Under most circumstances, a prospect who wasn't drafted in their first eligible year wouldn't be taken very high. After all, a player who's passed over at age 18 isn't likely going to show more potential after another year of development. However, right winger Tomas Hyka isn't your average 19-year old prospect. Hyka has something every other prospect in this draft doesn't have: NHL interest.
You see, while Hyka was not drafted in 2011, he was invited to training camp by the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers believed that since he was not selected by anyone, he would be a free agent. He practiced with their NHL and AHL players and even appeared in a preseason game. He almost didn't; he had to be brought back by the team before he left to his junior team. Not only did he get to play, he even scored a breakaway goal in a 4-2 loss to Toronto. The reaction from Hyka's play was quite positive. The quotes after the game according to Travis Hughes' recap at Broad Street Hockey included praise for the winger. Matt P. of the 700th Level had summed up Hyka's night and included video of the goal in his recap. The Flyers were interested in him enough to give him minutes in a game at a late notice and apparently wanted to signing him.
However, they couldn't. After the preseason game, Travis Hughes asked the question on Broad Street Hockey and concluded that by the terms of the CBA, they couldn't. The very next day, Hughes followed up with the news that the Flyers really couldn't sign Hyka. The Flyers' lack of understanding of the CBA has become everyone else's gain. With prior interest by the Flyers, other NHL teams have definitely become aware of the player. It's unclear where exactly he'll end up; but he's not going to be passed over again in 2012. Let's learn more about Hyka after the jump.
Tomas Hyka Career Statistics
Who is Tomas Hyka?
Tomas Hyka was born on March 23, 1993. He's officially listed by Central Scouting Services as a right-shooting right winger who is 5'11" and 160 pounds. Since he played for the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) last season, Hyka has been ranked as a North American skater. While his player card at NHL.com does not have any opinion on him, at the midterm he was ranked 65th and has moved up to 45th in CSS' final rankings. The improvement in ranking is a good thing.
Of course, you may be caught up by the second sentence: he's not at all a big player. The height by itself isn't a big deal, but the weight certainly will be one. Hyka really does need to beef up in the future. It is a positive is that he has had a successful season at Gatineau, his first in North America where the rinks are smaller and the game is more physical. According to Gatineau's stats page at the league's site, Hyka's 64 points led Gatineau in scoring, he led the team in assists, he finished tied for second with 20 goals, and he also led his team in shots on net with 134. Additionally, he was tied second on the team in dangerous shots with 73, so a good percentage of those shots were good ones to take. (Aside: the Q actually counts something like scoring chances. I wish other leagues did this.) Those totals don't stack up well among the league, but it hurt that that Gatineau wasn't very good. The Olympiques finished 26-32-5-5 and really only made the playoffs because almost everyone does in the Q. A stronger team could have resulted in a more productive season for Hyka, since he appears to be more of a playmaker. So would have a longer season as Hyka missed 12 games due to international play with the Czech U-20 team and an injury from a knee-on-knee hit late in the season that wasn't called and led to his coach throwing a garbage can on the ice.
Normally, that level of production would be very good for a player's first season in the Q. That said, I'm hesitant to say it's great. While Hyka did come into a brand new league and had to adjust to smaller rinks and a more physical game, he was also a year older as prospect. It's expected for the older players to be productive in a major junior league. That additional year of play can make all the difference in a league full of players trying to make strides towards their potential. As I understand it (and I may be wrong), his advanced age also means that whoever drafts him can only have him in junior for another season. This may be a positive should the team want him in the AHL in the following season as I believe he'd be eligible at 20 years old.
What Experts Have Said About Tomas Hyka
He's an above-average and arguably plus skater with tremendous speed and well above-average acceleration. Hyka has a light frame and he just soars through the neutral zone when he gets a couple of steps of momentum. He can push the pace in transition with his speed but also has the skill and sense to make plays. Hyka is a good thinker as he has the vision to create for his team mates; he can make passes through tight lanes and also has a solid pair of hands to create offense in open ice. He has an admirable work ethic too, as he will get in on the forecheck to pressure opponents and hustle back to cover his assignment. His one major area of concern is his physical game. He's so small and weak physically that he can be brushed off the puck with a single push and had a hard time planting himself in the high percentage areas. I like his intangibles so, I think there's room for that concern to clear up if he works on his body a lot.
The staff at Hockey's Future has also profiled Hyka, noting his speed and his lack of size.
A skilled speedster who was passed over in last year's draft, Hyka was likely passed over because of his lack of size and strength. He proved his doubters wrong with an impressive rookie campaign in the QMJHL, even though he spent his fair share of the season sitting out with injury. A dynamic offensive talent, Hyka has great hands to go along with his quick legs. It was only due to some confusion over his eligibility that Hyka was not signed last summer and he won't be overlooked again this year.
