The Flames drafted Samuel Honzek of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants with the 16th overall pick Wednesday night in Nashville.
This feature on Honzek was originally published on June 1.
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 194 lbs. Position: Left Wing Hometown: Trencin, Slovakia Final Ranking: 9th (North American Skaters)
Leaving home at 17 is like one giant swig of adulthood.
Now, consider fleeing the nest and roaming some 8,500 kilometres from your home in Trencin, Slovakia, to a faraway rink in Vancouver, B.C.
You can’t really prepare for something like that. Just grab a glass – na zdravie! – and chug.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, I’m so far from home,'” laughed NHL Draft prospect Samuel Honzek. “It was – I wouldn’t say ‘tough’ – but I got used to it pretty quick and my teammates took me under their wing. At first you’re a little unsure, but when you make (connections) that quickly, it makes the whole thing easier.
“Everything was perfect.”
So, too, was the adjustment on the ice.
Honzek – the ninth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting – is coming off a crucial season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. The year before, he was plying his trade with the hometown ‘Dukla’ of the Slovak Extraliga, scoring 10 goals and adding four helpers on a club whose best players were 10, even 15 years older.
That he finished the 50-game campaign fourth in team goal scoring says plenty about his ability.
But to follow it up and have an immediate impact as a rookie at the WHL level shows that Honzek is a fast learner and will soon be climbing the ladder.
“Personally, I wanted to grow as a player, as a person and prepare myself for the draft,” he said, looking back on his 23-goal, 56-point season that was interrupted due to a pair of injuries – including a gnarly one that shelved him for nearly eight weeks after having the back of his leg stepped on at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
The 6-foot-4, 186-lb. pivot returned to the Vancouver lineup in mid-February, but was then knocked out of another four games thanks to a high hit from Kelowna forward Carson Golder in March. Still, Honzek finished with 11 points (6G, 5A) in his final 12 games of the regular season, before adding another four points (1G, 3A) in as many playoff tilts.
Honzek appeared in two games at the World Juniors before being sidelined with an injury Dale Preston/Getty Images
“Obviously, I had some goals about where I wanted to be with points and all that. But mostly, it was about my habits and making sure I’m ready for the next level,” he explains.
“I’m a really tall guy and can skate really well, so I think it gives me a bit of an advantage on the smaller rink. It (allows) me to get to spots faster and help with my positioning. It feels like I’m more (involved) in the game and am able to use my size to make plays.”
With that in mind, Honzek compares himself to Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl – but playfully acknowledges: “I’m not that good yet.”
‘Yet’ being the operative word in his mind.
This isn’t some silly, starry-eyed goal. Honzek clearly believes in himself and his potential to become an impact player at the NHL level – pointing, specifically, to a player like Draisaitl because of the way he grew into his frame and became a dominant possession player with a wicked one-timer.
“I see a lot of myself in him,” Honzek said. “He’s really tall, really good with the puck, has really good protection and his passes are always on the (mark). I model my game after him, for sure. That’s the kind of player I want to be.”
Honzek was first over the boards in almost every situation including the PK this year, but – like Draisaitl – he truly made his living on the powerplay, which is where many of the comparisons come from.
And it’s easy to see why.
The whole package with a pro frame that shouts from the rooftop: ‘I’m ready for more.’
“At the end of the season, I was the quarterback. I ran the powerplay. I had a big responsibility and loved it. Every situation was running through me.
“The coaches believed in me and I’m thankful for that.