AHL Prospect Rankings: #13 – Josef Hrabal


The first serious scouting report that I can find on Josef Hrabal is a rather interesting Hockey’s Future article by a fellow named Robert Neuhauser. It was published in December of 2002, early in Hrabal’s draft year. Given where it was written and the occasionally sloppy prose, I was initially tempted to conclude that Neuhauser’s first language wasn’t English, and that he was probably something of an amateur amateur scout (it’s funny because I repeated the words… never mind). As it turns out, Neuhauser’s a pretty serious hockey guy – in addition to at one time being the Czech editor for Hockey’s Future, Neuhauser writes for McKeen’s Hockey and scouts for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The point here is that the information on Hrabal comes from a credible source, so it’s probably worth a full read to anyone interested in the player, although I’ll sum up some of it here.

Hrabal’s father apparently pushed him into the sport, but Hrabal took to it quickly and was used as a defenseman by his early coaches. He had a reputation not only as an offensive defenseman early on, but as a team leader. There’s a bunch of irritatingly trivial personal stuff in the report as well (Hrabal’s nickname is “Hrabos”, which means Vole in Czech), but one thing of note is that Hrabal had no intention of playing junior hockey in North America because he wanted to finish high school education in the Czech Republic, and although he had the desire to play in the NHL, he really wasn’t in a rush, preferring to progress through the European leagues. Likely of more interest is the scouting report that Neuhauser gives us of the 17-year old:

A smooth, poised blueliner, Josef Hrabal brings a nice two-way game to the table. He is a talented puckrusher with a strong creativity, he only needs to keep his game simple and avoid unnecessary mistakes when making the decision with the puck. Josef plays a positionally sound game and has very good passing skills. He doesn’t possess a cannon of a shot, but his shots are very accurate and quite easy to tip. He is effective at bringing his shots through. Josef has to mature more as he is sometimes guilty of some defensive lapses and his defensive-zone intensity neeeds some upgrading, too. Right now he seems better suited for a career in Europe given the fact that he doesn’t play the body very often and relies more on his finesse. The key factor will be how far Josef is able to upgrade his skating. He skates only average and could use a better agility and balance. To sum up, Hrabal is very raw, but talented, he looks like a project.

Let’s balance that scouting report with Hrabal’s European statistics, courtesy of Eurohockey. The Czech Leagues are divided by age, and we can get an interesting look at Hrabal’s progress through HC Vsetin’s feeder system (in the Czech league, like most European leagues, every franchise has a senior team and a system of junior teams). The 2001-02 season was when Neuhauser wrote his report.

Junior (U-18)

  • 1999-00: 32GP – 0G – 0A – 0PTS – 2 PIM – -9
  • 2000-01: 43GP – 3G – 5A – 8PTS – 33 PIM – -19
  • 2001-02: 10GP – 2G – 5A – 7PTS – 6 PIM – +5

Junior (U-20)

  • 2001-02: 38GP – 4G – 2A – 6PTS – 18 PIM – EV
  • 2002-03: 30GP – 6G – 7A – 13PTS – 12 PIM – unk.
  • 2003-04: 46GP – 12G – 7A – 19PTS – 54 PIM – -2
  • 2004-05: 19GP – 6G – 8A – 14PTS – 42 PIM – +15


  • 2002-03: 6GP – 0G – 0A – 0PTS – 4 PIM – -4
  • 2003-04: 13GP – 0G – 0A – 0PTS – 2 PIM – EV
  • 2004-05: 23GP – 0G – 2A – 2PTS – 9 PIM – -13
  • 2005-06: 34GP – 3G – 9A – 12PTS – 34 PIM – -8
  • 2006-07: 21GP – 3G – 7A – 10PTS – 30 PIM – -6

We see that Heuhauser’s description of Hrabal as a project was fairly accurate. The Oilers drafted Hrabal with a late (8th round) pick in the 2003 draft; Hrabal was primarily scouted by Frank Musil.

