Czech Mate: The Top Ten Czech Republic NHL Players Of All Time
Czech Republic hockey has a long and rich history in the NHL, from the days of Ivan Hlinka to current stars like Aleš Hemský and Martin Havlát. The Czechs even shocked the world in 1998, winning the Olympic gold medal in hockey in the first ever Olympics where NHL players were allowed to compete. The Czech national team has even had recent success, capturing the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Championship. Due to the large influx of Czech NHL players, there may be a few players omitted who everyone may not agree with. Feel free to debate, and I hope you enjoy.
Missed The Cut
These are a few players who were considered, but did not quite crack the top ten list.
Václav "Vinny" Prospal has had a serviceable and well traveled NHL career, suiting up for six different teams over the course of his playing days. He has spent the majority of his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, however, he was not on the Cup winning team, instead rejoining the Lightning after the lockout. He now plays for the New York Rangers.
Havlát is only 29 years of age and is in what may be considered the prime of his career, so by the end of his playing days, you may see him on a future list. Havlát was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1999 and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season when he recorded 19 goals and 42 points. Despite battling injury for most of his career, he is a legitimate All Star.
Reichel broke into the NHL in 1990 with the Calgary Flames and was a star within a few seasons. He recorded back to back 40 goal seasons from 1992 to 1994 and even broke the 90 point plateau during the latter season. However, Reichel's greatness was not sustained. He went on to have a couple of strong seasons for the New York Islanders, and has spent the majority of his career in the Czech Republic.
10. Robert Lang
Unlike some of these other players, Robert Lang was not a highly rated prospect, being drafted 133rd overall by the L.A. Kings in 1990. He didn't arrive in the NHL until 1992-93, when he played 11 games for the Kings, recording five assists. He returned to the NHL during the 1995 season and finally became an every day player for Los Angeles, but not yet a star, his best showing coming during 1995-95 when he recorded 6 goals and 22 points in 68 games. The following season, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Soon after his signing, he was claimed off of waivers by the Boston Bruins, with whom he would play only three games. Only about one week later, he was claimed off waivers by the team he initially signed with, the Penguins. He played the remaining 51 games with Pittsburgh, scoring nine goals and 22 points.
The 1998-99 season is when Lang finally made it as a NHL player. He recorded 21 goals and 44 points, showing that he had the ability to be a real scorer in this league. Given more responsibility, Lang improved even more the following season with 23 and 65. The next season, he showed he could be a point per game player when he scored 32 goals and 80 points. After the next season, he left the Penguins to sign with the Washington Capitals.
He continued to excel in his first season in Washington, finishing second on the team in points. The 2003-04 season though, was looking to be a banner one for Lang. He was leading the NHL in scoring at the time of the trade deadline, when the Capitals, during a fire sale, traded him to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Tomas Fleischmann and a first round draft pick (who would later turn out to be Mike Green). With that, he became the first player to ever be traded while leading the league in points. However, he was never able to hit his stride with the Wings, suffering a broken rib six games later and losing the scoring lead to Martin St. Louis.
After a couple of successful seasons in Detroit, Lang signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and was a veteran leader on a very young team, scoring 21 goals and 54 points. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens after the season and was leading the team with 18 goals through 50 games when he went down for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. He signed with the Phoenix Coyotes for the 2009-10 season, but was unable to have the same success. He is currently a free agent.
9. Petr Sýkora
Drafted 19th overall by the Devils in 1995, Sýkora began his career with a bang, scoring 18 goals and 42 points in 63 games. He spent the majority of the following season in the AHL, but was back up in 1997-98 to record 36 points in 58 games at the NHL level. The following season though, Sýkora rose to prominence as a member of the Devils' "A-Line." Skating with fellow Czech up and comer Patrik Eliáš and newcomer to the team Jason Arnott, Sýkora broke out to lead the Devils in scoring with 29 goals and 72 points. The following season, Sýkora scored 68 points as he and the A-Line led the Devils to the second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. Sýkora was injured in game six of the finals and had to be taken to the hospital while his teammates celebrated their championship. The Devils returned to the finals in 2001, a season in which Sýkora recorded a career high 35 goals and 81 points, only to be defeated by the Colorado Avalanche in seven games.
