Goaltenders are tricky to figure out. As much gains have been made, analytics and the like have yet to really nail down what makes a goalie actually good or not. The position itself is at the mercy of a lot of variance from penalty killing to just being on a team with an awful defense. There’s a lot of survivor bias as there are really only 62 jobs available and only some teams utilize a #3 goalie; so playing well when you get a chance will yield more chances even if that’s only a hot couple of games. (Hi, Scott Wedgewood. I see you, Ken Appleby.) Combined with the fact that prospects are drafted with projection in mind, it is a risky proposition to draft a goaltender. Over the past two decades, drafting goalies has become less prominent. However, teams do need them in their system and they do look for who has performed and has the skillset for the future. Today’s prospect profile is one that will definitely get plenty of looks from teams thinking goaltender at the draft: Jakub Skarek.
Who is Jakub Skarek?
Jakub Skarek was born on November 10, 1999 in Jihlava in the Czech Republic. He is listed at Elite Prospects at 6’3” and 196 pounds, which is a good size for a goaltender. Skarek catches with his left hand and he has a remarkably long history at EP.
Skarek came up through the HC Dukla Jihlava youth system. After being a star at the youth level, he was called up the senior team for 20 appearances in the 2015-16 season. That’s right, his first taste of pro hockey happened when he was 15 years old. OK, he was 16 for most of that season; it’s still impressive. The senior Dukla Jihlava squad won the Czech’s second division in that season but did not qualify for promotion. In his 20 games, Skarek posted a 93.1% save percentage - which is excellent for any goalie, much less a goalie well under 18. The 2016-17 season was more prosperous for Dukla Jihlava as the team did win promotion to the top Czech league. In that season, Skarek played in 28 games and posted a 92.5% save percentage. In the playoffs and in qualification games, Skarek maintained a save percentage of 91.6% and 93.2%, respectively. He was loaned to Sparta Praha for four games and was excellent with a 94.6% save percentage. Things were looking up for the Czech goalie and his team.
Unfortunately, 2017-18 went pear-shaped for HC Dukla Jihlava. The team not only faltered but they ended up being relegated back to the second division. Skarek made 21 appearances and his overall save percentage was just 91.2%. According to the stats page for the Czech Extraliga, Skarek’s 91.25% save percentage was just twelfth out of 19 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes in the league. He shared the net with Lars Volden, who also played 21 games; at least Skarek’s 91.25% save percentage was superior to Volden’s 90.43% save percentage. (Aside: While the stats page has breakdowns by game situation, it does not appear to change for goalies.) Skarek did not do well in the other competitions at the club level except for a ten-game loan to HC Stadion Lidomerice in the second division (a.k.a the WSM Liga, 1.Liga). There, Skarek shined with a 94.2% save percentage but that is in a lower division.
While it is impressive to see a young goalie get into pro hockey; Skarek never commanded more appearances and his overall save percentage dipped from season to season since those 20 games in 2015-16. Skarek will not follow HC Dukla Jihlava into the second division. As linked in his Elite Prospects profile, Skarek signed with the Pelicans of the Finnish Liiga for a two-season deal that carries an option for a third year. That team has one of their goalies as a free agent, so Skarek will have a shot to secure some playing time in a new league and in a new environment.
Skarek has been featured quite a lot at the international level for the Czech Republic. He has put the pads on for his country at the Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, and Under-20 levels. Skarek’s biggest achievement would be his 2016 performance at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, which is an U-18 event where plenty of prospective players get their first chance that season to show off what they can do. The Czech Republic won their first ever goal in Hlinka tournament history thanks in part to Skarek putting up the second best save percentage in the whole tournament: 93.31% in four games. That’s the good part. The bad part is most of the rest of his international career. At the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2016, the World Under-18 Championships in 2017, and the 2017 and 2018 World Junior Championships, Skarek did not finish any of those big tournaments with a save percentage above 90%. While he was just shy of the 90% mark in his total U-17 play in 2015-16 and his total U-18 and U-20 performances for his country in 2016-17; he finished with a save percentage of 80.1% over all twelve games with the Czechs at the U-20 level.
