Jakub Nakladal was an...interesting...pick up. It's not often that European defenders come over to North America at the age of 27 and get signed by a NHL team. He must have something that really stood out to even be considered.
I wanted to know more about Nakladal, so I spoke to a person who knows more about European hockey than anyone else I know.
Jon Rowson has worked for the KHL team that Nakladal played on, and most recently wrote for the Champions Hockey League, Europe's hockey version of the UEFA soccer tournament. I asked him about the Flames' new import.
M&G: How much do you know of Nakladal?
JR: I’ve seen quite a bit of him over the years. He was always one of those players you’d notice on the ice during his time in the Czech Extraliga with Pardubice, and from then on he’s gone from strength to strength.
During their two seasons in the KHL, I worked as part of Lev Praha’s media team, so I saw an awful lot of Nakládal during the 2013-14 season, where he was a part of Lev’s Gagarin Cup Final run. Their mid-season acquisitions of Ryan O’Byrne and Marc-Andre Gragnani shunted him down the depth chart somewhat with Lev.
He fell off my radar somewhat last year with the move to Finland, but he certainly impressed at the IIHF World Championships in Prague in May 2015, and was a real joy to watch
M&G: What should we expect from him? What kind of defenceman is he?
JR: It’s difficult to say, because you never know how players from Europe are going to fare over in North America. Just to use this season as an example, for every Artemii Panarin, there is a Sergei Plotnikov.
However, Nakládal, I believe, has all the tools to succeed at the NHL level as a bottom six defenceman. He’s one of those defencemen who can just eat up minutes on the ice, playing a relatively no-frills style of defensive hockey. An above-average skater but with limited puck skills, I would not be expecting Nakládal to be having any powerplay time, but he will certainly have a role to play on the penalty kill.
The one misnomer on Nakládal which might hamper him in North America is the expectation of defensive defencemen to be overtly physical, which has not only not really been a massive part of his game. All-in-all, I think he can provide from NHL teams would be looking for from a #6/#7 defenceman, insofar as being a real stable force at the back-end.
His fantastic start in Stockton, picking up three assists in two games, is a bit of an outlier considering his general production output.
M&G: Is he somebody who particularly stood out to you?
JR: In a way, yes, and in a way, no. There’s that cliché that the best thing for a defensive defenceman to be is unnoticeable, and there is certainly that which could be said about him. However, he always stood out to me as a smart player who the vast majority of the time makes smart plays, and with the exception of his puck moving skills, had very few noticeable flaws.
M&G: Were you surprised when the Flames signed him?
JR: Somewhat, as it’s very rare that you see mature players make the jump to North America after solid European careers and really stick it out. You have guys like Roman Červenka who was truly dominant with Slavia Praha and Avangard Omsk, who spent a really brief, uninspiring time with the Flames.
I think more NHL teams would take chances on mature European players, if they showed the commitment to go down to the AHL if they were sent down, but often there is a monetary aspect to why these players don’t like to be sent down, as well as the obvious lack of prestige the AHL holds. However, for some players the travel that the KHL necessitates isn’t an attractive prospect, especially for a player with a young family, so I can see why Nakládal made the move.
There were probably better potential players in Europe for the Flames to sign, but I would assume most were unwilling to sign a two-way contract.
M&G: How do you fare his chances of sticking around?
JR: It is entirely dependent on how quickly he adjusts to playing on the smaller ice surface. I think for a guy of Nakládal’s skill-set, that might actually do him good, rather than playing on the bigger surfaces in Europe.
I don’t think Nakládal has a chance of troubling the first or second pairings, but he is just a good third pairing defenceman, and I think if he sticks to that he certainly has a chance of spending a large part of the season with the Flames.
A one-year contract is not a lot of time though, especially when you factor in the adjustment period, so he’ll have to hit the ground running.
A big thanks to Jon for his time. If you have an interest in European hockey, give him a follow @JonRowson.