I mentioned in the Beckett Hendrickson piece that I like to mine for hidden gems by looking at 'depth' players on loaded teams who are hidden by their lack of playing time. Well, I also like to do the same thing but in reverse: I like to look at players on really bad teams who maybe don't get a lot of points, but are doing the right things and just don't have the teammates around them to finish plays or set them up.
Maybe such players aren't real elite stars, otherwise they would still produce a good amount of points. But that doesn't mean they aren't good or even very good players and worthy prospects. In fact, may look a lot worse than they actually are – and that they may project into the future. Playing for bad teams can just really warp stats and the eye test.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
- Position: Right-shot defense
- League(s): WHL
- Height: 6'2"
- Weight: 176 lbs
- Birthdate: August 3rd, 2005
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (outside top 80)
- Scott Wheeler: Unranked (outside top 100)
- Elite Prospects: 91st
- Dobber Prospects: Unranked
- Smaht Scouting: Unranked
- Future Considerations: Unranked
Vojtech Port is a Czech defenseman who was an import draft pick in the WHL last year. He was actually taken by Red Deer, but when they had too many import draft picks commit to them they traded him to Edmonton after only two games to start this year. Those Edmonton Oil Kings were actually one of the top teams last year, and sold the farm to make the Memorial Cup. But then all their best players were either moving on from the CHL, or had been traded away.
This year Edmonton was... bad. Very, very bad. They finished with a record of 10-54-4, had 24 points in 68 games, and a 17.6% winning percentage. They had a goals for of 131, fewer than two goals per game and the very worst in the league by 57 goals. They also allowed a league worst 338 goals against, a fraction less than 5 goals per game. So their goal differential was a whopping -207. So yeah, they were bad.
Port was one of Edmonton's best players last year. He played a lot of minutes in all situations, in large part because they had no one else. He had a marked improvement over the season, as he adjusted to a new home, language, culture, and style of hockey. By the end of the year he was playing more and with more confidence – he also apparently grew a couple of inches over the season, based on the height he was listed at to start the year vs now.
THE GOOD: OFFENSIVE PROJECTION
As of now, Port mainly profiles as an offensive defenseman, especially as a puck mover – both with his feet carrying the puck himself, or passing it up the ice. His biggest strength is definitely as a skater, and not just in the strict sense of his mechanics. He has nifty slippers the same way other players have nifty mittens – tons of feints, fakes, jukes, and other bits of deception to break defenders' ankles. That said, he also has a good set of hands and gained a lot of confidence rushing with the puck. I wouldn't say he's an elite skater, but has the speed and maneuverability to make end to end rushes fairly regularly.
The other ability Port showed was making passes. He's no Mitch Marner, or even a Morgan Rielly. But he showed he was capable at making all kinds of creative passes, both short and long. He had some nice stretch passes to create some rush opportunities for his team. On the other hand, he could also make little slip or saucer passes in close. The best part about his skating and playmaking combination is that it comes through in both transition opportunities, but also on set offensive zone possessions.
On rush chances, Port uses his skating to build speed while employing a number of feints and fakes to shed forecheckers and find open lanes to skate through the defenders. When he gets into the offensive zone, he can be a little shot happy... but usually because he has no teammates with him or open. When he does have passing options, he can hit them with a nice pass. Here are some examples, Port is always #44.
In the offensive zone, Port could pull off some slick dekes to get a clear path deeper into the more dangerous areas of the ice. Typically, he'd rely as much on making his dekes with his feet as he would with his stick – maybe a bit more. From there he can fire a better shot for a scoring opportunity, or set up his teammate.
Honestly, at times Port was acting like a true rover if not just an outright forward. He'd be doing a lot for Edmonton when he was on the ice, often because he was the only one who could make something happen. He's definitely a better passer than he is a shooter, but with the scoring chances he could create for himself he wouldn't necessarily need a great one to score or create rebounds and chaos around the net.
Here are some examples of the offense Port created in the offensive zone off set possessions.
THE FLAWS: REFINEMENT
Vojtech Port is going to be a longer term project, make no mistake about that. While he has a nice looking highlight reel, there are a lot of areas of his game that will need development and refinement to be an NHL defenseman. He'll need some work defensively, for starters. Him growing two inches this year will help, especially after he fills in that frame with some muscle and he can battle in front of the net and along the boards. But that's not going to help much if he doesn't gain a better sense of focus and being in the right places on the ice.
Now, this may be an area where being on a bad team didn't help, but Port at times could get lost in his own end. I don't know if he just couldn't decide where he should be because he thought he had to do everything, since that's a theme I think carried over to the offensive side as well. If and when Edmonton gets better, and they should get better over the next two years if he doesn't get traded to a contender one year or head to Europe instead, he'll be more adapted to North American style of play. It's a shame that Port had an injury end his season a month or two early, as by the end he was really starting to grow into his own.
The other thing he'll really need to work on is refining his skills, especially his shot. He could fire some nice looking shots at times, but he'd miss the net a fair amount or just lob a limp noodle of a wrister that was easy for the goalie to save. One of the reasons why his point totals were low despite those nice looking chances he created is he just didn't have a dangerous shot to finish the job. This is another area where working on his mechanics and adding some muscle will help.
My one worry with him playing with such a bad team is the bad habits he may be gaining, and the good ones he isn't. When he goes pro, he shouldn't still have it in his head that he should do everything because that's just not going to fly. It would also be a big help for him to get used to playing within a system, which does take some trust in your teammates on the ice. That's a hard lesson to learn when you simply can't trust them because the team is so bad. If the Maple Leafs do draft him, I'm hoping he can have regular communication with the development team in Toronto to get him working on little things like that so he can keep adjusting and improving his game.
Overall, Port seems like a very toolsy but unrefined prospect. He has some skill and he can flash it pretty regularly right now, but there are some inconsistencies in his decision making and focus. His tools are also more like blunt instruments right now that can work alright in junior, but will not fly even in the AHL. That's the risk you'd be taking with him, because there would be a good deal of work and time to get him where he needs to be.
Needless to say, this is the kind of prospect you're looking at in the later rounds. There's going to be more serious flaws and concerns that make them "risky". Maybe they don't have the skill, maybe they have terrible decision making, or anything else along those lines that top prospects have already developed past.
But Port is also the kind of prospect I like to take a swing on in the later rounds. They may be flawed, but they are the kinds of flaws that can be worked on in the right environment and with the right oversight. Their fitness and nutrition team can get him as healthy as a horse, and to help bulk up more in all the right ways. The skill and development coaches can give him pointers on how to improve his mechanics for skating, shooting, passing, and defending, and give him mental tips to refine his decision making.
Port's problem is not a lack of skill, just a lack of refinement. He may still have that risk, and it may take more time and work to develop him compared to other prospects, but there is something there that is enticing. As an August birthday, he's also one of the younger prospects in the draft with – in theory – more room to develop.
And there are so few people ranking Port at all, I would not be surprised if he was available in the later rounds. Not a lot of points, not playing under a big microscope, no international tournaments to get more attention, missing a lot of the late season period so he was out of any spotlight for longer than most... I could see it. And I'd love for Toronto to swing on him.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!