It has been eight years since a Czech Republic-born hockey player has been selected within the first 10 picks of the NHL Draft.
In 2007, it was forward Jakub Voracek, now of the Philadelphia Flyers and then the Columbus Blue Jackets’ pick at seventh overall. In 2015, it could be Czech center Pavel Zacha who cracks the top 10.
Zacha, 18, hails from Brno, Czech Republic, and he began playing in North America for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting in the 2014-15 season.
“A highly touted prospect,” said the Canes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald. “There was a lot of hype surrounding him.”
In the 2013-14 season, Zacha logged 38 games with Liberec in the Czech Republic’s top professional league. Then just 16 years old, Zacha was mentored by Petr Nedved, who was selected second overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 1990, played 15 seasons in the NHL and logged 310 goals and 717 points in 982 career NHL games.
|HOMETOWN: BRNO, CZECH REPUBLIC |
|HEIGHT: 6'3" |
|WEIGHT: 210 |
|BIRTHDAY: APRIL 6, 1997 (AGE 18) |
Nedved, who left the NHL in 2007 and played the final seven seasons of his career in the Czech Republic, helped Zacha prepare for his transition to the North American game.
“Many people did not think he would come to play (in North America). … But he wanted to come here to play,” MacDonald said of Zacha. “He made that decision himself.”
The transition to the smaller, North American rink wasn’t without its difficulties for Zacha. But the 6-foot-3, 210-pound center settled in and finished with 16 goals and 34 points in his rookie OHL season.
“He has great tools and great size. He’s got skill, and he can skate,” MacDonald said. “He had some injury issues and some disciplinary issues in terms of taking bad penalties. A little frustrated, maybe, in some games that he wasn’t achieving what he wanted to.”
Zacha has twice competed for his home country in the World Junior Championship, and in the 2015 tournament, he scored a goal and added an assist in five games.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranks Zacha eighth among North American skaters, and in all likelihood, he’ll become the first Czech player to be drafted in the top 10 since Voracek in 2007.
“When he’s on his game and focused, he’s an imposing physical presence. He can impose his will on other people and make things happen,” MacDonald said. “Inconsistency has been an issue there, but a lot of it can be put down to the adjustment he’s had to make to a different culture and a different style of play. He wanted to come here and play in the North American-sized rink and prove that he can be a good player at this level, and he’s certainly done that.”