During the following season, Sýkora's production dipped to only 48 points and Jason Arnott was traded to the Dallas Stars late in the season for Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner. After the end of the season, Sýkora himself was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. During his first season in Anaheim, Sýkora recorded 34 goals as his Mighty Ducks went to the Stanley Cup finals with Sýkora scoring a quintuple overtime goal against the Dallas Stars in game one of the quarter finals. The Mighty Ducks were eventually defeated by his former team, the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
During the 2005-06 season, Sýkora was traded to the New York Rangers to help them with their playoff push. He and the Rangers made the playoffs only to be swept by one again, the Devils. He signed a one year deal with the Edmonton Oilers the following year, and after that was over, signed for two years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rejuvenated by playing with young superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Sýkora recorded 28 goals and 63 points, his highest total since 2001. He and the Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Finals, but were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in six games. Along the way, Sýkora scored a triple overtime goal in game five to keep the series alive after telling on ice reporter Pierre McGuire that he would be the one to score the goal. The following season, though his production dipped, Sýkora and the Penguins faced Detroit once again and this time came away victorious in seven games. He signed with the Minnesota Wild the following season, but was released after struggling and suffering a concussion. He now plays in the KHL.
8. Tomáš Vokoun
Tomáš Vokoun is one of the most under appreciated players I have ever seen in my time watching the game of hockey. Part of it obviously has to do with the fact that he has spent his entire career on smaller market teams with smaller fan bases, those being the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers (ironically, he played one game with one of the absolute largest NHL markets, the Montreal Canadiens). A late round pick in 1994, he did not make it into the NHL full time until 1998, when he was chosen by the brand new Nashville Predators in the expansion draft.
It would not be until 2002-03 that Vokoun would be a full time starting goaltender. He played 69 games that season, going only 25-31-11, but posted a stellar goals against average and save percentage. This would be the tale of Vokoun's career. His win-loss record is not pretty, but you must watch him play and look at his in depth numbers to really appreciate his brilliance. During the 2003-04 season, the Predators only six years old, Vokoun led the team to the playoffs for the first time, being defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in six games, surprising many who expected pure domination by Detroit. He picked up where he left off after the lockout, leading the Predators back to the playoffs during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. He was not able to play in the playoffs in 2006 however, due to a blood infection, and the Predators were defeated in the quarter finals both seasons by the San Jose Sharks. After the season, Vokoun was traded to the Florida Panthers for a first and second round pick in the 2008 draft.
As with years prior, Vokoun excelled in Florida while the team sputtered, even being named an All Star in his first season there. Now in his fourth season in Florida, Vokoun has quietly been one of the NHL's best goaltenders while his team consistently competes for last place in the league. He is also fast approaching his 300th career win, and as an impending free agent at the age of 34, his career may yet have a Hall of Fame ending.
7. Petr Nedvěd
Petr Nedvěd's name was first heard in North America in 1989. The 17 year old came to Calgary to play in an international midget tournament. The young Czech dominated the tournament with 17 goals and 26 points. Despite the wishes of his parents, Nedvěd defected to Canada with $20 and the help of another Czech, who to this day, he will not name. He arrived at a Calgary police station to declare his defection and suited up for the Seattle Thunderbird of the IHL later that year.
Following the season, in which he dominated to the tune of 65 goals and 145 points, he was drafted second overall by the Vancouver Canucks. His first two seasons were mediocre at best for a player who was supposed to be an instant superstar. He broke out during the 1992-93 season with 38 goals and 71 points, but struggled mightily in the playoffs and upset Canucks fans when he asked his idol, Wayne Gretzky for a stick after Gretzky's Kings eliminated the Canucks.
