With Calgary’s soon to be confirmed signing of Czech product Daniel Pribyl, many of us have become very curious about the 23-year-old winger. Just what are the Flames getting in the former sixth round pick of the Habs? At this point, no one knows for sure how Pribyl might translate to the NHL, but we do have some recent examples to compare him to. As I see it, this could go one of three ways.
For those unfamiliar with the story, multiple sources (first reported by Elliotte Friedman) have Calgary signing Pribyl to a two-way contract when his season with Sparta Praha of the Czech League comes to an end. Pribyl will finish his sixth year of pro hockey at the end of this season and he’s seen a steady increase in his numbers during that time.
So what three ways could this go? Let’s break it down using some recent examples from the Flames and from around the league.
The solid signing: Jakub Nakladal
This outcome is a desired one and also a somewhat realistic one. There are numerous examples of European signings like this across the league, but let’s use a really recent one for the Flames as our example.
The Flames signed Nakladal to a one-year, two-way contract last summer and it turned into a pretty solid addition by the end of the campaign. After going through the expected adjustment to North American hockey, Nakladal turned into a very useful piece of the AHL’s Stockton Heat before getting his full time shot with Calgary near the end of the season. His numbers below, both counting and underlying, ended up being fairly solid.
Among players who played 25 games or more this season, Nakladal had the team’s top possession rate at 53.1%. His zone starts were skewed to the offensive side of things, but he was still useful in his role. For a player the team didn’t have to expend any assets on, they got really good return on their investment.
Nakladal is an example of a good value signing. He was effective in a third pairing role, came at a very affordable price (and likely will going forward), and the Flames didn’t give up anything to bring him over. Sure, Calgary didn’t get a franchise piece in Nakladal, but they got an effective player who can continue to give them solid value, assuming they re-sign him this summer.
I know they play different positions, but if Pribyl’s case can turn out similar to Nakladal’s, then this will be another good signing by the Flames. Contracts like these are what you see from high end teams time and time again; they don’t hit too hard on the cap but they still fill a depth role effectively. We all know where Calgary’s cap situation is going, so more cases like Nakladal are absolutely a good thing.
The home run: Artemi Panarin
A case like Panarin’s in Chicago qualifies as a best case scenario when bringing in a free agent from Europe. The Blackhawks signed Panarin as an undrafted free agent out of the KHL last summer and he’s now the frontrunner for this year’s Calder Trophy. Players in Panarin’s situation don’t come along often, but when they do, their impact is massive.
To hold Pribyl to Panarin’s standard would be very much unfair, though. I’m not saying Pribyl couldn’t make an impact in the NHL next year, because the reality is I don’t know. I’ve barely seen him play and even if I had watched him a ton, it’s always difficult to project how success in one league will translate at the highest level. Just going by history, though, it would be unlikely to see Pribyl reach heights like Panarin did this season.
It is an interesting comparison, though. Pribyl will enter the league next season at essentially the same age Panarin started at this year. The latter turned 24 in late October while Pribyl will turn 24 in the middle of December. Both players had a ton of European professional experience entering their first year in the NHL, too.
On the flip side, the two come from different levels of pro hockey. Panarin put up strong numbers in his last two years in the KHL. Along with the AHL and Sweden’s top tier league, the KHL is one of the top non-NHL levels of hockey in the world. Pribyl, on the other hand, was a point per game last year in the Czech domestic league, which is slightly different. While still a solid circuit, the Extraliga isn’t on the same level as leagues mentioned earlier. That has to be taken into account when looking at Pribyl’s numbers.
I’m not banking on Pribyl to end up in the same category as Panarin, mostly because the odds are against it. The Flames could absolutely hit a home run here and that would be great. But if Pribyl ends up falling into the category above this one, that’s perfectly fine too.
Thanks but no thanks: Roman Cervenka
Originally I was going to use the term “bust” as the title of this category, but then I realized how inaccurate a portrayal that would be. Signing Cervenka in the summer of 2012 wasn’t a bust because they didn’t invest much to bring him in. Sure, it didn’t work out, but because there was so little risk in signing him, it was much easier to swallow.
Lots of times a European signing just doesn’t pan out. Even though his lone NHL season with the Flames wasn’t a stellar one, it’s tough to argue the merits of giving him a shot. Cervenka was, and still is, an extremely skilled player. His style, though, didn’t translate to the NHL’s smaller and more suffocating confines. He put up okay numbers, but it was clear to both parties at the end of the season that Europe was probably the best fit. And that’s fine.
Signings like Cervenka’s then, and Pribyl’s now, are necessary in this day and age. The market for finding players is so competitive that a “no stone unturned” mantra is crucial. The Flames struck out on Cervenka, and their David Wolf signing a few years later didn’t bear a ton of fruit either. But every team misses on European signings, because that’s the nature of the business.
There’s a decent chance Calgary could miss on Pribyl and he could end up back in the Czech Republic in two years’ time. If that’s the case then it’s too bad, but hey, it’s also no harm, no foul. If the Flames hit on Pribyl by having him fall into one of the two prior categories then it’s a good signing. If they don’t, then move on and try it all over again next time. In the end, there has to keep on being next times.