I’m taking a bet on Filip Kral. The vast majority of Toronto Maple Leafs fans, including myself, haven’t seen enough out of this 20-year-old Czech defenseman out of the WHL to know very much about his NHL potential and how he’ll match up against the myriad of defense prospects that currently fill the Toronto Marlies.
But for a fifth-round pick like Kral to get an Entry-Level Contract from the Maple Leafs, that should raise some eyebrows and give us a clue that the Leafs have some level of confidence in this prospect.
Looking first at his Elite Prospects page, Kral has played a lot of hockey in a lot of different settings. Canadian major junior, World Juniors, Czech junior leagues, and about a season in the Czech men’s league. He’s played against his peers, against the best in his age-group, and against men all before the age of 21. That’s a lot more of a resume than some of the other prospects just joining the Marlies in recent years.
In Spokane, Kral was the #2 behind Ty Smith, who won WHL Defenseman of the Year and was picked 132 picks earlier than Kral in the same draft year. Both had a fair number of power play points to boost their counting stats, but in terms of goal differential, Kral wasn’t really close to Smith, even though he was at 58%. Ah well, he’s not a first-round pick player.
Votes - Filip Kral
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He feels like a Dubas/Keefe defenseman (smarts, skating, passing)
As Kyle Dubas enters his third year as Leafs GM (seventh with the organization) with Sheldon Keefe in place as head coach, we’re starting to really see what kind of defensemen these men want on the Leafs. Good skaters, “smart” on the ice, good passers, not much attention to shooting, and mobile.
They obviously love Sandin and want to clone him right-handed three times, he’s their poster-child. Travis Dermott has been another with a similar set of skills. They worked hard on Timothy Liljegren, who had raw skills but was reckless with them, but is now really dependable. They’re working on getting him up to speed again and revealing his raw talents in a controlled way. Calle Rosen is another player they did this to, even though he’s older. Justin Holl. Martin Marincin is definitely this way in the AHL.
And that’s how Kral feels. Katya even made the comment saying, “watching Kral is like watching someone from the future who grew up watching Rasmus Sandin’s glory days on the Leafs and is trying to imitate that.”
He has all those skills, they just need to be refined, and especially built upon. Kral is a good skater, but could add some more explosiveness, he’s got good vision and his coaches love his ability to make a first pass and get the puck moving forward. He just needs to work on those skills and see how far the Marlies development program (that was specifically tailored for this kind of stuff) can take him. Kral is patient and works really hard, so there shouldn’t be an issue with his commitment.
Leafs prospect who completely flies under the radar? Filip Kral. He had quite the year after his injury.— Will Scouch (@Scouching) May 8, 2019
P1 on 32% of ES GF. Pts on 42% Great for a defender.
1.18 P1/60, 1.55 P/60.
65% TotCat% (percentage increase in goal differential relative to team)
19.5%INV, rock solid.
He’s not a dynamic player who’s going to run your offense and be a stand-out player every time he steps on the ice. He’s quite the opposite in terms of style, which isn’t bad. Everyone I’ve read (coaches quotes and scouting reports) all say he’s a solid two-way defender who has been severely underrated since his draft year because he does all the things you want on the ice but won’t dominate it. He was one of the better defensemen in the WHL in his draft year so a few people thought he deserved a second-round pick, but he eventually dropped (farther than people expected) to the Leafs in the fifth round. Kral hasn’t elevated his game offensively very much, though he was a near point-per-game this season, but he was one of the more highly-regarded defensemen in his age-20 year. His coaches raved about him.
But he was still a full tier behind his teammate Ty Smith and most likely won’t look like Rasmus Sandin on the Marlies. But as another solid player who can do what you need in all three zones and play a good possession game. Like Katya says below, he basically fits the Kyle Dubas mold of defensemen. Good skating, good positional awareness, not that big, good first pass, not much of a shot, won’t run a power play.
Scott Wheeler noticed in his watching of Kral that in games where he looked out of it and wasn’t skating, that he really struggled to keep up with the play and be in the right position. Further to the ceiling part, I don’t think anyone’s expecting Kral to play at the point with the man advantage in the NHL.
“When he moves his feet, he’s excellent. He can move the puck, he does a good job getting to holes in the offensive zone as a shooter and he has learned to defend the rush well despite lacking physical element. But I’ve also seen him play some ugly games where he gets caught standing around, he doesn’t track backside pressure well and he doesn’t look dynamic enough to translate the power-play role he plays in junior to the pro level.” - Scott Wheeler [The Athletic]
In terms of consistency and the difference in level between amateur and pro, I’ll share what I usually find (and what they tell me) when junior players come over to the Marlies. Players like Adam Brooks, Trevor Moore, and Travis Dermott have all said that they have needed time to adjust to the increased speed and physicality of the league. Players are on your heels faster and don’t give you as much time to think. You can’t really have a bad game and hide anymore. All of this heightens even further in the NHL. Once they’ve gotten comfortable with the speed, next is the confidence to make special plays, which usually comes after learning what happens when you mess up.
