FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Jakub Nakladal

Jakub Nakladal was never drafted. A defenceman of decent size, he spent his first several seasons playing at home in the Czech league; when he was 23, he moved on to the KHL. He spent one season playing in Finland before he decided he was ready to give the NHL a shot – and the Calgary Flames won the bidding war for his services.

While Nakladal spent the first half of the season adjusting in the AHL, eventually, circumstances forced his presence into the NHL lineup. He looked to have a future in the league – and seemed genuinely excited to be there all the while, from his off-ice interviews to the two goals he scored.

He’s an upcoming unrestricted free agent in need of a new contract. The only question is: where is he going to go?

Season summary

The start to Nakladal’s North American career was probably not ideal. It’s one thing to require time to adjust to the new ice, and the AHL isn’t a bad place at all to do that; it’s another thing entirely to be recalled in case of personnel emergency on a couple of different occasions, only to sit as a healthy scratch.

Nakladal had a decent showing at training camp, but was ultimately beat out by Brett Kulak for the final (temporary) spot on defence. He went down to Stockton, where he impressed: he played 35 games for the Heat, scoring two goals and 14 points (.4 points per game, second out of Heat defencemen) and 80 shots on net (2.5 per game, by far the most out all defenders on the team).

Nakladal was called up on Oct. 22. He sat in the pressbox for four games, and was then sent back down.

Nakladal was again called up on Feb. 3. He sat for another three games before he finally got to make his NHL “debut” against the Toronto Maple Leafs – if you could even call it that. Nakladal’s presence on an NHL bench only happened because a handful of younger teammates forced the Flames’ hands, leaving them short a forward – so Nakladal would be the seventh defenceman who played just 1:45. Then he was a healthy scratch for another two games.

His real debut came against the Anaheim Ducks, a contest in which he played 12:28. He moved on from there, a mysterious nagging ailment to Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman’s perpetual suspension forcing the Flames to actually dress and play the guy.

Nakladal scored two goals and had five total points over the 27 games he played with the Flames. He averaged 14:11 a game, which included 43:10 of total powerplay time (plus seven shots; he had 42 shots in all), and no penalty kill time.

Most importantly, though, Nakladal went from afterthought who struggled to break into the NHL lineup to useful depth component with a booming shot, puck possession skills, and enthusiasm to make for a successful bottom pairing defenceman – so far.

Impact on team

Via Corsica:

nakladal usage

We do have to keep context in mind. As impressive as Nakladal looked – and his 53.04% 5v5 CF, which was the best out of all Flames players to play at least a quarter of the season, very much attests to that – he wasn’t playing in world beating circumstances. Nakladal was brought along very gently throughout his first season in North American, culminating in finishing his year off in the NHL playing against team’s lower lines and getting a lot of starts in the offensive zone. He was not getting the circumstances of an established NHLer.

But that’s nothing against him – you’d rather see him succeed than not, and Nakladal thrived in those conditions. He’s 28 years old, and still has time left to prove he can handle tougher assignments – but as far as this year went, Nakladal took a huge step forward.

nakladal wowy

In Nakaldal’s WOWY stats, we see the effects of a small sample size. As one of the top performing corsi players on the team, Nakladal was better when separated from just about everyone – unless your name was Mikael Backlund (of course) or Tyler Wotherspoon.

Interestingly enough in Wotherspoon’s case, though he had an even more limited showing than Nakladal, he got slightly worse competition, but tougher zone starts. The two also didn’t seem to work well together, unlike Nakladal’s performance with Joe Colborne and Backlund, where they thrived.

What comes next?

Nakladal has a little over a quarter of an NHL season under his belt. He’s got about half a year’s worth of AHL experience. That’s as far as he goes for North American hockey – at least until next season, when he’s in line for a new NHL contract.

Will it be with the Flames? There’s good reason to hope so, assuming Calgary can clean up its glut of ineffective defencemen. Nakladal brought stability and respectability to the bottom pairing that had been lacking before his addition, and being able to partner him with Jokipakka, or maybe even an up-and-comer like Wotherspoon or Kulak, could see the Flames’ defensive depth look less bleak. Besides – he also has a spot on the powerplay, what with a great point shot and seeming ability to actually hit the net more than, say, Wideman.

But can the Flames fit Nakladal in their future plans? He’s older, and only really been tested thus far in sheltered circumstances. That works well for a bottom pairing guy, and if that’s all they’re really after, then he should be able to come relatively cheap as well – hopefully cheap enough to fit under the cap. His presence would also create more battle at camp, so any rookie who earns a spot on the team would really have had to earn it.

Nakladal’s fate should be clearer a month from now – but he was a positive presence on the Flames, and it would be great to see the right-shooting defender back.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    If there is a way to trade Wideman to a team he’s willing to go to without bringing any player/salary back, even if they retain 1/2 his cap hit, if he’s replaced by Nak the Flames are several million better off.

  • beloch

    While an admirable coach in most respects, one major problem with Hartley was that he was exceedingly risk averse. He played certain players more because he trusted them, and he trusted them because he had played them more. This made it very hard for possibly superior options, such as Nakladal, to get a fair shake. It was only a raft of injuries and Wideman’s suspension that ultimately forced Hartley to play Nakladal. Had more defenders stayed healthy and Wideman not had that momentary lapse of sanity, Nakladal may well have finished the season in the AHL.