After that season, during a contract dispute, he signed with the St. Louis Blues. He played only 19 games and scored 20 points. He was then traded to the New York Rangers, where he scored 23 points in 46 games during the lockout shortened season. After the season, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Sergei Zubov in exchange for Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson, which is now considered one of the worst trades in Rangers history.
Nedvěd was an immediate hit in Pittsburgh, recording career highs in goals and points with 45 and 99 respectively. He also scored a quadruple overtime goal in the playoffs to eliminate the Washington Capitals in what was the longest NHL game in 60 years. Next season, he had another strong showing with 33 goals and 71 points. After the season though, Nedved had another contract dispute and sat out the season. He was prepared to do the same the next season until he was dealt back to the New York Rangers two months into the season, where he would spend the next six seasons. He joined up with Radek Dvořák and Jan Hlaváč to form the "Czech Mates" line. He was a perennial scoring leader for the Rangers, even recording 32 goals and 78 points in the 2000-01 season. He was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in 2004 and was unable to resume his career in the NHL on a high level after the lockout and now plays in the Czech Republic. He was invited to the New York Rangers' training camp in 2008, but did not make the final cuts.
6. Martin Straka
Straka was drafted 19th overall in 1992 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team who would later be known for having a high quantity of European stars. He did not break into the NHL until a couple of years later, playing 42 games for the Penguins in 1992-93 and scoring 16 points. In only his second season, he granted us a glimpse of his true talent, netting 30 goals and 64 points. After a slow start to the lockout shortened 1995 season, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators. After struggling with them and finding himself playing short term with both the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, he found himself back with the Penguins in 1997.
It was there that he picked up his career where he left off in 1994. Though his 19 goals and 43 points were modest, it was his highest total since the previously mentioned 1993-94 season. The next season, he turned into a legitimate star, recording 35 goals and 83 points. He would play for the Penguins until 2003, recording a career high 95 points in 2000-01. He was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in late 2003 in exchange for prospects. He struggled in a Kings uniform to close out the season.
After the lockout, he was signed by the New York Rangers, who had begun a "Czech movement" signing many players from Straka's home country. Straka looked to have new life suiting up in Rangers blue, recording 22 goals and 76 points in his first season with the team. Proving that this was no fluke, he recorded 29 goals and 70 points in his second season, marking the first time in his career that he had 70 points in consecutive seasons. He battled injury in his final season with New York, playing in only 65games and recording 41 points. He then signed with HZ Plzeň, a team in the Czech Republic, where he currently plays as one of the top players in the league.
5. Bobby Holík
Hockey was in Bobby Holík's blood. He is the son of Jaroslav Holík, who was a hockey world champion in 1972 and coached the Czech world junior team to consecutive gold medals in 2000 and 2001. Bobby was drafted 10th overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1989 and broke into the NHL in the 1990-91 season with a very successful rookie season, scoring 21 goals and 44 points. After a similar season in 1991-92, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, where his career would take form.
Though he scored only 20 goals and 39 points in his first season in New Jersey, Holík became renowned for his tough, physical, and defensively efficient style of play. Though he was not a point producer, Holík was a key contributor in the Devils' upset win of the Stanley Cup over the Detroit Red Wings in 1995. In fact, he did not break the 40 point plateau with the Devils until the 1996-97 season, when he broke out with 23 goals and 62 points. Holík recorded at least 65 points during the next two seasons. In the 1999-00 season, he dipped down to 46, but once again helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup. After two more 50+ point seasons for the Devils, he became a free agent.
Despite never scoring 30 goals or 70 points in a season, Holík signed an extremely lucrative 5 year, $45 million contract with the Devils' hated cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers. Holík quickly turned into a maligned player in New York, scoring only 35 points in 64 games during his first season. He led the Rangers in scoring during his second year with the team, scoring 25 goals and 56 points. Despite producing along his career lines and playing for one of the worst New York Rangers teams of all time, Holík was still disliked by the fans. During the lockout in 2005, the Rangers decided to cut their losses and buy out Holík.