The Scouting Report ranked Hyka 52nd on their top 100. Along with the ranking, TSR noted that he doesn't necessarily go into the "dirty areas" of the ice along with praise for his skating and his hands.
After being passed over in 2011, Hyka came over to the QMJHL and immediately showed why he should have been picked last summer. Hyka is a very good playmaker who has a high skill level and great hockey sense. When given time and space, he can make teams pay and is a constant offensive threat. However his willingness to battle and absorb contact will ultimately be what makes or breaks his career. As it stands, Hyka definitely shies away from the dirty areas on the ice and can be neutralized by physical players. While it remains to be seen if this changes in the forthcoming seasons, Hyka does have significant talent and could be a great niche player who excels on the powerplay.
Chris Lund at Backhand Shelf did a profile on Hyka about a week ago. Here's his projection from what they learned:
Hyka is a classic risk/reward type of player that we’ve seen enter the forefront of the NHL’s young crop since the rule changes instituted during the lockout. A (very) small player with speed for days and creativity, he will be picked by a team early on with the intention of slotting him in as a high upside depth scorer.
All of these opinions converge to a number of conclusions on Hyka. The bad news is that he's small and he's not strong. It will affect his ability to be effective at the next level unless he gets stronger. Even if he gets beefier, physical play could be a problem for him. The good news is that Hyka is a very good skater with good hands and vision with the puck. He's a talented playmaker, the concern for his future is whether his talents can make up for his weaknesses.
A Little Video
Lund's profile on Hyka has video of the winger speaking from the NHL Scouting Combine. It's good if you want to hear from the player himself. Here's some clips of him doing what he does on the ice. First, here's a highlight where Hyka (#71) and Emile Poirier hooked up on a give-and-go into the zone and Hyka finishing a pass from Adam Janosik for a score against Val-d'Or.
Second, here's Hyka flying into the zone, streaking back to pick up a loose puck along the boards, and gliding to the high slot to burn Shawinigan with a wrist shot.
Third, in this video, you'll see Hyka come in from down low to score up close and then succeed in a shootout against Drummondville.
Lastly, here's a behind-the-net fan-cam of Hyka getting the puck down low on the right side, patiently getting around the defender, and putting the puck off the goalie's side and into the net.
These videos do show Hyka motoring real well. Since they're all goals, there's not a lot of evidence of his playmaking skills, but his awareness and his handling of the puck all looks quite good. He's also got a nice looking shot, too.
An Opinion of Sorts
There's a consensus of sorts surrounding where Hyka will be drafted this year: late in the second round. It's universally agreed that he'll be drafted. He's projected to go somewhere in the second round. Pronman thinks he'll be at 59th, CSS has him at 45th among North American skaters which would place him in that 50-70 range overall, the Scouting Report has him at 52nd, and Derek Zona's compilation of draft rankings over at NHL Numbers slots Hyka in at 58th. This means he might be available for the Devils at 60th overall.
He had a good season in the Q and the Flyers tipped their hand in wanting to sign him after seeing him with pro players and their top prospects, only to find out they don't know the rules. In addition, he has demonstrated that he's a very good skater, he has good hockey sense, he can make plays with the puck, he can fire off a good shot, and he works hard. That's too many positives for teams to ignore. However, his lack of size plus his advanced age really dampens enthusiasm about the player. His skating may allow him to get out of a lot of potential jams, but it's going to be an issue when the players at higher levels of pro hockey can all skate well and be physical. That will limit his abilities, to say the least. Were he 18 and had done what he did in this season, he'd likely be a first rounder. Since he's had a year of development, he's a second day pick as everyone has more knowledge of what kind of player he'll turn out to be. I'm sure Hyka will be pleased whenever he does get picked.
I think selecting Hyka at 60th overall would be a good selection. The New Jersey Devils are bereft of skilled forwards in the system, and Hyka would address that at the prospect level. Not only that, he'd be a right shooting right winger, something the Devils really don't have in the system. Yes, his lack of physical play and strength his a big risk along with the general risk of all prospects (the skills you see now may not fully carry over); but it's a risk that the Devils should be willing to take. Should Hyka be able to get stronger and prove he can withstand some of the rough stuff without hindering his game, then he's got a real future. Given that he's such a good skater and an offensive player, the reward could be great. Besides, the Devils are picking so late in the second round that the most of the prospects available will carry some significant risk. I'd rather the team go with someone like Hyka than someone "safe" with little upside.
Lastly, whoever takes him should send a thank you card to the Flyers organization.
Now that you've read what is out there about Tomas Hyka, I want to know what you think. Are you put off by his size and strength? Do you think his skating and offensive skills are intriguing enough that the his strength may not be an issue? Would you be pleased if he was selected in the second round or later by the Devils, or do you think they should pass on him? Lastly, did you see Hyka play in the Q or know of any other good reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments along with your answers and other thoughts on Hyka. Thanks for reading.