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To say drafting Michal Pivonka was a risky move by the Capitals would be a colossal understatement.
At the time of the draft, "Pivonka expressed a strong interest in defecting to the NHL but insisted on completing his required military service before making the jump," according to The Hockey Hall of Fame. Obligatory military service is something Capitals fans have become familiar with in recent seasons, since Alexander Semin and Evgeny Kuznetsov both had to navigate that issue.
However, neither of those players had to defect from their home country. Czechoslovakia in the 1980s was a Communist-controlled country, and Pivonka was not given the freedom to live and work wherever he pleased.
Here is an account of what Pivonka had to go through to leave his native country and enter the United States to play professional hockey, courtesy of The Los Angeles Times:
Pivonka and his fiance, Renata Nekvindova, reportedly had left their homes in Prague July 7 on a bus bound for Yugoslavia, ostensibly to take a vacation. Their mission: a rendezvous in Italy with officials of the Washington Capitals, who in December had secretly offered Pivonka a five-year contract estimated to be worth $1 million. On July 16, Pivonka and Nekvindova were interviewed at the U.S. embassy by an examiner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Czechs told the examiner they wanted to begin a new life in the United States and that they feared reprisals if they returned home. The interview took 20 minutes...Two days later, Pivonka, accompanied by Nekvindova and two Capitals officials, arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, ready to seek his fame and fortune. Pivonka was introduced at a press conference at Capital Centre Tuesday, but club officials offered no details on how the defections were planned and executed. Nor do they intend to.
Pivonka was worth the risk. He played every one of his 13 NHL seasons in Washington, averaging 0.22 goals, 0.51 assists and 0.73 points per game along the way. In terms of franchise records, Pivonka ranks fifth in games played, 10th in goals, first in assists and fourth in points.
Drafting Michal Pivonka was one of David Poile's smartest decisions as general manager of the Capitals, at the draft or otherwise.