He signed with the Atlanta Thrashers for the 2005-06 season and though his scoring ability had dissipated, he was a more than competent defensive specialist for the Thrashers, playing for three seasons with the team and even serving as their captain for the 2007-08 season. His career nearing an end, Holík returned to the New Jersey Devils for one final season in 2008-09, retiring at the end of the year to spend time with his family.
4. Milan Hejduk
Another late bloomer, Milan Hejduk was well worth the wait. Drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, Hejduk did not arrive in the NHL until 1998 at age 22, after the Nordiques had become the Colorado Avalanche. He teamed with fellow rookie Chris Drury to lead all rookies in scoring with 48 points, though Drury captured the league's Calder Trophy honors. He emerged as an elite scorer in the NHL in only his second season, scoring an impressive 36 goals and 72 points. He became a favorite linemate of Avalanche legend and captain Joe Sakic, and the two were a nearly unstoppable duo. The following season, Hejduk scored 41 goals and 79 as the Avalanche won the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, especially memorable for sending Ray Bourque out on the top.
The next season, Hejduk struggled with injury, scoring 44 points in only 62 games, but it was the 2002-03 season which was a banner year for him. Hejduk scored an incredible 50 goals and 98 points, securing the NHL's Rocket Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer in the entire league. After another successful season in 2003-04, Hejduk went home to play in the Czech Republic during the lockout.
He returned for the 2005-06 season and struggled, recording only 24 goals and 58 points. He was back in form for 2006-07 with 35 goals and 70 points as longtime linemate Joe Sakic also experienced a resurgence with 100 points. With Joe Sakic now essentially out of commission after this season, Hejduk became the veteran leader of the Avalance along with newly reacquired defenseman Adam Foote. Hejduk did his best on the now struggling Avalanche teams, even becoming the team's lone All Star in 2009. He put up a respectable season during 2009-10 despite battling injury, with 44 points in only 56 games. Hejduk is currently experiencing a career renaissance in 2010-11, averaging a point per game more than halfway through the season and is on pace for his best season since before the lockout.
3. Patrik Eliáš
If there was no Martin Brodeur, the face of the New Jersey Devils would be this man, Patrik Eliáš. Eliáš was drafted by the Devils in 1994 and after bouncing around the AHL, became a full time NHL player in 1997. His first season was respectable with 18 goals and 37 points, and began to show his talent the following season with 50 points as part of the "A-Line", as mentioned on the Petr Sykora slide. It was in the 1999-2000 season, that Eliáš showed that he has what it takes to become a franchise player. He scored 35 goals and 72 points in 72 games while leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup with an impressive 20 points in the playoffs.
He had his finest offensive season in 2000-01, scoring 40 goals and 96 points, a point total that still stands to this day as a Devils record. The Devils returned to the finals only to be defeated by the Colorado Avalanche. He led the Devils in scoring during the 2002-03 season as the defensively minded team from New Jersey once again won the Stanley Cup. He had another successful season the next year before the lockout hit.
During the lockout, Eliáš played in Russia, where he contracted Hepatitis A from eating contaminated food. He lost 30 pounds and was bedridden for an entire month. He did not play hockey again until three months into the 2005-06 season. However, he showed that he had not lost a step, recording 16 goals and 45 points in only 38 games. He dominated the New York Rangers in the playoffs, including a two goal, six point performance in game one alone. He and the Devils were eliminated by the eventual champion Carolina Hurricanes in round two. He recorded 69 points the following season, and then his production dipped down to only 55 during the 2007-08 season. Many people thought Eliáš' career was finally winding down. However, during the 2008-09 season, he proved all his critics wrong.
A reinvigorated Eliáš had his best season since since 2003-04, recording 31 goals and 78 points in 77 games. However, once again, the Devils were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. That season though, was special in more ways than one. On St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, 2009, Eliáš assisted on Brian Gionta's game winning goal to become the New Jersey Devils' all time leading scorer.
