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Martin Necas is not the name on everyone’s lips for this draft

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He’s flying under the radar quite a bit with fans, but maybe he shouldn’t be.



Martin Nečas playing for the Czech Republic against Switzerland at the 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
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By Kaiser matias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin Necas is not a guy getting a lot of buzz, even with the NHL Entry Draft just around the corner. He is a centre, and they usually do get more attention that the usual collection of small wingers and towering defenders, but you rarely hear his name.

He was at the combine last week, but he was in the second group for the fitness tests, before Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Sportsnet didn’t air the first two groups, so no one not there in person saw him do the tests.

There is an interview with him.

Necas is ranked fifth in the NHL Central Scouting European list, below Klim Kostin and the three players who are getting buzz: Elias Pettersson, Lias Andersson and Miro Heiskanen. Necas is, however, ranked in the top ten on most consolidated ranking lists. Future Considerations has him at nine in their June rankings.

The reason he’s flying a bit under the radar is that very few fans have ever seen him play other than at the WJC last January.

Good for his age

An obvious standout on a team that isn’t good enough to contend is the description applied to Nico Hischier at the WJC. Necas fell into Hischier’s shadow at that event, and rightly so. Hischier had seven points to Necas’ three. Necas was not the top guy on his team, just obviously very gifted for a player his age.

But it also pays to remember that most players at the WJC are not that young. Necas turned 18 ten days after it was over. He was the third highest U18 player in points this year, behind Hischier and Eeli Tolvanen.

Necas has always been good for his age and young for his teams. Like a lot of high quality talent in Europe, he has been moved up the difficulty level in his home club until, in his case, he ended up on the championship men’s team this year. His point totals are very similar to Lias Andersson’s, who also won a championship in the top league at home in Sweden.

But the SHL gets more fan attention in North America, and it is very clearly a tougher league than the Czech league where Necas saw success.

However, there were only 20 skaters Necas’ age in that Czech league. He played 41 regular season games out of a 50 game season, missing only a few for the WJC. Only two other players in the U18 group played over 30 games, and Necas led the group in points by 15 to 8 for second place finisher Filip Chytil.

He’s good for his age.

Young for his team

Erik Brännström in his combine interview said an interesting thing about playing with men much older than him as a young teenager.

On the ice, it’s pretty easy to play with them. They think more like you. If you pass the puck, you get it back.

The value of the European system is not that the level of your competition goes up, it’s that the level of the play of your own team goes up. “They think more like you.” So it’s not so much how many points Necas or Andersson or any other player who was on a men’s team put up, it’s that he was put there in the first place, because he can think at their level.

The problem in trying to measure one European player against the other is that the SHL level is not the Czech league level. Not in difficulty, at least.

Necas played on the same team as Martin Erat, and while he might be most famous for the Filip Forsberg trade, he was a 20-goal man in the NHL for a long time. He was HC Kometa Brno’s second highest points man this season at age 35. And so Necas was on the ice with a man who thinks like an NHL player, even if he might not move like one anymore.

Under the radar

But if the fans never see the Czech league, do the scouts? Some teams have massive scouting departments, and some really don’t. There are teams that don’t scout Europe at all these days. And considering how low most players out of the Czech league usually go, you could make a fiscal case for just not bothering on a lot of budget teams.

Most of the recent top Czech picks like David Pastrnak or Pavel Zacha came out of Sweden or the CHL. The last really big name to come straight from his home club in the Czech Republic to the draft was Tomas Hertl.

Given that, if Necas is not getting buzz with fans, then maybe the NHL teams picking in the top ten aren’t going to know enough about him to feel comfortable taking him.

Scouting reports

Winging it in Motown, did an extensive profile on Necas, and understandably so. Detroit is picking ninth, and their draft history includes players taken from the Czech league in the past.

