The 2021 NHL Draft has opted for a “quantity” approach when it comes to defencemen, instead of the “quality” approach that’s been featured in recent years. Some early rankings have double-digit defencemen going in the first round, with my own early rankings featuring eight. That’s a lot of blue-liners. And with the long list has come a lot of debate about which are actually future top-line talents. Only three or four can confidently be grouped into that elite tier. And Stanislav Svozil is among them.
All GIFs used in this article are courtesy of Czech Prospects on Twitter. They’re a great resource for everything Czech hockey and their help is greatly appreciated!
Stanislav Svozil is One of the Best Defensemen in the 2021 Draft Class
Who Even is He?
Svozil is far from a common name at this point, largely thanks to his situation. He’s avoided top-end leagues or high-end juniors and has instead risen through the ranks in the Czech Republic. This has left him a bit undiscovered by some, with Czech hockey serving more as an “end of the road” for former NHL or KHL stars than a land of blossoming prospects. But Svozil is earning his keep, even in a league that features strong NHLers of years past, like Martin Erat, Peter Mueller, and the great Jaromir Jagr.
Svozil has been a fixture of Czech hockey for years now, constantly being featured in international play. In fact, he has donned the gorgeous Czech jerseys in each of the last three seasons, dating back to when the then-15-year-old Svozil suited up for the U16 team and scored 14 points in 16 games, the second-most of any player on the team and nine more points than any other Czech defenceman.
He has a track record of appearing alongside much older competition and thriving in the role. Svozil was even an ‘Alternate Captain’ on the U17 team last year, as a 16-year-old. He totaled four points in six games during the U17 World Hockey Challenge and one more in three games outside of the tourney. This was the second-highest points-per-game of any Czech defenseman on the roster and earned him a call-up to the U18 club, where he appeared in 11 games.
Svozil even earned himself a spot on both the Czech U20 team (two points, three games played) and the Czech international team (zero points, one game played) this season. At 17, he is the second-youngest on both rosters.
Svozil has fought for his entry into the Czech Extraliiga, the country’s premier league, as a 16-year-old. He was the youngest player in the league by far and was faced off against some of the most experienced hockey players in all of Eastern Europe. He went on to play in 41 games in the league; an incredibly impressive feat given his age at the time. It was enough to earn Svozil, who turned 17 partway through the 2019-20 season, the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award in the league.
Simply put, Stanislav Svozil has a long history of shattering his expectations and racking up the points. Breaking down his play makes it clear why he manages this so consistently.
Svozil’s Serious Strengths
Vision and Passing
If there’s one part of Svozil’s game that stands out, it’s his ability to read the ice. He plays like he’s viewing the rink from a top-down perspective, making passes that fans can’t even find, much less a player in the heat of the moment. It’s a sneaky style that makes him a seriously dangerous player to face. But, of course, this vision would be nothing without great passing to boot. And, luckily, Svozil has some great oomph behind his pass. It’s enough to make seasoned-veterans stand around guessing what just happened after he blows a pass through four guys for an easy goal. Just watch how he threads the needle on this pass:
There’s a lot to break down there. This pass came on the back of a great rush up the ice, where Svozil dashed past the opposing forwards. Once into the offensive end, he uses a great fake shot to deceive both the defenceman and the backchecking forward, before wiring a pass just-barely under the stick of the defenceman. It’s a gorgeous play; one that would make coaches swoon. It was such a bang-bang play that the main camera on the game’s stream couldn’t even follow it. Only the stationary one in the corner captured the beauty of the pass.
Svozil’s passing ability is simply gorgeous. His ability to see teammates, open lanes, and create scoring chances is terrific. And he does it all with lightning-quick reflexes that take perfect advantage of any, and every, slip up the opposition has. In this case, there’s a slight tie up off of the circle. In the split second it takes to sort this out, Svozil was able to control the puck, find a teammate, and deliver a perfect pass:
This is just gorgeous. It seems like a simple play at face-value but the ability for Svozil to receive and control the puck so quickly, before delivering an absolute missile of a pass, is incredible. The pass was perfectly on the winger’s tape and resulted in a goal that looked too easy.
There are a lot of other strengths to Svozil’s game. He has an alright shot, he’s great in transition and an excellent skater, and he has the size and strength to be formidable in all three zones. But if there’s one other area that truly stands out, it’s his top-tier instinct. In conjunction with elite vision, Svozil’s ability to always know where everyone is is unparalleled. It’s a level of awareness that defencemen dream of having but Svozil takes it one step further thanks to some terrific hockey IQ. His ability to take his great awareness and use it to find holes in the defence or places he could sneak in is so coveted. It makes him so much more than a simple playmaking defenceman — although he does hold that title to its fullest. Svozil is also an elite scoring threat if given the opportunity to shine.
Svozil flaunted every single one of his top-end skills in this play. He read the play beautifully and found the opening, even catching the pass seamlessly on his backhand. But when no passing options were available, the 6’1″ Svozil showed off great agility and edgework. He wrapped around the net before the goalie or any defenders could react. It’s a gorgeous goal that hammers home the great mind that Svozil brings to the game. These plays are very common in Svozil’s game and are what truly stand him out from his contemporaries.
Thoughts from Czech
Praise for Stanislav Svozil is echoing through the Czech Republic right now. Andy, one half of the incredible NHL stat website Andy and Rono, spoke on Svozil saying:
“Watching him play, you can say that he is one of the biggest talents in our country now. He isn’t afraid to make plays, and join the rush (he has most zone entries on his team this season amongst defencemen). He also has shot first mentality, but in his age it could probably be counted on that he is just young and doesn’t want to make mistakes walking the blue line etc. From his stats we can definitely say that he isn’t very good at controlling quantity, but he is much better in quality share. More thanks to his puck skills and offense than defense right now, but once again you have to take into context that he plays against men.”
They continued their praise by highlighting the fact that Svozil, who started the season paired with the best defenceman on his team, has since been swapped to play alongside, “one of the worst Ds in the whole league”. Despite this, Svozil has thrived; taking every chance he can to rush the puck up the ice and create beautiful opportunities for his team. Andy capped off our interview but saying bluntly:
“To sum it up… [Svozil] has the tools needed to be a modern day defenseman; being a good skater, isn’t afraid to make plays etc. And he is on a great team for his development.”
Stanislav Svozil has the mind to be a top-10 pick. He has the passing ability to be a top-10 pick. While his overall two-way game could use some work, and his stickhandling is a little below where it needs to be, his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. His ability to perform as a top-level playmaker, even in a professional league, and even as a 16-year-old is incredible.
And, of course, this terrific passing and offensive-awareness lends itself to great value on the power-play. Svozil is the ideal man to quarterback the man-advantage. His passing ability from the point is terrific and his ability to attack the net from the point makes him entirely unpredictable by opposing penalty-killers. It’s an added perk to a skillset that’s already so impressive; built on the back of a hockey IQ that’s truly only matched by a few defencemen in the 2021 NHL Draft class.
Svozil is an often forgotten name but deserves much more respect. He’s a top defenceman for the 2021 Draft with the looks of a future top-four defenceman in the NHL. His playmaking abilities are simply amazing. All of these clips were of 16-or-17-year-old Svozil facing off against grown men; even former NHL, KHL, and European legends. And yet Svozil showed off so much talent, without creating noticeable liabilities elsewhere.
Simply put, Stanislav Svozil is a Top-10 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
A huge, huge thanks go out to Andy & Rono, Czech Prospects, and Samuel Tirpák for their help with this article.
Courtesy of Patrik Uhlíř, MAFTA (idnes.cz)