The next real report on Hrabal came in March of 2005. Hrabal was described as an “unspectacular… but reliable” player, which would seem to be at odds with his scouting report. Kevin Prendergast spoke highly of him, while Guy Flaming pointed to his offensive struggles in the Czech senior league (a league bolstered by NHL’ers during that lockout season). Looking at the statistics above, we see that Hrabal managed only two points in the top league, but was a dominant player in junior.

Hrabal turned a corner next season. Superficially, Hrabal’s numbers look bad. When you realize that his team, Vsetin HC managed only seven wins in fifty-three games, and that their leading scorer managed 20 points and a -14 rating, you begin to understand that Hrabal was a ways ahead of his teammates. Here’s Vsetin’s defense corps from that season:

  • Hrabal: 34GP – 3G – 9A – 12 PTS – -8
  • Kucny: 45GP – 3G – 5A – 8PTS – -16
  • Bauer: 45GP – 1G – 6A – 7PTS – -14
  • R. Hruska: 33GP – 1G – 4A – 5PTS – -7
  • O. Hruska: 38GP – 3G – 1A – 4PTS – -9
  • Horak: 38GP – 0G – 3A – 3 PTS – -5
  • Ponomarev: 26GP -3G – 0A – 3PTS – -13

Vsetin was easily the worst team in the league, going 7-33-9-3, managing 32 points (the next worst team, Kladno, had 53, while league-leading Liberec had 106). They scored 80 goals, and allowed 152. Hrabal attended the Oilers’ prospect camp that summer, and impressed team executives.

2006-07 was an even better year for Hrabal. Vsetin was again miserable, posting an 11-37-0-4 record, finishing 29 points back of the next worst team, and scoring only 88 goals while allowing 192. Hrabal was the best player on the team while he was there, and figured in on roughly one-third of the team’s total offense (as a defenseman!) over the 21 games he played. To put that in perspective, the NHL’s highest-scoring defenseman this seas (Mike Green) has figured in on less than one-quarter of his team’s total offense. The point I’m trying to make here is that even mired on a team that makes the New York Islanders look competent, Josef Hrabal was making a difference. Half-way through the season, Hrabal moved over to Cherepovets Severstal of the Russian Super League (RSL, today known as the KHL). Let’s put up his numbers for over there as well:

  • 2006-07: 20GP – 3G – 4A – 7PTS – 24PIM – +4
  • 2007-08: 56GP – 3G – 10A – 13PTS – 73PIM – +10

Hrabal’s offensive numbers for that first season stand out; the RSL has always been a low-scoring league (by way of example, Cherepovet’s scoring leader was Andrei Kovalenko, who managed 28 points in 49 games – even Alexander Ovechkin only managed 27 points in his best RSL season). His +4 came on a team that was +2 as a whole, and was one of the best numbers on the team. In 2007-08, Hrabal’s offensive numbers declined (although he was still one of the top offensive defensemen on the team), but his +10 stands out here. Cherepovets finished five games below .500 and had a team +/- of -10; in that context Hrabal’s number is fairly spectacular (the next best defenseman on the team was Petr Caslava, who managed a +5 rating). His 73 PIM ranked third on the team.

It was in this context that the Oilers signed Hrabal (who was about to become an unrestricted free agent) in the summer of 2008. Kevin Prendergast compared Hrabal to Denis Grebeshkov, calling him a “riverboat gambler”, something Guy Flaming took issue with, seemingly based on Hrabal’s career offensive numbers. Hrabal entered training camp for the 2008-09 season with an outside shot at an NHL job, and the likelihood of playing lots for Springfield.

