There are a number of avenues to get free agents. The most common is from the NHL’s free agent pool, but teams will occasionally go after undrafted NCAA or CHL players as well. Then there are guys who perform well in the KHL and want to come over, and occasionally, the same can be said for the Swedish and Finnish leagues.
But we don’t hear too much about the Czech league.
Now, though – three times in roughly a little over a calendar year – the Flames have picked up three players who have spent extensive time playing in the Czech Republic. There was Jakub Nakladal, a little over a year ago; granted, after his six seasons in the Czech league, he went to the KHL and then Finland.
Daniel Pribyl and now David Rittich’s names can be added to the list, though. There’s quite the Czech contingent forming in Calgary.
How many Czechs have played for the Flames?
By my count, I’ve got 14 players who have played at least one NHL game for the Flames:
- Jiri Hrdina (1987-91) – drafted
- Frank Musil (1990-95) – traded for
- Robert Reichel (1990-97) – drafted
- Ladislav Kohn (1995-96, 1997-98) – drafted
- Petr Buzek (2001-03) – traded for
- Roman Turek (2001-04) – traded for
- Roman Hamrlik (2005-07) – free agent signing
- Ales Kotalik (2009-11) – traded for
- Roman Horak (2011-14) – traded for
- Roman Cervenka (2012-13) – free agent signing
- Jiri Hudler (2012-16) – free agent signing
- Ladislav Smid (2013-present) – traded for
- Michael Frolik (2015-present) – free agent signing
- Jakub Nakladal (2015-present) – free agent signing
Half of them have played for the Flames this decade, including three still under contract (although Nakladal is an upcoming free agent, with no guarantee he comes back, and Smid has his own host of problems). Whether Pribyl and Rittich will become the 15th and 16th Czechs to suit up in Calgary remains to be seen.
Pribyl and Rittich
Both free agent signings aren’t just near the top of the Czech league – they’re both young, 23 years old.
Pribyl was second in league scoring with 45 points, behind just Cervenka (61), seven years his senior. Petr Vampola was tied with Pribyl’s 45, but with seven more games played – and 11 years older than him.
You have to go down to fifth in league scoring to find anyone close to Pribyl’s age. Jan Buchtele, 25, was his teammate in Prague; he and Jan Holik, 24, scored 41 points through the season – though Buchtele did it in 47 games, and Holik in 52. The only other kid top 10 in scoring this past season was Dominik Kubalik, 20 – he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Los Angeles Kings and scored 40 points in 48 games this past season. Everyone else was in their 30s.
So the chances of the Flames going after another skater in the Czech league probably aren’t that great.
Rittich, meanwhile? His .919 save percentage this past season was tied for fourth in the league, although he was the only starter to post that number; while he played 48 games, the two goalies he was tied with played just 18 and 15.
The three goalies above Rittich in save percentage are all relatively young: Branislav Konrad, 28; Libor Kasik, 24; and Matej Machovsky, 22. None of them have been drafted. Konrad is a bit older – and has primarily played in the Slovakian league – while Kasik and Machovsky have posted better save percentages than Rittich over the years (Machovsky even spent three seasons in the OHL with the Guelph Storm and then-Brampton Battalion).
Without knowing how many of them have aspirations in North America, one possible reason the Flames may have went after Rittich is his size. Elite Prospects lists him as 6’4 and 194 lbs., while Kasik is 5’11 and 174 lbs., and Machovsky, 6’2 and 187 lbs.
So Rittich is young, was one of the better goalies in the Czech league, has NHL size, and was clearly willing to come over to North America this season – not a bad prospect to take a shot on at all, especially for no risk.
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