Josef Hrabal: Maverick?

Jonathan Willis
January 23 2009 12:00PM

Here’s the transaction wire for Josef Hrabal since this summer:

  • May 30, 2008 – Signs a two-year entry level contract with Edmonton
  • September 25, 2008 – Assigned to Springfield (AHL)
  • October 14, 2008 – Assigned to Stockton (ECHL)
  • October 20, 2008 – Assigned to Springfield (AHL)
  • November 3, 2008 – Assigned to Stockton (ECHL)
  • November 22, 2008 – Assigned to Springfield (AHL)
  • January 21, 2008 – Assigned to Stockton (ECHL)

For those of you unfamiliar with Hrabal, he’s an older (23) European defenceman who has had a decent career playing for Cherepovets Severstal of the RSL (now the KHL) and Vsetin HC in the top Czech league. Last season, Hrabal was the top-scoring defenceman for Cherepovets, outscoring players like Phoenix rookie Viktor Tikhonov and former NHLer Dmitri Yushkevich.

He’s been a difficult defenceman for the Oilers to sign; he was a 2003 draft pick, and it took five years before the Oilers could agree with him on an entry level contract.

His debut North American season has been a disappointment. He suffered a shoulder injury in training camp and missed most of the pre-season. He was sent to Springfield early on, but the coaching staff there hadn’t seen him play and didn’t get him into the line-up, so he was sent to Stockton to get his feet wet. He’s bounced between the NHL and the AHL ever since.

After finally getting into the AHL lineup, Hrabal’s offence has been pretty much non-existent (one assist in 17 games). Still, he’s been playing fairly hard competition, and has an even plus/minus on a team with some really ugly numbers (Taylor Chorney’s -21 and Mathieu Roy’s -22 come to mind). He would seem to be a superior player to third-pairing defender Bryan Young, who is also -6 with marginal offence against sub-par competition.

Despite the continued presence in the lineup of Chorney, Roy and Young, Hrabal was assigned to Stockton again on the 21st. He has, however, refused to report to the team. At this point, there still hasn’t been an official reaction from the Oilers, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see Hrabal return to Europe.

It’s a shame, because Hrabal had a nice European resume coming into this season, and looked like a legitimate prospect. He was hurt early on, and the Oilers have a wealth of defensive prospects in the system (all told, 10 25-or-younger defencemen have played for Springfield this season), so from the moment that injury occurred he was in some trouble. His failure to generate offense in the AHL was probably the death blow to his NHL hopes.

Still, I don’t think the Oilers organization escapes some blame here. Springfield’s been a disaster this season, with multiple glaring errors made by both the management (Kevin Prendergast being the guy in charge) and the coach. The fact that Mathieu Roy, a train wreck since his training camp injury, gets ice-time over Hrabal is difficult to defend. The fact that Taylor Chorney continues to get ice-time despite getting killed in +/- and not putting up points is defensible only from a player development angle, and there’s an argument to be made that he might benefit from a reduction in his workload. Finally, Bryan Young’s continued inclusion in the line-up boggles the mind; both Hrabal and Bisaillon would seem to bring a more needed skill-set to the team, and yet they’re sent down in favour of a third-pairing AHL defenceman.

I can understand some frustration on Hrabal’s end; he’s played very well on his last two stints in Stockton, and being sent there again when he hasn’t been the worst defenceman on the roster must irk. Still, it isn’t like he was shooting the lights out in Springfield.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 King Mob
January 23 2009, 01:24PM
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yeah, he's a Maverick all right- in the Sarah Palin sense of the word.

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#2 Didsdave
January 23 2009, 01:34PM
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Sounds like Truitt is Mact's kind of guy

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#3 The Towel Boy
January 23 2009, 01:58PM
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Thanks for this Willis...I've had "Danger Zone" in my head since I read it. Thanks a bunch!

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#4 RLH
January 23 2009, 02:37PM
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Take my breath away.

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#5 Ducey
January 23 2009, 02:38PM
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Seems like more of a "Goose" to me. Not good enough to be a pilot and gets killed off in the end.

I can see Lowetide getting all weepy sitting on his motorcycle right now...

Roy is going to be the priority as he is on a 1 way and would seem to be a candidate to get things turned around as he has a decent track record. Chorney has a much higher pedigree and has apparently justified keeping in there by recent decent play.

I hope the Oilers get someone better than Truitt next year. He has not had anyone develop this year and a lot of guys have taken a step back.

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#6 Jonathan Willis
January 23 2009, 02:45PM
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Ducey wrote:

Roy is going to be the priority as he is on a 1 way and would seem to be a candidate to get things turned around as he has a decent track record.

Roy's contract expires at the end of the season - I don't think he'll be resigned.

Things really went sideways for him this season, and it's really too bad because he looked like he might turn into a chippy bottom-pairing guy for a while there.

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#7 sitting_at_my_desk
January 23 2009, 03:46PM
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who really cares about him.... wahtever happen to michel riesen?

