The game of hockey changes over time but the kinds of players that come out of development leagues remain varied. Sure, top players in the NHL are influencing the next few generations of future players. However, some just fill a role that was more common or more valuable in the past for one reason or another. And even if the NHL game has changed, it does not mean that these roles are entirely out of favor. One such example is the subject of today’s 2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Bili Tygri Liberec defenseman Jakub Dvorak.
Who is Jakub Dvorak?
Jakub Dvorak, also known as Jakub Dvořák, is a recently-turned-18 year old defenseman from Liberec in Czechia. Per his Elite Prospects profile, he has a left handed shot and he is listed at 6’4” and 183 pounds. He has come up through the local team’s youth teams with Bili Tygri Liberec. He started to get some more notice when he went international in 2021-22 with the Czechia U-17 and U-18 teams, including six games at the 2022 World Under-18 Championships as an underage player. Always a positive sign to play up an age group early. That season was also his first taste of men’s professional hockey as he was loaned to HC Benatky nad Jizerou of Czechia’s second league for five games. The signs for growth were apparent, he signed a two-season extension with Liberec (through 2023-24), and so he kind of broke out in 2022-23.
In this past season, Dvorak played exclusively for Liberec’s first team, represented his nation at the U-18 levels like at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament and captained the country at the 2023 World U-18 Championships. He even got a few games with the U-20s. The issue was that he only played 24 games with Liberec and his potential international time was cut short. Dvorak suffered a broken collarbone. That is why he only played 24 out of 52 games the team played in. As best as I can tell, he suffered the injury in late November, tried to make a comeback in January, and then he was shut down for the season and did not return until the IIHF World U-18 Championships in April. That is a lot Fortunately, Dvorak was able to return to captain Czechia at the World U-18s, but he did miss quite a bit of the season and potentially a WJC appearance.
In terms of what Dvorak produced, the answer is not much. He had just two assists and 14 shots on net in his 24 games. He also only averaged 11:55 per game; definitely limited usage when he was in the lineup. He did only take 6 PIM, which is still quite good for a defenseman. Especially one who plays the way Dvorak does. At the World U-18s, Dvorak was far more active and visible in the 5 games Czechia played in. He averaged 21:25 per game, second only to Martin Matejicek in overall and average ice time. Dvorak took 10 shots, scored a goal, and put up two assists. He did get whistled for four penalties given his 8 PIM, which is not as great but it is what it is. At the Hlinka-Gretzky last August, the only stats I could find were a goal, an assist, and 8 PIM in five games. In other words, Dvorak’s value is not in putting up points. However, that he played a significant role on the Czechia roster at the World U-18 Championship back in April after coming back from a significant injury speaks well of how highly regarded he is within the national team. It also speaks well to his recovery from said injury.
Where is Jakub Dvorak Ranked?
You would not know it from the rankings, but there was a point in time early in the 2022-23 draft-eligible cycle where Dvorak could crack the first round. After all, he was a defenseman who played up an age at the U-18 level in 2021-22, he did play men’s professional hockey in 2022-23, and he would go on to play big minutes when he caught up with his age group. That said, the collarbone injury kept him from playing and that surely led to his stock looking more like a second day pick.
- #15 European skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #48 - Craig Button, TSN (May 15, 2023 ranking)
- #67 - FC Hockey (Spring ranking)
- Honorable Mention - Gabriel Foley, Recruit Scouting (Final ranking)
- #69 - Draft Prospects Hockey (Spring ranking)
- #72 - The Hockey Writers - Logan Horn (May 12, 2022 ranking)
Dvorak was simply not ranked by other places that, by comparison, ranked Aram Minnetian - a defenseman expected to go somewhere between the late parts of the second round and into the third round. There are some who like him. That he remains on Button’s list suggests to me that NHL scouts may be a bit more favorable for him than others. NHL Central Scouting Services put him at 15th in their mid-terms and kept him there. Good in that the time missed due to injury did not hurt him; bad in that he could not advance. Even with the big minutes at the World U-18s, he did not get a lot or any love from the others who provide publicly available rankings. That time out with injury combined with the limited minutes in pro hockey really hurt. And, I suspect, the throwback nature of his game.
