When the Montreal Canadiens signed Michal Moravčík and David Sklenička from HC Škoda Plzeň, it came as a bit of a surprise.
There is a clear connection with HC Škoda Plzeň and the Canadiens. Plzeň’s and the Czech national team’s assistant coach is none other than former Montreal defender Jaroslav Špaček.
Moravčík is a huge towering defender at 6’4” and 212 lbs, but he is still the complete package. He is able to make plays, have a good hard shot and is a solid defender overall. He played well in the World Championships in Denmark, as can be seen in this chart from TheHockeyNinja. He finished the tournament with a 5v5 Corsi of 64% over the whole World Championships:
Looking at the games against the top nations; Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and USA (in the quarterfinal) Moravčík fell a bit, to 55%, but was still on the positive side of things and according to the data, was one of the better performing defenders on the team.
In the Czech Extraliga he wasn’t a top line defender but he succeeded in the way a young defender usually does when he receives the time and trust of the coaching staff. Moravčík played almost twenty minutes a night (19:37 TOI) and had 16 points (5G+11A) and finished with a shot percentage of 6.85. He also had a power play goal and a shorthanded goal. he was a +25 player but most encouraging sign could be the 28 penalty minutes in 52 games, something that bodes well for a player his size.
Moravčík is defensively secure, has a good outlet pass and quarterbacked the power play in Plizeň. He was surrounded by elite players within the Extraliga, but the team benefitted from both the accuracy of the wrist shot as well as the power of the slap shot. His hockey IQ is good and it bodes well for the Laval Rocket to have a young player that can give the team a backbone to lean on.
While Moravčík is big, David Sklenička is the smaller, faster, and more agile player. Sklenička will turn 22 right when training camp starts. He is 5’11’’ and weighs in at 181 lbs. He is younger than Moravčík and a bit more prone to mistakes, but his upside is most likely higher especially when considering the way the direction the modern game is going at the moment.
You could say his inexperience hurts his hockey sense as he sometimes makes critical errors in the defensive zone, especially when it comes to his reads.
But he is young and this can be corrected if he works with an even better defensive coach. In the World Championships he came away with good 5v5 Corsi:
When comparing Sklenička’s performance against the tougher teams; Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and USA he is more stable in his performance than Moravčík, going from 56% against all teams to 55% against the top teams and actually improved relative to the rest of the team.
Sklenička went from -13.3% compared to team average against the lower ranked teams to +6.6% against the top teams. This shows that he can sometimes underestimate the opposition and try to do more things than he should but that he also adjusts well to a challenge.
In the Extraliga, Sklenička played 49 games and had 14 points (3G+11A). He had 22 penalty minutes and a +17 rating.
Sklenička can join the rush and has some decent moves for a defender. He is good in the offensive zone. While he isn’t the most creative player on the ice he can carry the puck and set it up for the attackers.
Both signings are low-risk, high reward. They are bound to be Laval Rocket players from the offset and it will be interesting to see the development they will get, especially considering the new set up in Laval this season.
I can see Moravčík getting called up first. He is a bit further along in his development at the moment, and he has the size for NHL. While he isn’t as tough as his size implies, he is a smart player that should be able to adjust quickly to the North American ice, especially considering the reach he will have. He is a safe option for the organization.
It is interesting that Montreal went for a raw puck-mover with potential offensive upside, and that might make some defensive errors.
But the fact that Marc Bergevin is willing to give a player like that a chance means he is aware of the developing trend and that he needs to have players like that in the team to build for the future.