Things have gone badly. Hrabal suffered shoulder injury in training camp that sidelined him for the early part of the season. When he was healthy, Hrabal found himself in Stockton, and didn’t get an AHL opportunity until nearly the end of October. Hrabal was one of very few defensemen to keep his head above water at even strength (although he wasn’t contributing much offensively) while playing second-pairing opposition. Despite the fact that the Falcons’ defence is a bit of a trainwreck, Hrabal was dispatched to the ECHL on three separate occasions, where he excelled (four points in eight games, +2). The third time Hrabal was assigned to the ECHL, he refused to report and has since signed on to play with Modo of Sweden’s Eliteserien for the remainder of the year. Modo features three former NHL defensemen in Matthias Timander, Hans Jonsson and Pierre Hedin, as well as highly touted prospect Victor Hedman.

It’s entirely possible that despite Hrabal’s strong European track record, his excellent ECHL numbers, and the fact that he’s one of the few Springfield Falcons’ defensemen who hasn’t been turned into a charred, smouldering hulk of a defenseman that Jeff Truitt is right to send him down to the ECHL. If, however, he plays well for a Modo club (the team that developed Forsberg, Naslund, the Sedins, and more recently Tobias Enstrom) full of NHL veterans, I think it will be safe to say that the handling of this player was very wrong. Given that Truitt’s currently at the helm of the second-worst team in the AHL, it’s somewhat difficult to trust his judgment.

I think Hrabal’s a player, and I’d rate him much higher if not for the lack of confidence that Springfield’s coach has shown in him this season. Hrabal should be back in training camp next season, and we should know if I’m right by the end of 2009-10, if not sooner.

NHL Contract Status: 675K for 2008-09 and 2009-10

AHL Performance Compares To: Bruno Gervais

Career Projection: Top-six defenseman

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Ya I thought so… I just get annoyed when I hear him comment on anything about the players ..He should stick to doing what he does best…..humm….

  • Hippy

    I had high hopes for Hrabal, mainly since he is Czech, Musil scouted him, and the Oilers' record of finding over-aged European diamonds in the rough (on defense). Now, it looks like a complete screw up on the Oilers behalf. Hrabal didn't play enough at the AHL level for him to adjust to the small ice surface and the physical play, and the ECHL isn't good enough for him to improve in. I hope he comes back for one more year and shows the brass he is the real deal. But considering the treatment of him that might not happen: first step is to fire Truitt and promise him this won't happen again.

  • Hippy

    From the description it sounds like Hrabal has offensive abilities but is more reliable than others despite his defensive lapses, seeing as how he had moderate success on a terrible Springfield Falcons team. If he had a Jan Hejda or Jason Smith type of player to play with, he might be pretty useful for 5v5 situations.

  • Hippy

    @ Antony Ta:

    From everything I've read and seen of Hrabal, he's gotten much better fundamentally in his own zone, although it's likely that intensity is still sometimes a problem.

  • Hippy

    Great article. Does anyone trust Truit with some of the other Oilers prospects who could be here as early as this Spring (Eberle – if they fail to make the playoffs, Omark, Plante)?

    I'd like to think that Truit does not come back and that they consider giving Rob Daum a chance. They can't do much worse.

  • Hippy

    oilerdago wrote:

    Great article. Does anyone trust Truit with some of the other Oilers prospects who could be here as early as this Spring (Eberle – if they fail to make the playoffs, Omark, Plante)?
    I’d like to think that Truit does not come back and that they consider giving Rob Daum a chance. They can’t do much worse.

    That would be spectacular.

  • Hippy

    do you know if Oilers brass use any of the same type of evaluations (straight numbers) like you do? Or do you think they rely more on opinions and hunches/gut reactions of their coaches?

    I ask this, because it seems between what you do with stats, and what Staples does with his stats, we as fans are getting a very different evaluation of who is valuable and who is a bit player at the NHL and AHL level.

    I try not to get to hung up on the blogosphere of these things, because I know opinions feed opinions here, but the numbers just don't seem to make sense. I guess, what I am asking (in a circular way) is do the Oilers pay attention to stuff like this analysis-that is read your work for some insight-or do they have their minds made up already?