Maybe the international teams were bad. Maybe their opponents were just too good. Maybe Skarek was amid some cold streaks at the time. I don’t know, but it does not inspire a lot of confidence to see crummy save percentages in four out of five notable youth tournaments over the last three seasons. Those are not encouraging results to say the least, for any prospective goaltender. While prospects should not be solely judged on their production or a single stat like save percentages, one has to ask: If he’s worth drafting at a particular spot, then, where’s the beef? Between not standing out among his peers for his relegated HC Dukla Jihlava and some really rough looking save percentages at international play, I’m not seeing a lot of beef here.
Where is Jakub Skarek Ranked?
I don’t think many others see a lot of beef here. That said, there are some fans of Skarek out there - and others that don’t really rate him at all:
- NHL Central Scouting Services: European Goalies - 2 (Final), 1 (Midterm)
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst - 40 (May, Final Top 500), 42 (April, Sporting News), 29 (January Top 500), 19 (September Preseason 500)
- Future Considerations - 95 (Final)
- McKeen’s Hockey - Not Ranked (April, Top 31 only)
- Hockey Prospect - Not Ranked (March, Top 31 only)
- International Scouting Services - Not Ranked (May, Top 31 only)
- Craig Button - Not Ranked (March)
Steve Kournianos has maintained that Skarek is the best goaltender prospect in the draft. While his own ranking took a hit, he’s kept Skarek far ahead of every other goalie on his list. CSS thought Skarek was the best European-based goalie prospect but bumped him down a spot in favor of fellow Czech prospective goalie Lukas Dostal. That’s pretty much it in terms of fans, though. The other draft sites and Craig Button did not rank Skarek. OK, McKeen’s, Hockey Prospect, and ISS only publicly post Top-31 lists; but Button’s last list went down to 90 players and Skarek was not one of them. Future Considerations’ final ranking is a Top 100 list and Skarek was near the bottom at 95. I did not see any other goalies ranked all that high, so it could be that this year’s draft class is not strong in net. Of course, it could also be that Skarek may not be all that either. Both are possibly true.
What Others Say About Lukas Skarek
Kournianos thought highly of Skarek to keep him high on his massive list of draft rankings. Back in January 2017, he had an article (a re-post of something he did for Dobber Prospects) at his site, The Draft Analyst, ranking his top ten goaltending prospects for this year’s draft. Skarek was first on his list. This is what he wrote to go with that ranking:
Nightmarish world juniors notwithstanding, Skarek remains the draft’s top goalie prospect. Blessed with size, cat-like quickness and a superior radar for puck movement, Skarek has held him own as a teenager in the Czech Republic’s premiere league. He’s a classic butterfly goalie who handles the puck well and quickly challenges shooters above the crease. One thing that has impressed me is his glove-hand positioning in either the V/H (Vertical/ Horizontal) or RVH (Reverse Vertical/Horizontal) — Skarek keeps the glove directly above his pad to cover the upper half of the short side.
Kournianos rates Skarek highly because of his tools. He has a large frame at 6’3” and 196 pounds. Being quick, able to read and handle pucks, and utilize his glove well in addition to being big are all good things for a goalie. It is a short description, but it is pretty much everything you’d want to read about a goaltender prospect. Except the part about the WJCs being a wreck for him.
By the way, that WJC performance led to this pithy post-tournament reaction from Grant McCagg at Recrutes:
This WJC has been one that in a lot of ways separated the wheat from the chaff. Scouts had been giving Skarek’s poor showing in recent events the benefit of the doubt as there was a time when he was thought to be the next great Czech goalie prospect as he led the nation to an upset at the Ivan Hlinka two summers ago. When you compile a 4.39 GAA and .859 SP, however, even his most optimistic backers have to concede that he is no longer a top 50 or even a top-90 prospect.
