The Calgary Flames signed Czech scoring star Daniel Pribyl on Friday.
The 23-year-old’s deal is for two years and is a two-way entry-level contract. Pribyl finished second in the Czech Extraliga scoring race this season with 16 goals and 45 points in 46 games.
The addition of the six-foot-three, 220-pound centre is part of a concerted effort by Flames GM Brad Treliving to make his team bigger and more skilled.
The plan is to move the Ostrava, Czech Republic native to the right wing where the right-handed shot may ultimately fill the hole on the top line when Jiri Hudler was traded.
The Flames will undoubtedly downplay such pressure as he’s coming off a breakthrough season in an inferior league. But his upside could be big.
The signing comes with very little risk as the Sparta Praha star can be sent down to the minors if his transition to North American hockey doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped.
Pribyl has been one of the most sought-after free agents in Europe this season as his big season offensively comes on the heels of him filling out the tall, skinny frame he had when drafted 168th by the Montreal Canadiens in 2011.
Montreal failed to sign him in the two year window they owned his rights. (The rules have since changed, allowing teams to keep European draft picks like Pribyl for four years.)
Pribyl was a key part of a playoff run for Sparta Praha, which just lost in six games to Liberec in the championship series. Pribyl had five goals and 11 points in nine playoff games before suffering a lower body injury that ended his season a few weeks ago.
The injury will also prevent him from playing for his country at the upcoming world championship, opening the door for him to be signed earlier than expected after several NHL teams pursued him all year.
It is expected the Flames will bring him to Calgary immediately to help him with treatment for the injury.
Part of the attraction of signing with Calgary is the possibility of playing on the top line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, who both flourished this season despite not having a reliable right winger on their line.
Organizationally the Flames are thin on the right side, making Pribyl all the more attractive.
Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke is still beating the drum for Calgary to get bigger — as is Treliving — prompting him to direct his scouting staff to beat the bushes for skilled forwards with size.
The result is a signing of one of the most sought-after European free agents – a player who is considered to be ahead of almost all the NCAA free agents NHL teams clamoured over for the last month.
Pribyl’s only exposure to Calgary so far came when he represented his country at the 2012 world juniors.
While the Flames are undoubtedly hoping they have the next Artemi Panarin, it’s interesting to note that Calgary went down this path four years ago when GM Jay Feaster signed Czech star Roman Cervenka to a one-year deal out of the KHL. He scored nine goals in 39 games with the Flames before returning to Europe where he was the only one to outscore Pribyl this year in the Czech league.
The Nashville Predators were one of the teams most interested in Pribyl and with Harvard star Jimmy Vesey opting not to sign with them, Nashville stepped up their efforts.
Pribyl reminds some Flames front-office types of San Jose’s Czech winger Tomas Hertl, who has similar size and scored 21 times this year for the Sharks.
He won’t run over players but he’s good at using his size to protect the puck and has great hands.
If he’s anywhere close to being as effective as Hertl, the Flames have landed themselves a significant asset.