Here is what you need to know about top prospect Pavel Zacha, considered one of the greatest wildcards of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
Current team: Sarnia Sting, OHL
North American Central Scouting rank: 8
Weight: 210 pounds
Twitter account: @Pavel_Zacha
Jeff Marek’s Take: At his best when he’s playing with a burr under his saddle. Hard not to love the size, strength and skill-set of the Czech-born centre. Under appreciated skill. Played with Jordan Kyrou (underage) + Nikita Korostelev so his stats may seem a little weak, but don’t read much into it. Don’t look at his stats. Great at U18’s. Can also play the right wing. NHL Comparable: Martin Hanzal
Zacha is a wildcard, which makes him fun.
Ranking as high as fourth and as low as 28th in experts’ prospects rankings, Zacha should be the first European-born CHLer selected on June 26. But a penchant for foolish penalties, a relative unfamiliarity with the smaller NHL ice surface and a good-not-great OHL stat line (16 goals, 18 assists, 56 penalty minutes in 37 games) have made him a potential second-round knockout or an early-pick gamble.
He was a highly-touted import to the Ontario league.
Snatched first overall out of the Czech Republic by the Sarnia Sting at the 2014 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, Zacha played a key role in helping the Sting elevate its standing in the Western Conference from fifth up to third this season and he was named to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team in the process.
He learned English at a place where the beer flows like wine.
The Czech picked up the NHL’s native tongue by watching a subtitled version of Dumb & Dumber, according to Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling.
He’s a deeper pick at an important position.
Smart hockey men build teams from the middle out, so a six-foot-three pivot will be coveted. The problem for Zacha’s draft ranking is that scouts have five other North American centres ranked higher than him, which could cause him to slip down the Round 1 ladder and in danger of not meeting his goal: to become the first Czech drafted in the Top 10 since Jakub Voracek in 2007.
The guy comes with pro experience.
A veritable man-child, Zacha made his debut in 2013-14 with HC Bílí Tygři Liberec of the Czech Extraliga, Europe’s third-highest-ranked pro circuit. In 38 games with Liberec, the teenager notched four goals, four assists and 10 penalty minutes.
He’s a two-time medallist in international competition.
Representing the Czech Republic in six major junior tournaments since 2013, Zacha helped the side to a bronze medal at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and a silver at the IIHF U18 World Championship. In 31 international tournament games since age 15, he’s produced 18 points.
Celebrate the one-timer…
The big guy is known for having one of the fastest, most accurate one-timers in the 2015 draft class. His quick wrist shot has also received rave reviews.
…And the speed…
An A-rated skater, Zacha not only has wicked top-end velocity, he can stick-handle with pace. To wit:
But beware the slew-foot.
“No one hits harder in the 2015 draft class, no one,” according to TheHockeyWriters.com. A nasty checker who can ride that line between punishing and dirty, Zacha was suspended two games by the OHL in November for a slew foot versus Niagara. That incident prevented him from skating in the CHL Top Prospects Game.
“He’s got an edge to his game; he plays hard. And I really don’t want him to lose that,” Sarnia coach Trevor Letowski told Zwelling. “But it has to be controlled.”
He can count 43-year-old Petr Nedved as a former teammate.
As a rookie with Liberec, Zacha took notes from one of his country’s greatest hockey exports. Fifteen-year NHL veteran Petr Nedved finished his pro career where Zacha started, and encouraged the kid to chase his dream on the smaller North American ice.
“He told me if I ever needed anything, he would help me. I couldn’t believe it,” Zacha told Zwelling. “I learned so many things from him.”