When it came to actually selecting players in the 2018 NHL draft, the Flames had to wait until the fourth round: longer than they’ve ever waited before. When they finally did step up to the podium at 105th overall, they made a curious first choice: a 6’2, 173 lb. left-shooting Slovakian centre scoring at a decent clip in the USHL, all while putting up 253 penalty minutes in just a single season, by the name of Martin Pospisil.
It’s always tough to start from the fourth round, and seriously, that penalty minute count would raise eyebrows in any league. But there’s clearly hockey-playing ability there; you don’t end up tied for second in team scoring by accident. And so, our top 20 list kicks off with Pospisil: a player who may have more to show beyond that first impression.
How did we get here?
From Zvolen, Slovakia, Pospisil has played primarily in Europe: his hometown team is HKM Zvolen, and from 2014-2017, he was playing primarily in Austrian minor leagues. As a 16-year-old, he started the 2015-16 season in the RBHRC U18 league, scoring 21 points in 21 games; he also played 17 games in the U20 league, scoring just four points. However, in the playoffs, he did score five points in four games: a leader in scoring.
In 2016-17, he was back in the U18 league; during that time, he upped his totals to 31 points in 18 games. He also scored three points in three playoff games.
Pospisil also represented Slovakia at the U18 World Juniors during the 2016-17 season, playing four games, but failing to score a single point. (Fellow Slovakian Flames prospect Adam Ruzicka was also on that team; he scored five points in five games.)
This brings us to the 2017-18 season: Pospisil’s draft year. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Pospisil joined the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, the team Kristian Pospisil had played for in 2016-17 (he spent most of his 2017-18 season playing for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears). There, Martin Pospisil scored eight goals and 37 points over 49 games, good to tie for second in team scoring as the Musketeers finished seventh in the Western Conference, failing to make the USHL playoffs.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
Pospisil also kind of did that thing where he took 253 penalty minutes in 2017-18, the most in the USHL by far: second place was 176.
The thing is, those penalty minutes aren’t exactly a new trend for Pospisil. While playing in the U18 league in Austria, he registered 83 penalty minutes in 2015-16 – the most out of everyone – and 59 in the 2016-17 season – again, the most out of the entire league. While not numbers as extreme as the 253 he picked up in his first season in North America, it’s still a notable trend: Pospisil can score, but he may be more prominent inside the box.
His .76 points per game in 2017-18 was tied for 56th in the USHL; this is compared to his 1.00 in 2015-16 – tied for 10th in RBHRC U18 – and his growth to 1.72 in 2016-17 – second in that league. So there’s clearly something there, penalty totals be damned, but just how much scoring talent he can continue to push is the question, particularly as he climbs league ladders and continues to play against more difficult competition.
For a deeper dive into Pospisil’s numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup on him here.
Those in the know
Ray Edwards, the Flames’ director of development, lends us his assessment on Pospisil, and what the Flames see in him:
It was sort of the tale of two seasons. … I think what he realized was there’s parts of the games and areas of managing the game that he had to manage his emotions a little bit better. The first half of the year he was a guy that stuck up for teammates, wanted to establish he had a presence, and I think what he realized was that gave him some room in the second half and the areas of his game from a skill perspective started coming out, he gained more confidence, realized he could produce. So I think it was a combination of adding that element to his game and being able to produce the full package.
On the horizon
Pospisil has one year of North American hockey under his belt. No matter who you are, that’s not a lot – and especially not when you’re a teenager who has moved halfway around the world to pursue a career path that’s incredibly difficult to break into.
The main message here is that Pospisil may have more to show as he returns to the Musketeers for his second season in the USHL in 2018-19. He’s familiar with the smaller ice surface now, and has a chance to build on that second half of his season: one in which that ability to score, one that’s been prevalent since his days in the Austrian U18 system, has been prominently featured.
Yes, penalties seem to have long been a part of his game, but that can’t continue if he wants to progress in the sport. The good news for Pospisil is that not only did he seem to turn a corner in the second half of this past season, but that he should also have increased guidance to help steer him in the right direction. Wanting to stick up for your teammates is excellent; being able to utilize that blossoming scoring talent to help the team win games is even better. It’ll be interesting to see how his second season on North American ice goes.