I have to agree. This was not one bad tournament, it was another bad tournament for Skarek. Based on the rankings of some of the services, it appears his fall from a notable ranking has happened. It’s not like Skarek went back to HC Dukla Jihlava and played out of his mind after the WJCs.
That said, if you like his skillset and his tools, then Skarek is still worth considering. Speaking of tools, goaltending sites like InGoal Magazine have thrived on focusing the mechanics of the position. Craig Balloch has two posts featuring Skarek that are worth your time reading. The first is a September 7, 2017 post ranking the top ten goaltending prospects ahead of the 2017-18 season. It is a good idea to see where some were coming from with Skarek and maybe why they would still think well of him regardless of what happened this season. Skarek was first on Balloch’s list with this explanation:
To the naked eye, Skarek’s skating ability may look suspect – but he makes up for it with excellent edgework while in the butterfly. This works for his style, because he likes to seal the ice first, and move from the butterfly position. His wonderful frame allows him to pre-set in the reverse-VH position in sharp-angle situations, and his post-integration is extremely advanced for his age. His talent ceiling is one of the highest in the draft class, regardless of the type of year he has.
I always appreciate seeing a second source at a different time verify what someone else has noticed. Being able to move his glove vertically in an effective way is crucial to the butterfly position and this gives me more confidence that Skarek has that down. He certainly has the frame to present himself as big in a butterfly position, too. Balloch also noted his upside, which would be something to consider for whoever could pick him. If all he needs is more experience, then perhaps he can be somebody someday.
I’d be curious to see where Balloch would rank the prospects now that the 2017-18 season in largely in the books and the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is about a month away. The second post I want to highlight suggests that Skarek and Dostal could be the first two goalies picked this year, so he could still think well of Skarek. This post is from May 17, 2018 and even more technical as it breaks down how each goalie performs in their position. It even comes with helpful .GIFs to illustrate what each goalie does similarly and differently. Again, the post is worth your time. These parts jumped out to me with respect to Skarek:
Both Skarek and Dostal play smart positional games for their individual sizes. Skarek has a decided size advantage and will very rarely stray from the blue paint of his crease.
Skarek also seems to have the better vision between the two goaltenders. His tracking is generally very good. His skill is especially noticeable when screens are involved, as he battles well for sightlines and has very good hand discipline which allows him to not only stop screen shots – but control rebounds as well.
These quotes jump out as they again highlight Skarek’s tools. He’s not just a big guy, but he can find pucks in difficult situations and use both hands well to cut down on getting beat in that regard. The second quote comes with a .GIF above of it where Skarek saw the point-of-attack changing, moved well with the play, and found a rising puck past two teammates to make a confident glove save. Those are all assets that are good for any goalie. Combine it with having good size and being young and it is someone to think about for the future.
If there is a criticism of Skarek’s game in Balloch’s post, it is in his aggressiveness. As in, Skarek is not. Whereas Dostal challenging shooters is seen as a plus, Balloch notes that Skarek stays in the crease and by the posts where possible. That is something that could be worked on with coaching and experience.
Again, it’s good to read someone focused on goalies find good things about a prospective goaltender. If only the stats provided further backed up what skillset suggests.
A Little Video
Believe it or not, there’s a couple of videos on Skarek. Two stood out to me. The first comes from SEER VIDEO. It not only features mash-ups for AC/DC’s “Back in Black” for over eight minutes, but highlights of Skarek making saves from U-16 play in 2015-16 through to the 2017-18 season.
You can see in motion that Skarek has been very good at moving laterally from post to post on plays. He tracks them well even in transition plays by the offense where his defense is out-manned. Skarek’s butterfly stance is on display on most of these saves as he shows that he can make confident stops with his glove and blocker. He reacts fairly quickly to make pad stops when the play changes direction on some of these. He did not leave his crease too often, although he would slide out on a couple of those saves out of necessity. There are even some snippets of Skarek handling pucks, where he confidently and correctly moved the puck away from his end to a teammate. Music aside, it’s a good video as any to get familiar with Skarek and why he’s worth a draft pick.
