Does anybody remember that there was a time when the Czech Republic was the best nation in all of hockey? They have won the World Championship a total of six times and won an Olympic gold medal in Nagano in 1998. Nowadays, we see the Czech team struggle to make it past the quarter-finals in any given championship - including Junior levels. The question is if other countries have become better, or whether the Czech Republic just have lost their former skills in talent development.
Last year, seven Czech players were drafted. The first one to hear his name called was Lukas Parik, a goaltender selected by the Los Angeles Kings toward the end of the third round. That was still better than 2016 though, when only four players were selected. In 2013, that total was just three.
Even though there have been years like 2017 and 2018, when two players from each year were selected on day one, they tend to seem more like outliers than a sign that the vibrant Czech talent crop of yore is up for a comeback.
In the beginning of the new millennium, the Czech Republic was coming off a three-peat in the World Championship. They had numerous players selected in the first round of the draft every year and countless others chosen later on. Between 2000 and 2002, 82 native Czechs were drafted - a staggering amount for a country with an area that’s less than one percent of Canada’s. They were also the nation that fostered the number-one overall pick in 1999: NHL legend Patrik Štefan.
In the last decade, the Czechs have only had two top-10 picks; Pavel Zacha and Filip Zadina. Meanwhile, Sweden has had 13, Finland 10, Switzerland has had three and Germany — a nation that had a total of four first-round players between 1963 and 2009 — currently ties the Czechs with two, but number grow to three (or more) in a couple of months when Tim Stützle comes off the board.
There are Czech players of star quality in the NHL today, but the lack of depth is concerning for a once glorious hockey nation. This year, only 40 players of Czech origin got any playing time in the league. Of those, 12 featured in fewer than 10 games.
So, I guess I’m painting a pretty bleak picture of Czech hockey here. Perhaps there will be someone who can make the population of the Czech Republic look ahead toward a brighter future?
Enter Jan Myšák - the crown jewel of this year’s Czech draft class.
Birthplace: Litvinov, CZE
Date of birth: June 24, 2002
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Myšák made his professional debut, and eventually maintained a roster spot, in the 2018-19 season after tearing it up in the Under-19 league, compiling 21 points in just nine games. After having watched and learned during the regular season, Myšák lit it up in the relegation series. With nine points (five of them goals) in six games, he almost single-handedly kept his boyhood club HC Litvinov in the top tier for the 2019-20 season.
Being equipped with 40 pro-league games as a recently turned 17-year-old sophomore is rare. The ending to his freshman year meant that he started this season off with higher expectations on his shoulders. Although expectations weren’t quite met, Myšák still ended the season with the most points scored of any player under 20 years of age.
Christmas came around, and with it a World Junior Championship in Myšák’s native country. Together with Jakub Lauko, Jan Jeník and goalie Lukas Dostal — all third round draft choices from 2018 — Myšák was supposed to provide the spark and ingenuity for a roster thin on quality talent. The tournament did not go as well as they may have hoped. Both Lauko and Jeník got injured, meaning that young Myšák had to take on way more responsibility than originally was expected.
Although the Czechs upset eventual finalist Russia on opening night, Myšák and his countrymen just escaped a humiliating relegation battle with Kazakhstan by a single point. Instead they circled through to the quarter-finals, where they were bulldozed by Sweden in a 5-0-loss. Myšák ended his first WJC with two points: a goal in the win against Russia and an assist on Libor Zábranský’s goal against Canada.
After the tournament, he decided that he needed a change of scenery. He had been selected by the Hamilton Bulldogs in the first round of the 2019 CHL Import Draft, so he made his way to the OHL, where he was reunited with countryman Jeník.
Back at the Junior level the points just kept on coming for Myšák, scoring 10 goals in his first nine games. When the season prematurely ended, he was above the point-per-game mark. The production of him, Jeník, and Arthur Kaliyev must have given OHL defenders and coaches severe headache during the winter and early spring.
So, Jan Myšák has shown his capability on North American ice as well. Let us keep that in mind while taking a look at where he is currently ranked by the analyst community.
Elite Prospects: #29
Future Considerations: #15
Hockey Prospect: #30
McKeen’s Hockey: #27
NHL Central Scouting: #28 (North American skaters)
As a player, Myšák is a sniper who gets his shot off without hesitation. His release is quick and his wrister is sharp as a tack. What has been interesting to see is how he has developed playmaking abilities to complement his goal-scoring habits. During his stint in Hamilton, he quarterbacked the power play from the point, setting up teammates just as well as ussing his powerful shot. This also demonstrated his ability to read the play, which works to his advantage in his defensive game as well. He is not overly physical, but instead uses his smarts and hockey IQ to be in the right spot on the ice to break up passes and cut off passing lanes for the opposition.
The knock on Myšák has been his skating. His acceleration is not elite and he has an odd skating style which isn’t as smooth and natural as scouts would prefer. He is not slow when he gets going, nor does he have problems with direction changes or balance, but his skating doesn’t shine the way it does when we talk about other prospects in the similar draft range.
Primarily considered to be a winger prospect, Myšák also has experience from playing as a center both at the youth level and in the Czech Extraliga, where he was anchoring a top-six line from the age of 16. Perhaps this is where he would be best suited, considering his hockey sense and playmaking being bigger strengths than his skating.
He has been a supremely prolific goal-scorer at the youth level. If you combine together his stats for the Czech U16, U18 and U19 with this year’s statistics from the OHL, you get 172 goals in 140 games. He has also shown that he belongs in the pros with his play at home in the Republic. In comparison, Myšák’s countryman Zadina, touted as a top-three, can’t-miss prospect in 2018, had 168 goals in 224 games during his Junior career. Zadina was also about seven months older than Myšák will be at the time of the draft. I am not suggesting that Myšák should be considered an overall better prospect than Zadina, but it sure is interesting to study the narratives surrounding the players.
I think teams will overanalyze his unorthodox skating and pick players they can more easily project both a position and role for. We saw it last year when Myšák’s teammate Kaliyev slipped to day two after a record-breaking season.
I think that Myšák has the potential to be one of the steals of the draft. I think there is a real chance that he could end up not being picked on day one, which means that he might be available when the Montreal Canadiens come up on the podium for their second pick of the draft.