    Unfortunately, even though Hartley was forced to play Nakladal, he still didn’t trust Nakladal. Nakladal was given the most sheltered minutes of any defender last season, despite his possession stats indicating he was ready to tackle tougher assignments. This, combined with the small sample size of just 27 games, means we still don’t have a very good read on what Nakladal is. Will his stellar possession rates plummet once the shelter he was given last season is taken away?

    The Flames currently have seven one-way contracts on their blueline (including Smid). The top three (Brodano and Hamilton) are not in question. Who the bottom three should be next season is. If last season’s bottom three were good, Nakladal would have little chance of being re-signed, but they really weren’t that good. Let’s compare these guys to Nakladal.

    • Wideman, as unpopular as he may be right now, is probably the best of the lot at this particular moment. Yes, he doesn’t drive possession very well, but he does produce offence. Finally separated from Russel and demoted to the third pairing he could be decent, if massively overpriced. His contract is so bad that he could be bought out even though he’s not the worst defender the Flames have. Would I swap Wideman out for Nakladal? Yes, if only for the cap savings.
    • Jokipakka is probably the next best bottom three guy, but pulls far head of Wideman in terms of desirability because he’s actually paid like a bottom three guy. He also appears to have some upside. This guy will be on the Flames’ blueline next season, without question. However, he’ll probably be more sheltered. He was given second pairing deployment with the Flames last season and largely got his head bashed in. He should be on the third pair for now, where he was with Dallas. It’s unclear why Hartley trusted Jokipakka on the second pair while giving Nakladal such a massive amount of shelter. Would I swap Nakladal in for Jokipakka? I’d certainly try him on the second pair before putting Jokipakka back there again.
    • Engelland was given slightly tougher deployment than Nakladal, but his possession rates absolutely stink and he doesn’t produce much offence. His contract is bad, but not awful. He’ll probably ride it out on the third pair or in the press box. Would I swap Engelland for Nakladal? Yes. Nakladal is probably better and likely cheaper.
    • Smid is, to be blunt, a wreck of a human being. He was a good defender once, but clearly his rehabilitation has been rushed one time too many. The Oilers brought him back before he should have been, and now the Flames have done it multiple times too. If Smid isn’t bought out he should be given a good long time to get healthy, if not because it’s hoped he’ll return as a useful player, then because he’s risking serious health problems for the rest of his life, plus the Flames could use the cap relief if he’s placed on LTIR. Smid should not be starting for the Flames in October. Would I swap Smid for Nakladal? In a heartbeat.

    Given that I’d swap Nakladal in for any of these guys, it seems clear what Treliving should do: Find a way to re-sign Nakladal and get him into the lineup.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      You summed it up pretty fairly. A good guy as a depth player. Better than sum, cheaper than almost all. Smid’s contract is the biggest problem, as he can’t be bought out if injured. Also, can’t use the LTIR until after the day you need to be compliant.

      Wideman has some value, and moving him should be a priority. Engelland was serviceable, but his other qualities (BQ, fighting two Nucks) make him a fan favorite. Moving him out in favor of a cheaper option is a move in the right direction.

      I would be happy with a blueline of Gio, Brodie, Hamilton, Nakladal, Kevin, and Wotherspoon. If Wiercioch was available in a cheap deal, that would also be a good 5/6 guy to have. Ottawa will likely not be bringing him back.

  • Greatsave

    Would love to see him back, but he’s UFA; I wonder if there’s any interest from other teams, or where his heart is at right now.

    The fact that Pribyl signed here might be a good sign?

  • Brodano12

    I’ve been a NakCity fan since training camp. He was the best defender in Stockton, where he played top pairing minutes against the toughest AHL competition and minutes on the team, playing PP and PK time, while logging ~25 minutes per night.

    If he can handle 25 in Stockton, I can’t see why he can’t handle ~20-22 on the 2nd pairing in the NHL. He’s shown that he is definitely better than most NHL bottom 6 forwards and bottom pairing dmen (based on his stats) and he was only getting better as his NHL time increased. He is responsible at both ends of the ice, and he has said that he will be working hard on improving his first step/acceleration over the summer, as his skating is the only thing holding him back from being a bonafide top 4. Huska and Hartley (and many reporters) all said that he is incredibly hard working and committed. Gio was once in the same position – undrafted, seemingly great in a #5 role, but questionable skating held him back from a top 4 position. After he worked hard to improve his skating, he ended up becoming a top 4 and eventually top 2! I’m not suggesting Nak will ever be as good as Gio, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that he can’t be a top 4 if he improves his skating.

    Brodie-Hamilton Gio-Nak would be a monster top 4, particularly possession wise. Add Wotherspoon/Kulak and Jokipakka on the 3rd pairing, as well as a reliable 7th dman in Engelland, and you have a very strong d-core. I hope they at least give that top 4 a legit shot in the preseason (Nak will be at the WC so it’ll have to happen in the later preseason games).

    Not signing Nakladal would be a big mistake imo. He is at worst a great bottom pairing dman and at best a legit top 4 option.

  • Jake the Snail

    Off the topic a bit..but what will be Tre’s first transaction after returning from Europe?

    – a new coach?
    – a significant or minor trade?
    – signing Johnny and Mony to $$$$
    – buyout (s)
    – other

  • Cowtown75

    I found Nak to be one of the more consistent d-men we had down the last stretch of the season. Especially on the defensive side of things. I continually was more impressed the more times I saw him. A man needs ice time to grow and he did after finally getting some. I’m impressed with him and I think he probably has more to show still if he gets some regular ice time. I think he won’t be expensive and it’s a no brainer 3 year contract in my books between 2-2.5 per season.