The other video is a highlight video by Luke Abralson that is focused on Skarek’s 2017-18 season. This includes other saves that wasn’t in the SEER VIDEO, so it’s worth the three-plus minutes to check it out. It further confirms
It confirms quite a bit from the other video, although with different plays. He did make a near-costly error at 1:47 on handling the puck - he had it blocked out - before robbing a dude of an empty net. It’s a highlight video so there won’t be too many errors and he bailed himself out. Still, Skarek shows that he can move well going to post, he can react quickly with his hands and legs from a butterfly form, and he followed the play effectively. The videos confirm that Skarek has a game worth considering.
An Opinion of Sorts
The question: Where do you consider him? As with any prospect, it only takes one team to really like someone to add them to their draft board. But how do you square away the skillset (with the good sized frame) with the lack of results at the international level and somewhat of a decline in 2017-18? Or that he couldn’t be the definitive #1 goalie with his club team? (Was it injury-related?) Is there reason to think he’ll do well? The highlight videos and the takes on him from those who like him are quite positive. But what is the upside with Skarek? I don’t know and it appears any team would have to wait a bit since he signed with Pelicans for two years. That may be a good thing in that he could use more time to develop and play elsewhere - assuming he gets regular minutes with Pelicans.
My own feeling is that Skarek could go anywhere from a mid-second round pick to possibly being available for the Devils’ fourth round pick at 110th overall. Given that Skarek has a good looking skillset but without some great performances to back it up, it’s going to take a scout or scouts to really think well of him to take him in the second or even early in the third round. I do think that as the draft goes on, there will be less risk in taking a goalie at all and Skarek is one of the higher ranked ones in a draft class that is not filled with goalies. It would not surprise me if he does end up available in the fourth round; but again, it only takes one team to like him enough to get him. It could just as easily happen before the Devils make their second pick in the draft.
Should the Devils consider Skarek if he does make it to them in the fourth round? I would not be so opposed to it. By that point in the draft, he may have more value than a skater who is a project of a prospect or does one thing well but not much else. Plus, the Devils’ goaltending depth in their larger system does not inspire confidence. MacKenzie Blackwood has yet to really show why he was worth a second round pick in 2015. Ken Appleby looks to be a AHLer at best with the occasional call-up. Both did so poorly to start in Binghamton that the Devils went out and traded for a veteran to act as the #3 goalie in the system - and Eddie Lack may not return as he’s a free agent. Evan Cormier may not get signed (Devils have June 1 to sign him) and Gilles Senn has not really impressed in Switzerland. The Devils went out and signed Cam Johnson out of college, hoping he could be somebody. The larger point is that the team doesn’t have a lot of quality beyond the NHL tandem of goalies and with the current prospects getting older but not necessarily better, picking a goalie in 2018 may not be a bad idea. By pick #110, Skarek may be a good value pick if the scouts like what he brings to the crease. (Although, given the lack of drafting success for goalies, maybe the scouts opinion for a goalie may be taken with a grain of salt.)
Of course, with goalies, I stand to be proven completely wrong. A lot can happen. Skarek could go to Finland, falter, and go back to being a regular in the Czech league. Skarek could put it all together in Finland and emerge as a future goalie to watch out for in the NHL game as people like me wonder how he was missed at all. The truth could be somewhere in the middle. So it goes for goaltending prospects and Skarek.
That’s my take on Skarek. Yours may be different. What do you make of this goaltender, who has a lot of experience for a prospect? Do you prefer to value his skillset over his results? What could he project to, do you think he has a larger future in pro hockey outside of Europe? Where do you think he will go in the draft? Should the Devils get him in the fourth round? Will he even make it that far? Should the Devils even draft a goalie at all in 2018? If you’ve seen him play, what did you think of him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Skarek in the comments. Thank you for reading.