What Others Say About Jakub Dvorak
After the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Dvorak was getting plenty of praise. He was highlighted by Jason Bukala in this August 7, 2022 post at Sportsnet with the following blurb:
The captain for Czechia was deployed in all situations. He logged a ton of ice time. Dvorak is a big body who is a capable skater. He isn’t shy about leading the rush or joining as an extra layer. Although not elite in any singular category, he is very competitive and involved in all three zones. Dvorak is heading to Swift Current (WHL) this season. At this stage of his development, he projects to be a two-way “D” who isn’t likely to contribute on the power play as a pro.
Dvorak did not go to Swift Current in this season. Nor will he next season as he is signed with Liberec through 2023-24. Anyway, while Bukala is complimentary, that he wrote that “not elite in any singular category” does not do Dvorak any favors. Neither does being “a capable skater” instead of someone good or great at it. The projection by Bukala definitely did not turn out at Liberec, albeit with limited minutes, and with Czechia’s international youth teams given his small production and shot total. I think the early hype on Dvorak, as suggested in this blurb by Bukala, did not pan out and that led to people being much cooler on him.
The hype was still there in a sense in November. In this Aaron Vickers authored post at FC Hockey, he cites Miroslav Simurka, a scout for FC Hockey, in noting Dvorak as a difficult prospect to gauge. Here is what Simurak said about Dvorak:
Jakub Dvorak is a big defenseman who can skate, play with the puck, use his reach in the defense and just eat a lot of minutes while doing right plays on the ice. He plays in the Czech men’s league but with limited minutes he may not be able to display that much of his offensive skills. He is worth a pick very early in the draft but I think it may be a little but tougher to rank him properly.
Simurak was absolutely right about the limited minutes at Liberec and that does make it harder to evaluate any player. And I can see how it would mean fewer chances to see if Dvorak had any kind of game beyond the defensive zone. While Simurak was then still positive enough to suggest he should be picked early, you get a sense of the situation not being favorable for Dvorak combined with Bukala’s post-H-G post at Sportsnet.
So the injury happened and so the takes on Dvorak are mostly based on what he did in the first few months of the season. Which speak to a limited potential for the player who only had limited minutes outside of international tournaments when he was healthy. While injured, Tony Ferrari did shout him out in this post on February 8 at The Hockey News:
Dvorak is a throwback defensive blueliner who uses his size well and plays a boring game in the best way. He isn’t the flashiest of players, but he uses his mobility effectively to challenge opponents defensively in 1-on-1 situations. He can use his size and stick to separate man from puck to regain possession.
Positive, sure, but that Ferrari called it a “boring” game speaks to that limited potential. That tracks with Adam Kierszenblat’s prospect profile of Dvorak at The Hockey Writers, which went up on April 4 and before the World U-18 Championships. The key points from that profile are as follows:
While he is not the fastest player on the ice, Dvorak’s skating is very impressive, considering his size. He is able to use his long stride and reach to close gaps and can angle players away from loose pucks, which allows his teammates to start transitioning the play the other way. When the puck is on his stick, he does not hesitate to carry it out of his own zone and into the offensive end. If he can work on his explosiveness and add some speed to his skating, he could be a force when he arrives in the NHL.
The main draw to Dvorak is his ability to play a physical yet clean game. In 24 games this season in Czechia’s pro league, he finished with just six penalty minutes despite being involved constantly in board and front-of-the-net battles. He knows where the line is and has developed his game to be effective without crossing it.
Kierszenblat does state that he thinks Dvorak’s work on the backend should not mean his lack of production should devalue him as a prospect. I do not know if I agree. Dvorak certainly had his season cut short by injury and he was in a limited role with Liberec. Yet, he was healthy, played a lot at both U-18 tourneys at the start and end of the draft cycle, and he did not produce or shoot a lot at either. I am skeptical. That said, if Dvorak does move as well as Kierszenblat describes, then his shot at making it to the NHL should get better. Being able to move is a crucial part to anyone’s game, even what appears to be the definition of what could be the profile of a stay-at-home defenseman.
While Dvorak did return to full activity and played plenty during Czechia’s World U-18 Championship, his play garnered this blurb from Brock Otten, writing at McKeen’s Hockey, about the risers from the tournament:
Speaking of injured players, it was a tough year for Dvorak. Injuries limited his exposure this year. Entering the year there was some thought that he could be a first-round pick, but his offensive game just didn’t develop as expected, perhaps due to his health. Thus, it was great to see him healthy at this event and playing at a high level as one of Czechia’s top players and defenders. He looked good in the defensive end and likely left scouts with a positive lasting impression before the draft.
