He left the Czech Republic a year ago without playing a single match between adults. He didn’t make a name for himself here with the general public. However, overseas, 18-year-old Michael Hrabal is drawing attention and could be the biggest goaltending star of the next NHL hockey draft.
The Czechs burned out at the recent U-18 World Championship in Switzerland. They beat only the Germans in five races and finished in the quarterfinals. The team’s number one Hrabal, who caught the vast majority of minutes, still achieved an excellent success rate of 92 percent and convinced the scouts of his exceptionality.
“He’s way ahead of most goalies in this age group. He’s just awfully good at awfully many things,” an unnamed scout told Hrabal’s website Daily Faceoff.
Hrabal’s greatest strength is the combination of almost two meters in height and high mobility.
“He’s only 18 years old and he’s already a giant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goaltender move so well at this stage of development and at that height,” said former goaltender Al Jensen, who has been closely watching goaltenders for years within the NHL Central Scouting Office.
He was so instrumental in the fact that the organization ranked Hrabal as the second-best goaltending player in North America in the final rankings for the famous league’s June draft. Canadian Carson Bjarnason became number one.
By the way, Tomáš Suchánek, two years older than him, who a few months ago led the Czech team to a sensational silver, finished ninth.
The Central Bureau of Scouting compiles separate rankings for goaltenders and outfielders, so it’s hard to tell how high Hrabal could go in the upcoming draft.
The website Elite Prospects, which – as is more usual – mixes all the hockey players together, predicts the Czech long man 38th place. For example, analyst Craig Button from TSN is more skeptical, according to whom Hrabal should end up on the 58th place. So it looks like a second round outside the most desirable thirty-two.
Even at the beginning of the season, the pupil of Hvězda Praha and Sparta was placed at the end of the first round. He impressed at the prestigious Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he led the Czech Republic to fourth place, and had a great start for Omaha in the American junior USHL. But then performance drops hurt him.
In the end, he finished the season with a 90.8 save percentage, which was still enough for him to earn a spot on the competition’s rookie All Star team.
Even if he doesn’t reach the first round of the draft in June, as the current rankings suggest, he could still be the highest-drafted goaltender, as they usually come later as risky investments. Hrabal’s biggest rivals are American Trey Augustine, Slovak Adam Gajan and, of course, the already mentioned Bjarnason.
Hrabal is still a long way from the NHL, he is not even going there. He will stay in Omaha next year and then wants to combine catching with his studies at the relatively selective UMass Amherst university, with which he has already signed an agreement.
But there is no rush. For the scouts, it is important at the moment that they see the potential in Hrabal to become the number one club in the NHL.
“When I watch him, he reminds me of 18-year-old Jacob Markström,” analyst Button drew a comparison with the Swedish Calgary star, who, thanks to an annual salary of six million dollars, is one of the best-paid goalkeepers in the world.
Hrabal himself hones his catching style after the American Jake Oettinger, who dominated the Dallas goaltending in recent years and is in the wider circle of candidates for the Vezin Trophy for the best NHL goaltender this year.
The good news for Hrabal is that he does resemble Oettinger, at least according to journalist Steven Ellis, who touts both’s combination of height and speed.
In addition, the American also chose the path of college hockey. He caught for Dallas for the first time at the age of 21, three years after the draft, where he took an excellent 26th position.
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