Watching Nečas is a treat to behold. If you were to ask me who the top 5 skaters are in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, I would probably rank Nečas’ skating abilities up there, if not top 3. I might even be inclined to say he might just be the best skater in the draft. One of the first things that catches your eye about him is how incredibly explosive he is, able to reach lighting quick speeds with only a few strides. His first step is a big part of this, which helps him get from 0-60 like he’s Secretariat jumping out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. His footspeed makes him a force to be reckoned with on the transition, especially on odd-man rushes, where he can overwhelm opponents and overtake them very quickly.

Future Considerations’ report from last fall echos this theme.

A strong offensive minded centre…has explosive, darting speed and can duck and dodge with impressive lateral agility…wins races to loose pucks regularly…dangerous when in possession of the puck and screaming down the wing with speed…can both make a play to an open teammate or just drive the puck towards the net himself…is creative seeing the ice well and displaying good timing on his passes…has good strength on the puck although he could improve his body strength overall…is creative possessing smooth hands and ability to pull off some dekes at high speed…his shot jumps off his stick quickly and can surprise with its velocity…has a strong work ethic and does many little things right to contribute…shows good smarts as he leads the rush up ice and dissects the defense before making his play…has some room to grow physically. (November 2016)

At the time, they listed Necas as six feet tall and 165 pounds. At the combine, he was measured at six feet one inch and 178.34 pounds. And while most scouting reports emphasize his slight stature, it seems like it’s a strange thing to worry over in a player who is approximately average height for an NHL forward and is playing on a team full of grown men most of the time. Perhaps the difference stands out?

WIIM touches on that aspect:

If he has any knocks offensively, it’s that he sometimes plays too much on the perimeter. It’s not that he’s incapable of battling in the corners and in front of the net, but this is something that will probably progressively improve as he adds more strength. His most important area of improvement will definitely be adding more power and strength, but this is a very common knock for a prospect of his age.

Mike Morreale of NHL.com did a mock draft back in January and had Necas going at 17th.

Necas (6-0, 167) is an excellent skater with a fine set of tools. He was captain for the Czech Republic at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August and had two goals and four assists in four games. He's fast, has great balance and has confidence in his ability to score and create opportunities.

Sportsnet put out a top 31 in March and had Necas moving up from 10th to eighth.

Plays a very confident two-way game. Defensively responsible, has a great engine and doesn’t tire.

As a centre, he is often reported to be good at defensive positioning and smart about playing the whole of the ice. This and his skating seem like two really big pluses for a young player. But his personal goal-scoring seems to be a little less well supported by evidence.

He has U16 points, and at over two points per game in two years at that level, he was obviously too good for the rest of the boys his age. At U18 league play and international U17 and U18 play, he is at 1.5 and 1.15 PPG respectively, but he consistently had twice the assists to his goals.

He’s a set-up man, not a sniper.

His future

He is set to play in the Czech league again next season, and he has said he doesn’t plan to move to the CHL. NHL teams, however, sometimes like having a prospect close so they can keep an eye on them, and drafting out of Europe and then moving the prospect into the CHL on a loan deal like Alex Nylander had keeps the option open to play in the AHL before age 20.

After he’s drafted, Necas might suddenly find his plans have changed.

Who might draft him? Vegas just signed Tomas Hyka out of the Czech league, whose scouting report on Elite Prospects reads:

Hyka is a winger with great speed and terrific offensive instincts. Owns fine hands and puck skills, but is lacking in size and strength.

Sounds familiar, although Hyka is not a talent on par with Necas.

Detroit, of course, has a pick in a more probable spot than Vegas to take him. Tampa picks at 14, and they are no stranger to European picks or players who are speed-first.

And if he’s still on the board at 17? It seems unlikely given his more recent rankings, but there is no clear pecking order in the players below the top few. Should the Leafs take him if he is available? He’s a right-shooting centre. The Leafs have few of those. And yet, making that call depends on who else is available, but if he’s dropped that far, then the whole draft has gone in a very strange direction.

A centre who is fast and agile and defensively responsible sounds like a good player to have.

Video evidence

Over ten minutes of number 88 (just like Pastrnak) in action this season.