Kral will be a person of interest to me next season on the Marlies. Pretty much the entire defense has a development story and track that is important to follow. Kral will definitely be someone I focus on next season (whenever that is). And if he can earn the confidence of his AHL coach and push for minutes relatively soon, it’ll be a great sign.
The Situation in Pro
Like I said before, Kral has a three-year ELC with the Leafs starting in 2020-21. At his age, there are no entry-level slides or anything that extends his contract for the Leafs, so it’s three years then he’s an RFA. The year after this contract expires, he will need to clear waivers. So all-in-all, this gives the Leafs about three years to figure out what Kral has and mold him into a player worth putting into an NHL lineup.
Using Hollowell as the most recent example, the Marlies have started their youngest prospects in the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers in order to get them lots of minutes in lots of situations. Hollowell got a few spot call-ups throughout the year, and then came up mid-way through and played on the Marlies top-six. Hollowell is now expected to play on the Marlies full-time next season and we’ll see how high up in the lineup he goes.
I would expect the same to happen to Kral and Marlies prospect Noel Hoefenmayer, who is on an AHL contract. Both are left shots, so they’ll end up fighting/sharing the same opportunities. Hoefenmayer is the same age, and he just won both the OHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year awards. There is still a lot he needs to add to his game, particularly skating, but he’s no slouch.
Currently the left-shot depth at the Marlies sits like this: Martin Marincin (or) Calle Rosen, Teemu Kivihalme, Kristians Rubins. Kral is likely next on the depth chart, but that is before the Marlies have signed any AHL free agents (ie. Kevin Gravel types).
If the Marlies believe Marincin or Rosen can fill that role while the other plays extra on the Leafs, that gives Kral the opportunity to forego the ECHL and get some semi-regular minutes with the Marlies. Judging how scouting reports want him to elevate his skills, maximum time in Toronto with their development staff would be best.
From the Masthead
Brigstew is already labeling Kral as the next Andrew Nielsen, so you already know who to blame when we ruin him:
The youngest of the younger AHL/ECHL defensemen, being almost a PPG defensemen in the WHL where scoring is hard though seems nice. But at his age, on a pretty potent team (especially on the PP), I dunno… I get a lot of Andrew Nielsen vibes off of him and what I’ve read some scout-Twitter people I’ve come to trust is a mixed bag. The relative youth he has and the production he had is making me still rank him, and I’ll be following his first professional season closely (assuming there is any AHL/ECHL season to speak of).
Fulemin is looking at the whole picture and is encouraged by how the Leafs have shown interest in Kral:
Hey, look, a 20-year-old who was productive in junior in his D+2. Let’s put up streamers. Kral is in that indeterminate zone where he has done about what you could ask him to do and yet we don’t know much more about his professional career than that he’s going to have one. That’s not nothing—plenty of fifth-round picks don’t get ELCs, which is why I ranked him and not a fourth-round mystery box. Beyond that? Assuming health, his next season will tell us more about his future than his last one.
Katya has seen Kral more than most of us, but it’s still hard to figure anything concrete about him as a prospect until we get some AHL playing time:
The last time I saw Filip Kral was in the WJC in 2019 where he was a role-playing defender on a weak Czech team. I could see exactly what got him drafted by the Leafs. Everything he does is just the same as all the other defence prospects on this list. They’re all small, agile, mobile, good skaters, good passers, with not much attention paid to their individual shot. They also have a huge range of skill and potential. Kral is not Sandin. But is he more than Jesper Lindgren? I ranked Kral and not Lindgren, for the most part because Kral is really young — younger than Abruzzese who was drafted last year. But ask me after this Marlies season, and I might have a better idea about him.
Here’s some puck rushing:
Filip Kral (TOR) is one of the craftiest puck-movers in the WHL. Not an explosive skater, but consistently separates with convincing deception through fakes, crossovers, changes of speed, cunning routes. Probably won't see a ton of these rushes in pro, but I appreciate the tools. pic.twitter.com/Xx9hBIGZI4— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) April 1, 2020
Here’s a highlight reel of Kral’s goals and a few assists:
Where did you rank Kral compared to Lindgren, Duszak, Hollowell, and Rubins?
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