Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2023 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Hockey Prospects is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! Today we bring you our Maxim Strbak Scouting Report.
Maxim Strbak Scouting Report
Strbak, born on April 13th, 2005, in Kosice, Slovakia, is a defenseman who played his first season in North America this year. Coming over to the USHL to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede, the 6’2” and 198 pound right-shot defender performed fairly well. Across 46 games, he managed to produce five goals and 13 assists for 18 points. He also played seven U18 World Junior Championship games (six points) and five U20 World Juniors games (three points) for Slovakia this year. He is committed to play at Michigan State University next season.
With the solid international production and first season on the smaller ice surfaces in North America, Strbak made a name for himself this year. With that, he has seen himself be ranked between 33rd and 78th by various sites and experts. Those rankings include being placed 33rd by Bob McKenzie, 36th by Recruit Scouting, 41st by FloHockey and Draft Prospects Hockey, 49th by Daily Faceoff, 51st by Craig Button, 52nd by McKeen’s Hockey, 54th by The Hockey News, 56th by Hockey Prospects Radio, 59th by FCHockey, 73rd by Dobber Prospects, and 78th by Elite Prospects.
Maxim Strbak Deep Dive
Strbak is an interesting case. He plays on the right-side, has good size, and translated to North American ice quite well. In the recent LWOH NHL mock draft, Strbak went 56th to the Edmonton Oilers. With Bob McKenzie’s high ranking, and Button placing him just outside the top-50, it’s likely he goes anywhere within the second round.
Maxim Strbak’s Skating
Strbak is a good skater, for the most part. His stride is smooth and looks effortless at times, showing fluidity in his movements. That’s something NHL skating coaches will love to get to work with, and should make most of his flaws an easy fix in due time. Additionally, his edges are excellent, showing an ability to change directions and stop on pucks with ease and consistency.
As for his top speed, it is lacking. Both skating forwards and backwards. Strbak does not possess much speed, and it shows in how he can lose races he probably shouldn’t. Additionally, while skating backwards, faster skaters can give him issues. Part of the problem with his skating, however, is tied to his acceleration. While he has nice edges, and can complete turns efficiently, he doesn’t produce much power off those crossovers. Continuing to bulk up and strengthen his lower body, plus working with NHL skating coaches, will maximize his skating abilities.
On the offensive end, Strbak isn’t the most active, but he has tools. He shows an ability to read the play well and pick his spots to step up in the play. Teams won’t find Strbak stepping into the slot very often, but when he sees a potential passing lane, he will make it count. Part of the way he makes those chances count is with his strong shot. While he doesn’t possess the most accurate shot, and he doesn’t use it very often, the power behind his shot shows some untapped potential.
As for his passing abilities, he shows a surprising aggressive nature. He looks to attack the slot quite often with his passes, looking to push the pace quite a lot. However, those passes don’t often connect. In order to be more efficient as a passer, Strbak needs to learn to take more shots and trust his power, which will inevitably open those passing lanes up more.
Maxim Strbak’s Transitional Abilities
Strbak is an efficient transitional player at this point in the USHL. While he doesn’t generate a lot in the way of rush chances, per se, he does an excellent job getting the puck up and out of the defensive end. His smooth skating helps him evade forecheckers well enough to buy time to find a passing lane if needed. He isn’t going to flash in this area very often, but he can transport the puck well, and was relied on quite often by his teammates despite this being his first year in North American rinks.
As for defending the rush, he gaps up very well. If he can gap up to a forward, which he usually can, he does an excellent job forcing them wide and away from the slot. When doing so, that opens Strbak up to throw a hit along the wall to force a turnover. While he can face some problems against faster skaters at this point, his active stick and angles generally discourage even those skaters from testing his side too often.
Strbak’s Defensive Zone Play
Strbak does an excellent job defending the rush for the most part. However, what happens when the opposition gains entry and tries to set up scoring chances? Again, that active stick that helped him angle forwards wide, also helps him thwart dangerous passes into the slot. Strbak’s positioning is also mostly solid, and he shows a high motor in his own end. He’s willing to play physically in the dirty areas and along the boards.
The biggest issue Strbak has at this point is his skating in his own end. Specifically when it comes to puck retrievals. Far too often, Strbak loses races to pucks that were dumped in that he was tasked with retrieving. Working on his skating will go a long way to improve his overall defensive efficiency.
Maxim Strbak’s Potential
Strbak plays a very efficient game, with a bit of untapped offensive potential and a responsible overall game. The biggest thing holding him back at this time is his skating, and the biggest deterrent to a higher potential is his lack of big plays in the offensive end. Despite that, he still looks to be a #4 defender, with penalty killing upside.
Someone who stands out as an NHL comparison for Strbak, based on style and not a projection of skills, is Anton Stralman. Stralman was always a steady presence in his own end back in his Tampa Bay Lightning days. Additionally, he doesn’t shoot very often in the offensive zone, but still generates scoring chances and was a bit underrated in his career for that. As for his transitional abilities, Stralman never truly stood out in a big way, but was mostly efficient, especially exiting the defensive end.
Strbak looks to be a bigger offensive zone presence and transporter of the puck at this stage, but the defensive abilities both against the rush and in his own end scream steady and under appreciated match-up defender. If he can unlock his offensive game, there’s something more to be had with Strbak. But that seems unlikely, based on how much needs to be improved at this stage. But the potential is there to be had.
Raw stats via Elite Prospects
Main Photo: ANDRES LEIVA/PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK