Jiri Sekac is new to the Canadiens' organization, having been signed this summer as an unrestricted free agent from the KHL. The Czech winger was purported to have been pursued by about a dozen NHL teams but ended up selecting to play for the same team as fellow Kladno native Tomas Plekanec. His strong season in a top professional leauge as well as noise from the Canadiens organization suggest that he will be given significant consideration for a roster spot this fall. Proximity to an NHL role and potential to be a scoring winger in the NHL earns Sekac the 11th spot on our rankings.
At 22 years of age and having two professional seasons under his belt, Sekac is one of the older and more established forwards in our rankings, in an age cohort with Brendan Gallagher and Christian Thomas. These players are close to beginning the prime age for scoring wingers thus are not expected to have much more development left. If Sekac plays for the Canadiens at all, it will be because he has earned a roster spot over the next one to two seasons.
Prior to last season, Sekac was an obscure player, having failed to make the Peterbough Petes OHL team as a 17-year-old and not being particularly notable in his career as a USHL, Czech Elite League and KHL forward. In comparison, he scored similar amounts on the same team at close to the same age to Habs former prospect Daniel Pribyl. Sekac emerged from in the 2013-14 season by taking a top-six forward spot on one of the KHL's strongest teams, the now defunct Lev Praha, playing along side respectable KHL talents like famous AHL/NHL tweener Justin Azevedo and questionable 2014 Czech Olympic team selection Jiri Novotny.
The bulk of the votes for Sekac range from 7-15 with a few outliers. This voting puts Sekac in the middle of a group of eight forward prospects, who consist of those who have not made the NHL but are considered to have enough talent to project a potential future of playing on an NHL scoring line. At forward, Sekac comes out ahead of Reway, Bozon and Thomas, two talented junior players with question marks and a fading AHL prospect. Sekac is also ranked with other players who are currently on the fringes of making the Canadiens in Nygren and Tokarski.
Sekac is billed as a big (6'2"), fast and talented scoring winger. Off-hand comments this summer have compared him to Max Pacioretty but that should be taken more in terms of play style than the ability to be a consistent 30-goal scorer.
When Sekac played in the Habs' Development Camp this summer, it was noted by many that Sekac was a man among boys. Sekac may be currently the best non-NHL forward in the Canadiens system.
In terms of skills, Sekac's overall skating and shot seem to be good by NHL standards. He also seems to have been able to use his size and strength and speed to gain positioning in scoring chance areas against defensemen while in the KHL. Sekac also appears to have respectable puck-handling and passing skills, suggesting that he could be respectable as a playmaker as well as a goal-scorer.
The NHL is a much faster league with tighter checking than the KHL. The time and space to make plays is much reduced and its more difficult to physically impose oneself on defenders in the NHL compared to lower leagues. It remains to be seen if Sekac can develop any aspects of his offensive game to the level necessary to overwhelm an NHL quality defense.
Of particular concern is Sekac's speed of release on his shot. While his shot itself is dangerous, he may not have the opportunity to use it effectively if he cannot get it away quickly enough. This can often be the difference between being able to beat NHL and AHL/KHL quality goaltending.
Based on Sekac's KHL season, it is fairly safe to suggest that he was playing at the level of a front line AHL forward, or AHL/NHL tweener last season at 21 years of age. The KHL players he kept up with are typically at par with the AHL star veteran players (often they are one and the same, like Justin Azevdo) and more than a few players with the offensive talent of an NHL top-niner.
I would presently value Sekac as being a player somewhere in the range of a NHL third-line winger and a top unit AHL forward, fitting in to the depth chart in a similar position as Michael Bournival and Sven Andrighetto. I'd project him to have a good chance of establishing himself as a permanent top nine winger in the NHL, with a decent chance of making it as a 2nd line winger.
Sekac has indicated a willingness to go to Hamilton for an apprenticeship in playing pro North American hockey. At this point I think we will most likely see Sekac do well in training camp but be sent to the AHL for seasoning for a few months until a spot opens up due to injury or Rene Bourque finally wearing out his welcome in Montreal.