Earlier this year, when writing up the piece on the highest rated Czech of this draft, I wondered what had happened to the country’s talent development. Could we see them getting back above average, instead of just reminiscing about the glory days of Jagr & Co?
Slovakia has been asking themselves that very question for well over a decade now. When I was growing up, players like Marián Hossa, Pavol Demitra, Miroslav Šatan, and the young Zdeno Chara were setting the league on fire, posting big numbers and having Slovakia in medal contention at the World Championships each and every year. They won the silver in 2000 and a bronze medal in 2003, but the crown jewel was when they hoisted the trophy for the first and only time in Gothenburg 2002.
With a minute-and-a-half left of the third period, Žigmund Pálffy found Peter Bondra, who blasted the puck past Russian goalie Maxim Sokolov. Bondra, then a Washington Capital, was quoted saying that this meant more to him than a Stanley Cup because “a Stanley Cup is for a city, while this was for a whole country.”
Since then, everything has changed — except for Chara’s everlasting presence in the NHL. Slovakia did surprise the hockey world with a silver medal in 2012, but otherwise they have kept a low profile, most years not even making it to the quarter finals.
Last year, the Slovaks hosted the World Championships themselves with hopes that they might squeeze through to the final four, if luck was on their side. Unfortunately, nothing went their way and the fans watched their team end up in ninth place, outside of the quarter finals yet again.
There doesn’t seem to be a change on the horizon either. There are exceptions of Slovaks making a great impact in the league, like the Habs very own Tuna Tatar, but judging by their latest draft results, the Slovaks won’t be hoisting any trophies in the near future.
In 2018, five Slovaks were drafted, which seems decent before you notice that Martin Fehérváry (Capitals) was the only one among the first 100 picked. Last year, it was even worse when only one single player (Maxim Čajkovič, 89th to the Tampa Bay Lightning) was even selected.
Will there be a radical change this year? No. But there are a few Slovakian players worth mentioning. Most notably Martin Chromiak.
Birthplace: Ilava, Slovakia
Date of birth: Aug 20, 2002
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Chromiak was drafted second overall in the 2019 CHL import draft and had the choice of continuing back in Trenčín or take his talents to Kingston, Ontario. He was elite on the junior level in 2018-19 and made his debut in the Slovak men’s league while still only 16 years old. A mainstay on the senior team from the start of the 2019-20-season, Chromiak managed to score five goals and provide positive plus-minus statistics before the Christmas break.
After the holidays, Chromiak made the sudden choice to leave Slovakia and make the move to Ontario. During the same time period, head coach Róbert Petrovický made the strange choice to leave him off the mediocre roster for the WJC-20. Leading up to the World Championships, Chromiak had produced on a point-per-game pace for Slovakia’s U20, which made his omission even more bewildering for the casual fan.
Naturally, with the steady decline of talent in Slovakia, it was difficult to get a read on how skilled he was while he was playing at home in a low-end top division. However, Chromiak had no problems settling into Kingston and next to child prodigy Shane Wright, he became a very dangerous player on the Frontenacs team.
What sticks out when you watch Chromiak play is his elite level of skill. He creates offence with ease, providing opponents with an equal threat of playmaking, scoring and technique at high tempo. His wrist shot is a legitimate threat and his release is as quick as a cat. He is smart and demonstrated tremendous adaptability with his seamless transition to a different rink size and country at the mere age of 17.
Even if he’s not the most fluid skater, he can still use his technique and puck-controlling ability to create plays at high speed, something which compensates for some of his clunkiness. His high level of hockey IQ also adds to him having considerably more pros than cons as an overall draft prospect.
So far, he hasn’t displayed a great sense for being a reliable all-around player in his own zone. Chromiak is considerably more interested in the offensive side of the game, making him more of a 100 ft than a 200 ft prospect. Although, with the Frontenacs team having a non-existent defence, he’ll at least get plenty of opportunities to refine his skills during the upcoming years.
Elite Prospects: #83
Future Considerations: #59
Hockey Prospect: #80
McKeen’s Hockey: #44
NHL Central Scouting: #30 (North American skaters)
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #48
Since coming over to North America, Chromiak has been a steady riser on draft boards. For a player who wasn’t consensually rated in the Top 100 before Christmas, it is obvious to ask if he has always been this good or whether his new linemate elevated Chromiak’s play. It is true though, that Wright elevated his point totals as well after he was paired together with Chromiak.
Martin Chromiak will definitely be Slovakia’s highest draft pick this year. Expecting him to restore his country’s faith in their hockey team on his own would simply be too much to ask, but he has shown enough promise to warrant a high selection come October. He could very well become the best Slovakia has produced since the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
If you add together his youth and what he has already displayed before turning 18 years old, I would not expect him to last for long on the second day of the Draft. Kids with great hockey sense and an instinct for scoring points seldom do.