He struggled with injury during the 2009-10 season, recording 48 points in 58 games, as the Devils were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers. At this point in the 2010-11 season, Eliáš may be the only bright spot for the Devils, who have fallen off their perch as one of the NHL's elite teams into last place. He was the Devils' only All Star representative.
2. Dominik Hašek
Dominik Hašek could very well be the greatest goaltender to ever put on a set of pads. Drafted by the Blackhawks in 1983, he did not make his NHL debut until the age of 25 in 1990. His first game ended in a 1-1 tie with the Hartford Whalers. He played as Ed Belfour's backup until 1992, when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Stephane Beuregard and future considerations(which later became Éric Dazé). He became the starter partway through the season when Grant Fuhr was injured and quickly developed into a top goaltender.
The following season, Hašek played in 58 games, going 30-20-6 with an incredible 1.95 goals against average and .930 save percentage, winning the first of six, yes, six, Vezina Trophies. Not to be outdone, Hašek put up another incredible season during the lockout shortened 1995, once again winning the Vezina Trophy. The 1996-97 season though, was when Hašek made history by winning not only his third Vezina Trophy, but also the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP. He was the first goaltender to win it since Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens in 1962. It was during this season though, that Hašek began to feud frequently with coach Ted Nolan. After the season, Hašek made it clear that he thought it would be better if Nolan were not rehired. Because of this, Nolan was offered only a one year deal and decided to part ways with the Sabres after he found this to be insulting.
This left many fans angry with Hašek and he was actually booed for the first month or so of the season. However, his simply stellar play eventually got him back in their good graces. Hašek once again was awarded the Vezina Trophy, and more incredibly, became the first goaltender in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy two seasons in a row. The 1998-99 season may have been Hašek's finest. He did not win the Hart, but he was awarded his third consecutive Vezina Trophy after posting a 30-18-14 record with a minuscule 1.87 goals against average and a still NHL record .937% save percentage. He led the seventh seeded Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were eventually defeated in six games by the Dallas Stars on an extremely controversial triple overtime goal by the Stars' Brett Hull.
The following season, Hašek was nagged by injury and played in only 35 games. It was the next though, that he would set a modern NHL record by collecting his sixth Vezina Trophy. After the season, his time with Buffalo came to an end as he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Slava Kozlov and a first round draft pick. He recorded a career high 41 wins and finally captured the Stanley Cup, leading the NHL best Red Wings past the Carolina Hurricanes. With a Stanley Cup ring, Hašek decided to retire.
He stayed retired for only one season, rejoining Detroit for the 2003-04 season, but suffered an injury and played in only 14 games. Now a free agent, Hašek signed a one year deal with the Ottawa Senators. He experienced success in Ottawa, until being injured during the Olympics and missing the rest of the season and playoffs. After the season, he re-signed with the Detroit Red Wings. At the age of 41, Hašek was among the best goaltenders in the league and led Detroit to the conference finals where they were defeated by the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks. He re-upped with Detroit and helped lead the Wings to a President's Trophy win as a split starter with Chris Osgood. Hašek was selected as the starter for the playoffs, but struggled and was replaced by Osgood. The Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup that season and Hašek decided to finally retire, at least from the NHL. Now at age 46, he came out of retirement and currently plays for the KHL's HC Spartak Moscow.
