Photo Credit – hc-kometa.cz
The Czech Republic is still a world hockey power. They might not quite have the firepower up and down their line-up as they did in the early 2000’s, but in the last five World Championship’s they have reached the semi-final’s twice, and did at the 2018 Olympics as well. You can argue whether they are still a top five team. But despite that they are still a threat to beat anyone on their day.
When you examine what, though, has hamstrung them from competing with the best teams on earth over the last 10-15 years there is one obvious answer. Defensemen. The Czech’s still have a bevy of top-tier forwards such as Pastrňák, Voráček, Krejčí and Hertl. They also have some high-end young forwards who are developing into top six players. Kubalík, Vrána, Nečas, Zadina, Zacha and Chytil will be haunting NHL defenses for the next ten years.
But when was the last time the Czechs produced a top pairing defenseman? Let alone a number one? Radko Gudas has arguably been the best Czech blue-liner in the NHL over the last decade, and Gudas is simply a solid #4. Filip Hronek is the only young Czech defenseman making his mark in the league right now, but does he have the potential to be more than a good #2-3? Debatable.
You have to go back to an aging Marek Židlický in 2013-14 to find the last time a Czech defenseman played at a true top pairing level. A few extra years back and Tomáš Kaberle was the last man from the Central European nation to be a legit NHL #1.
There is hope on the horizon though. That hope comes in the form of a 2021 draft eligible from the heart of Moravia. His name? Stanislav Svozil.
Svozil has been a stand-out since he was 15 years old and producing at point-per-game level in u-16 internationals. He made history in 2019-20 by forcing his way into the Czech Extraliga at 16 years old. No other blue-liner that young has ever managed to play a whole season in the Extraliga.
D.O.B – January 17, 2003
Nationality – Czech Republic
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Height – 6’1
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Svozil’s Style Of Play
So why is there not more hype? What does Stanislav Svozil do well? And where does he need to improve?
Svozil’s game is built around his fantastic passing ability and his high-end hockey IQ. In the defensive zone he uses this ability to produce mesmeric outlets that freeze neutral zone defenses and send his forwards into the offensive zone with speed. He attempts passes that others don’t even see. Offensively he utilises his vision and touch well to pick out seams in coverages and thread passes cross-ice, onto tape, regardless of how narrow the gap is. As a result he can make what appears a “nothing” situation on the cycle into a scoring chance.
When off of his game he can be prone to feeling pressure, and give-ways when heading up ice due to his predilection for attempting to hit long passes with a high degree of technical difficulty. This is not a major issue, and the positives massively outweigh the negatives, but he still needs to gain poise under pressure.
While his passing ability helps him exit his zone regularly, it is complemented by good skating ability as well. Therefore, if there are no passes available Svozil can simply skate his way up ice. Once he gets into the neutral zone his naturally aggressive nature also comes into play. He never seems happy just to make the red-line, but wants to get the puck even closer to danger. His ability to enter the offensive zone with the puck on his stick is just as impressive as his ability to exit his own zone. This is a skill that marks out so many of the best defensemen in the NHL. Svozil is already exceptionally good in this area versus men.
Breaking down his skating further, his agility, acceleration and edge-work are good, but he does have room to improve on his stride and top speed. His stride is slightly shorter than it could be, and is not overly powerful in terms of transferring his energy effectively and building speed. At times he will burst past a man going up ice, only for them to then stay with him or catch him. This may well come with maturity, as he is not quite as physically developed as many of the 2021 draft crop.
Looking more at his offensive zone play, while Stanislav Svozil is extremely dangerous and aggressive on the rush, and creates great opportunities with his passing on the cycle, he can be a bit “safe” in the offensive zone when set-up. Despite not having the biggest shot he can get a bit trigger happy near the blue-line. This is less of an issue when he plays at the junior level. In turn this may simply be due to fear of making a mistake and sending play the other way at the pro level. However, to best utilise his fantastic vision and passing going forward he will need to trust his ability and, in-turn, walk the line more, try and freeze opposition forwards, and do what he does so well on the rush in terms of getting to dangerous positions.
Coming back to positives in relation to the offensive zone, Svozil is already fantastic at protecting the puck on the cycle. He has great body position, and his plus hands mean that he can fend off players with only one hand before finding space and dishing the puck. While on the topic of hands, Stanislav Svozil has some silky mitts for a blue-liner. He can beat opponents with a deke or dangle, even at high-speed.
As can be imagined with this skill-set, Svozil is a dangerous power-play quarter-back. He is less trigger happy when he has more time and less pressure in a man-up situation. In turn he has more confidence to quickly move pucks and step-up into a play, or make an opponent bite on a move and walk round them. He is very good at making himself available in man-up situations. With his high IQ he pops up all over the ice in order to find a seam.
On the defensive side of things, Stanislav Svozil is solid for his age. One real stand-out ability here is directly related to his high IQ. He anticipates what is going to happen next extremely well. Especially in terms of pucks being turned over, or what passing options opponents will take through the neutral zone. The result of this is that he intercepts passes and gets his stick in lanes with great prevalence. This applies both when defending the rush, and when set-up defensively. The man from Přerov is also very aggressive at his own blue-line and has a good gap for his age, and breaks up a lot of entries with his extremely active stick alongside great back-wards and lateral mobility.
Once set-up in the defensive zone he does have some issues. One is simply strength related, he loses one-vs-one battles in the danger areas to opponents who are more mature than him. But Svozil is not small, and he is also naturally aggressive, so going forward this is not something that should be overly worried about. His aggression can get him into trouble in his own zone though. At times he loses his position puck-chasing, trying to “make” something happen.
Ivan Provorov, Left Handed Defenseman, Philadelphia Flyers
Like his Russian counter-part, Svozil is exceptional both on the rush. Both also excel in terms of defending his own blue-line. The two also love to carry the puck, both out of their zone, and into the offensive zone. As with the Flyers blue-liner, Svozil does not fear getting to the slot and net-front once up ice. The Czech youngster does not quite have the speed Provorov has. But both have high-end mobility and hands that you don’t often see from a defenseman in transition. Both are a bit more conservative on the cycle, but can see passes and like to get their shots going.
Svozil arguably has better vision than Provorov once established in the offensive zone. In turn is a more instinctive and well-rounded power-play quarter-back. In the defensive zone Provorov was more developed at the same age, as well as more physical. But both are aggressive and use their stick extremely well.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Stanislav Svozil. Mobile, high-IQ, skilled blue-liners are hard to come by. If his game continues to mature the young Czech blue-liner can certainly become a top-pairing level NHLer. Additionally, it would be a surprise if Svozil – at worst – does not become a solid NHL #4 in the not so distant future.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alexander Appleyard. If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @alexappleyard.
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