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#8 Dave A
January 23 2009, 09:04PM
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Still, I don’t think the Oilers organization escapes some blame here. Springfield’s been a disaster this season, with multiple glaring errors made by both the management (Kevin Prendergast being the guy in charge) and the coach. The fact that Mathieu Roy, a train wreck since his training camp injury, gets ice-time over Hrabal is difficult to defend. The fact that Taylor Chorney continues to get ice-time despite getting killed in +/- and not putting up points is defensible only from a player development angle, and there’s an argument to be made that he might benefit from a reduction in his workload. Finally, Bryan Young’s continued inclusion in the line-up boggles the mind; both Hrabal and Bisaillon would seem to bring a more needed skill-set to the team, and yet they’re sent down in favour of a third-pairing AHL defenceman.

So what are these horrible management decision that you talk about?

And playing Roy over Hrabel is bad why? Because YOU think he might be a player. You have never watched him once, and sorry but you are not an evaluator of talent. You are a stats guy.

I respect your believe in stats, but sorry when you start to critize coaching mistakes, when you have never watched them play is comicall. Maybe Young plays more than Hrabel as a 3rd pairing D man because he kills penalties and is physical? Geez I have never watched them and that would seem like a logical reason.

Keep to commenting on stats, at least you have some credibility there. You ripping the coach when you have never seen a game is ridiculous. Stick to what you know, you are good at it, but please don't become a columnist who never watches...

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#9 Jonathan Willis
January 24 2009, 12:00AM
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@ Dave A:

How many Springfield games have I watched this season? Do you actually know the answer, or are you running on assumption? (Hint: it's the latter)

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#10 alphah
January 24 2009, 04:57AM
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Truitt needs to go.. we have better coaches twiddling their thumbs in our organization... the performance/development/decision making in Springfield has been irksome at best.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
January 24 2009, 07:52AM
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@ Dave A:

Incidentally, if you want to know what fans who watch every single game think of Truitt, read here.

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#12 voxel
January 24 2009, 08:00AM
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Isn't the report on him is that he is too small? 176lb according to the AHL site. He needs to go on a BigMac diet.

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#13 Dave A
January 24 2009, 09:54AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Dave A: Incidentally, if you want to know what fans who watch every single game think of Truitt, read here.

Jon,

I have read that link, and I don't give it much credibility because that Bryan guy thinks Schremp would be an 80 point player in the NHL. It is like he has a man-crush on him, it is really weird actually. The guy has pictures of him all over his site, that is bordering on stalkerish...haha

So how many games have you seen? And you still didn't answer that Young is a better fit as 3rd pair Dman because he kills penalties, blocks shots and is physical. You do need that element in the lineup. Bisaillon doesn't bring that, and neither does Hrabel.

I don't doubt people will rip the coach, but don't you have to look at how weak the rest of offence is that when guys like Reddox, Brule and Potulny aren't there no one can score. You can't make these guys score regardless of who the coach is.

But that wasn't the point you made in your atricle. It was about Hrabel, and I asked why you think he is a better 3rd pair Dman??? And playing Roy ahead of him also makes sense since Roy was close to being a 7th or 6th Dman here if he could ever stay healthy, and he is 100 times tougher. Last year Springfield got beat up physically, and this year they have added some beef in Lefevbre and Benson, but they clearly want depth in that department and Roy brings that.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
January 24 2009, 10:31AM
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Dave A wrote:

It was about Hrabel, and I asked why you think he is a better 3rd pair Dman??? And playing Roy ahead of him also makes sense since Roy was close to being a 7th or 6th Dman here if he could ever stay healthy, and he is 100 times tougher. Last year Springfield got beat up physically, and this year they have added some beef in Lefevbre and Benson, but they clearly want depth in that department and Roy brings that.

Young's a great open-ice hitter, and he does his stuff on the PK, but Springfield's had a poor PK all season and between Peckham, Roy, Young, Taylor there's plenty of physicality to the defence.

Roy's got the track record, but both him and Chorney are below -20 +/- wise; however flawed a number it is I think it makes it clear that they're getting killed.

Basically, I figure that Hrabal deserves the spot over Young/Roy because at this point physical play is less of a need for the team than someone who can play smart positional hockey and maybe chip in some offense. Hrabal has a great track record but can't seem to get on track in that department this season; I'd like to see him in a few more games.

The other thing I consider is that Roy and Young are basically write-offs as NHL prospects right now (they've both had long opportuinities in the AHL, and we know what they are likely to become); a strong second-half would push Hrabal (who hasn't played much North American hockey, and is still a bit of a question mark) into consideration.

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#15 Traktor
January 25 2009, 06:39PM
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Typical mismanagement of a player that actually has potential.

There's no reason that Hrabel or Lerg should have ever touched the ECHL. If you're not an impact AHL veteran or a player with NHL potential then you shouldn't be playing.

You can almost guarantee that Omark will be handled like shit next year too.

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