    If they go with predetermined opinions, then I think that would be a more valuable issue for Tambelini to tackle over and above the whole who to trade for question.

  • Hippy

    @ Q:

    Brownlee or Gregor would be a better person to answer your question, but I very much doubt that the Oilers have much interest in the kind of work I do.

    I'd suspect that players coming through the system are largely evaluated based on the opinion of the coaching staff, and because guys like Peeters and Prendergast make fairly frequent trips to Springfield the personal opinion of the various brass is important too.

    Of course some coaching staffs use various statistical measures to judge players (Ron Wilson's been doing it at all of his NHL stopss, and Corsi numbers are named after Sabres Assistant Coach Jim Corsi, who popularized them to name just two examples) but I've never seen anything to indicate that MacTavish's crew is one of them.

  • Hippy

    And, as an addendum, the defensible belief that a coach doesn't need stats to analyze his players has merit, but I think it's a dangerous mindset to get into, since those tools may have some value at least as a sanity check.

    Particularly considering some of the anti-video quotes coaches made in the 70's and 80's.

  • Hippy

    Just like Willis pointed out; Prospect reports make me laugh… When the Oilers first signed Hrabel, I tried to read up on him a little. HFBoards had a link where I read a report that claimed one of the strengths of Hrabel's game was his "Huge Slapshot", but that he needs to work on his play in his own end. Got me thinking that with some MacT coaching, and the fact that Hrabel shoots from the left; Hrabel could be a depth player for powerplay service if Souray gets injured again…

    Now I read this excellent Willis offering where the Neuhauser comment is: "He (Hrabel) doesn't have a cannon of a shot", and brings a, "nice two-way game to the table."

    And again, as Willis pointed out, the numbers don't support the, "nice two-way game"… But does he have a big shot or not?

    I don't know what to believe! Are these evaluators even watching the same player? Does this guy even shoot left? I think Willis is quite correct in his earlier praise of the Buffalo system of using a video room for player analysis… I think scouts drink too much!

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:

    The stuff that gets to be public record on guys is always interesting. As an example, before Nilsson played in the NHL, one particular scout praised him for not being a perimeter player and being willing to go into danger areas.

    I'm fairly sure that Hrabal does have a plus shot, but it's entirely possible that he picked that up in the five and a half years between Neuhauser's report and Hrabal signing with the Oilers.

    One question – where did I say Hrabal was a weak two-way player? His offensive numbers don't look good superficially, until you realize how much of his team's offense he was driving. His defensive numbers in Russia were phenomenal, and good in Springfield too.

    He probably doesn't have it in him to contribute much NHL offense, but he isn't exactly in the Scott Ferguson "ring it around the boards" crowd either.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    One question – where did I say Hrabal was a weak two-way player?

    You didn't. My bad. It was the HFBOARDS link that said Hrabal had a great shot but was poor in his own end. It was Neuhauser who said he didn't have a cannon but had a nice two-way game. YOU said Hrabal's Vsetin numbers are only superfically because that squad only won seven games… I'm surprised Hrabal didn't feel right at home in Springfield!

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan Willis:

    BTW. Re our earlier thread. I'm having problems finding good published numbers; BUT…

    I'm pretty close to proving that with the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the rise of minor hockey enrollment in the States during the last thirty years:

    The available draft elligible talent pool in 2009 for 30 NHL teams is more than proportional to the pool available in 1979-81 with 21 NHL teams.

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:

    Cool, I'd like to see them when you get them.

    In any case, I'm tabulating draft averages from 1990-2000, and I'm going to use them to calculate the percentage of getting a player of a certain quality at a certain position.

    Once I've finished, I'll run the picks for all thirty NHL teams into the equation, to calculate how many and what quality of players they should have drafted, statistically.

    It should give us a clear picture of at least the 2001-03 drafts under Lowe, and on the drafting prowess of every NHL team over those years. I expect the Oilers to do well, but if not rest assured I'm approaching it willing to be persuaded.