime position for an offensive chance.
It always comes back to his size, and the fact is that he isn’t a tall player. While he added a lot to his frame this summer, his stature is still small and he will need the right supporting linemates to function in an NHL game. Still, with his elusiveness you can’t write off his NHL aspirations. On the contrary, he has proven himself in each of the many leagues he has played in.
In the Montreal organization there are a few good models to follow: Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais. While all are unique players in their own right, those two have made it to the big stage with hard work ethic and smarts, and they give Réway a path to follow.
One weakness might be that Réway rarely shoots unless he absolutely has to. With his high shooting percentage, it would sometimes be better to shoot, especially on a smaller North American rink, than look for that great setup play.
The other thing that needs to be addressed is his defensive game. He is improving in that area, but its hardly as stable as the current coach of Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien, would want it to be to give him a legitimate shot. In a way I see him as a similar player to Dale Weise and Alexander Semin: a player that sometimes cheats a bit to get ahead of the play before the turnover has actually happened.
On the Slovak National team, coach Zdeno Cíger has used Réway as a centre, and it is something that has worked quite well, with the World Championship as a notable exception. A permanent move to centre would probably be best for Réway as he would get more space to use his playmaking skils, and with linemates further up the ice his vision and passing ability would come into play at an earlier stage of the offensive rush.
It does mean he has to be better in the defensive zone, though, and that is something that needs to be tweaked. Whether those holding the developmental positions in the AHL (where Réway is all but assured to spend the season) can teach those improvements is something that remains to be seen.
I have been trying to reach Réway for a comment on his thoughts of the upcoming season, but Sivek assured me in a phone conversation that his client is in North America to stay.
“Martin is prepared to fight for a chance in the NHL. He will play in the AHL if he doesn’t make the team straight out of camp, there is no question about that.”
Réway will always be a high risk, high reward player. If he pans out he will be amazing to watch. There are doubts, of course, and the question is if the organization will give him the chance to succeed, rather than try to mould him into a shape that fits neither his style of play on the ice nor his personally.