1. Jaromír Jágr
Expecting Michal Rozsíval? No, Jaromír Jágr is the greatest Czech Republic NHL player of all time. Drafted fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990 draft, he became the first Czechoslovak player to be drafted without first having to defect. He joined the Penguins immediately and had a successful rookie season, recording 27 goals and 57 points. He helped Mario Lemieux lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup that season, also becoming the youngest player ever, at 19, to score a goal in the Stanley Cup finals. Jágr had a larger role on the Penguins the next year, with a 32 goal, 69 point season in only 70 games. He scored 11 goals and 24 points in the playoffs as the Penguins won their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
The 1992-93 season saw Jágr cement himself as an elite NHL scorer with a career high 34 goals and 94 points. He had a similar season next year with 32 and 99. But the lockout shortened 1995 season would be the first test of his true greatness. Superstar Mario Lemieux announced that he would miss that season due to fatigue from his cancer treatments. Jágr rose to the occasion, winning his first Art Ross Trophy with 32 goals and 70 points in only 48 games. He had tied Eric Lindros for the scoring lead, but won based on the strength of his 32 goals to Lindros' 29. Lindros, however, captured the Hart Trophy. The 1995-96 season saw Lemieux rejoin the team, and had Jágr show just what he could do with a full season of hockey. He recorded an absolutely incredible 62 goals and 149 points, setting a record in points for both European players and right wingers.
After the following season, Lemieux had decided to retire and leave the Penguins in Jágr's hands. Jágr was subsequently named the Penguins' captain and responded by winning his second Art Ross Trophy with 35 goals and 102 points. He won it once again the following season with 44 goals and 127 points, and also captured his only Hart Trophy for that effort. Despite playing in only 63 games the following season, Jágr was again the league's top scorer.
The 2000-01 season started slow for Jágr. He had clashed with the team's new coach, Ivan Hlinka and was down in the scoring race to the Colorado Avalanche's Joe Sakic. It was clear that Jágr needed a spark. That spark came in the form of Mario Lemieux, who returned to the ice on December 27th, 2000, after a three year absence from hockey. Showing he had not lost a step, Lemieux went on to record 35 goals and 76 points in only 43 games that season. Jágr was also positively impacted. He went on a scoring surge and eventually won his fourth consecutive Art Ross Trophy with 52 goals and 121 points, edging out Sakic by only three points. Jágr however, had become too expensive for the small market Penguins to retain.
After the season, the unthinkable happened as Jágr was traded to the Washington Capitals for assorted prospects. The Capitals proceeded to sign Jágr to the largest contract in NHL history at the time, $77 million over ten years. Noticeably unhappy, Jágr played well for the Capitals, but not nearly to his potential, failing to top the 80 point plateau in his two full seasons there. It was with Washington, however, that he scored his 500th career goal. In 2004, he was traded to the New York Rangers during the Capitals' fire sale in exchange for Anson Carter. Washington had also agreed to pay $4 million of Jágr's salary per season. Jágr played well for the Rangers down the stretch, but they missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
Coming out of the lockout, the Rangers were projected to be the worst team in the NHL. Jágr, however, was unconvinced. He found new life in New York, dominating the NHL to the tune of the second best season of his career, setting Rangers scoring records with 54 goals and 123 points, losing both the Rocket Richard Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy by two goals and points each. He did, however, capture the Lester B. Pearson award. Jágr's Rangers though, more importantly, had broken the streak of playoff futility, and though they were swept by the Devils in round one, it was a step in the right direction.
Named the Rangers' captain for the following season, Jágr had another successful season with 30 goals and 96 points. On November 19th, Jágr became just the 16th NHL player to score 600 career goals. He once again led the Rangers to the playoffs, where they swept the Atlanta Thrashers, but fell to the Buffalo Sabres in the semi-finals. The 2007-08 season was looking to be Jágr's worst. He struggled for most of the season, leading many fans to believe that he was out of gas. However, late in the season, Jágr found new life. He began dominating like he did in his younger days and finished the season with a respectable 25 goals and 71 points, setting a record for consecutive 70 point seasons. He continued to dominate in the playoffs and was the NHL's leading playoff scorer when the Rangers were eliminated by his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semi finals.
A free agent for the first time in his career, the Rangers informed Jágr that the team would not offer him a contract. Unwilling to play for another team, Jágr headed to Russia to play in the newly formed KHL, where currently plays. Jágr left the NHL with 646 goals and 1599 points, 13th and ninth all time respectively. He also ended his career with the seventh highest point per game average in NHL history. The all time leading scorer among European players, Jaromír Jágr is the top Czech of all time.
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