The Calgary Flames have had both good and bad experiences with the Czech league. Roman Cervenka was touted “the best centre outside of the NHL”, turned out to not even be a centre, and went back to Europe after one mediocre lockout season that presumably left both parties unfulfilled and dissatisfied.
Jakub Nakladal looked to be heading down the same path, until various injuries and suspensions forced him into the lineup. Since then, he’s been a staple on the Flames’ bottom pairing with increasing responsibilities and ice time, and he looks like he belongs.
The Flames are once again venturing into the Czech Republic, along with several other teams, in pursuit of Daniel Pribyl.
PIT, NSH, CGY amongst at least half dozen teams interested in UFA Daniel Pribyl, a 23-yr-old, 6-3 skilled F who plays for Sparta Praha.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 28, 2016
Pribyl checks a lot of the right boxes: both in general, and for the Flames specifically. HockeyDB lists him as 6’2, 189 lbs., while Elite Prospects has him at 6’3, 238 lbs. That’s quite the massive discrepancy in weight, but either way, he’s got size.
He’s also listed as a right-shooting forward who plays either centre or the right wing. The Flames have more than enough centres, but barely any right wingers of note. There’s Michael Frolik and… um… Josh Jooris? Maybe Emile Poirier? It’s basically a desolate wasteland: one that Pribyl might be able to help fill.
Add on to all that: he can score. True, it’s the Czech league, so not the highest caliber of competition, but the 16 goals and 45 points he has through 45 games this season are noteworthy. He’s leading Sparta Praha this season in scoring.
Pribyl has been trending upwards through his time with Prague. He was limited to just 21 games last season, but still scored eight goals and 15 points: a .71 point-per-game pace. Prior to that, he scored at a .54 point-per-game pace, and the year before, when he became a regular, at .52 points per game.
So to recap: Pribyl is only 23 years old, has size (but hopefully not too much of it), fills a position of need, and has been steadily improving throughout his time in the Czech league. The Flames should absolutely be in on this guy.
He was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft by the Montreal Canadiens but evidently never came over. Pribyl was also on the Czech World Junior team in 2012, but only scored one assist through five games.
The importance of giving guys a chance
Nakladal is so important.
I can’t speak to how much free agents take stock in this sort of thing, but I imagine it comes up every now and then. You’re playing over in Europe, but want to have a shot at the NHL. Several teams are in the bidding for you, so you’re basically a prized free agent, and have your pick, no strings attached.
The Flames were in on Nikita Zaitsev, but he chose the rebuilding Leafs. They were also trying to acquire Artemi Panarin, and he chose Chicago. It ended up being a really smart play by the Russian, as he’s played on a line with Patrick Kane all season, which no doubt has been a huge factor in his 64 points (and counting) as a rookie. Could the Flames have offered him that?
They did land Cervenka, though, and that was a disaster on so many levels. From naming him “the best centre not in the NHL” – one of several foot-in-mouth moments for former General Manager Jay Feaster – to having the misfortune to come over in the lockout season, to not actually being a centre, a lot of things went wrong all at once, and pretty much dashed Cervenka’s NHL hopes.
The Flames also landed Nakladal, who had multiple suitors. He spent the first half of his season in the AHL, playing as one of the Stockton Heat’s top guys. He was recalled a couple of times due to injury and illness scares early in the season, only to sit in the press box.
When Nakladal finally made his NHL debut, it was because three of his younger teammates got into too many shenanigans around Superbowl time, forcing the Flames to dress 11 forwards and seven defencemen. He was the seventh guy, and he only played 1:45. Three games later, with Dennis Wideman suspended and Kris Russell unable to go, he finally got his real chance, and he’s been a regular in the lineup since.
Nakladal had to work his way up through the ranks, yes, but he needed more things to go right for him before he could claim a regular roster spot. And once the opportunity was there – through circumstance, not through merit – he took it. And he’s thrived.
We’ve gone from wondering when he would escape the confines of the press box to watching him score two goals, play on the power play, and start to encroach towards 20 minutes in ice time, all the while seeming genuinely thrilled to be playing for the Flames.
Imagine how differently talks with Pribyl could go if Nakladal was still riding buses in California or sitting in the press box. At least now the Flames can point to his countryman and say, “He’s doing great with us. You can, too.”