It is more of a summary about his season rather than how he did at the tourney. I do not disagree with Otten saying he looked good and left a good impression. Button’s ranking would suggests that. But the big question has more to do with how teams will value him since he did well at the things he was expected to do well but did not excel at things he was not previously excelling in like offense.
Ultimately, I’m finding myself in agreement with Sebastian High’s observations of Dvorak at Dobber Prospects. Dvorak was unranked in their Spring ranking, so the observation is at his player page from May.
May 2023 – Dvorak plays a fairly simple unspectacular brand of hockey. He makes simple quick passes to advance play and is a plus-level skater with strong fluidity, edgework, and power. He’s a fairly good scanner who keeps track of threats in the defensive zone, but who can be somewhat passive in engaging those threats, especially off the rush. His handling, creativity, playmaking, and dynamic ability are all quite limit and make his defensive game the core of his NHL projectability. He prescans well on retrievals and typically remains composed under pressure in control, finding the easiest outlet option to diffuse pressure. He projects best as a bottom-pairing piece, but advancements in his passing game, consistency, and aggressiveness could unlock #4 potential. Sebastian High
Ultimately, that last sentence is what spells out the cooler opinion on Dvorak compared to where it was for some in August and September 2022. While Dvorak does well at defensive aspects of the game, it appears that could be really it. Even if he develops, the end result may be a useful but not essential player. Which would explain why he is seen as a second day draft pick instead of someone once thought to push into a first round loaded with forwards but short on defensemen.
A Little Video
There is not a lot on Jakub Dvorak, the hockey player, but there is this one video from the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the Under-18 tourney held in August and is the unofficial start of the year for draft prospects. It is a shift-by-shift video of Dvorak lasting 22:55 from August 6, 2022 in the Bronze Medal game between Czechia and Finland. Dvorak indeed played big minutes for Czechia in these international games. You can see him moving well, if conservative at times as he was the last defender against a rushing Finnish attack on some of these shifts. His size is quickly apparent and he is moving at least decently to my untrained blogger eyes. I was surprised he got some power play time, although I was most impressed by his backcheck after the advantage ended and he rushed back to deny an opportunity for a Finnish attack out of the box. Some of his work in tight spaces went well on some shifts, but there were some other shifts where it looked like he was catching up to what was going on. Basically, I was not really thrilled by his game but I did not think he was bad or a problem. He had a decent game. Which kind of fits with the sense I got when putting this profile together.
An Opinion of Sorts
Tony Ferrari is right. Jakub Dvorak is indeed a throwback. Fifteen to twenty years ago, Jakub Dvorak and defenders like him would be in far more demand in the draft. Someone who is big, someone who plays smart in their own end, and someone who is smart enough to stay out of the box for the most part and make simple plays. This is still valuable in today’s game - but not nearly as much as it was back in the early 2000s or in the 1990s. This is mostly because today’s game demands more from all skaters. It is not enough for a forward to just be good at shooting and passing; they need to be able to play without the puck. It is not enough for a defenseman to just be good in their own end; they need to be able to handle a puck, make some forward passes, and even activate on offense when necessary. And everyone has to skate well. If a prospect is limited at the youth level, then it is going to be hard for improvements to be made as they get older and progress at the professional levels. Not impossible, but hard.
To that end, I get why many places have not ranked Dvorak or do not rank him highly. Even if his skating ends up being good enough and improves further. Even if he demonstrates he can handle a puck and not be a disaster going forward. The end result is likely going to be what High described: a solid but unspectacular defender on a blueline. I can agree that, yes, good teams need those kinds of players. However, that does not mean they are valuable enough to be drafted high. I can agree good teams have bottom six forwards who can contribute but that does not mean you should draft “energy guys” with fourth line potential in the first round. To that end, I can understand why most who follow prospects are not ranking Dvorak high or discussing him as once thought of earlier in the year. The offensive potential that those were hoping to see never materialized and so it hard to project Dvorak as anything but a defensive defenseman that would be drafted higher a decade-plus ago. Throw in the fact he was unable to play most of this season due to his collarbone injury and he is definitely not a touted prospect.
Barring any acquisitions, the Devils are picking late in the second round for their first selection in the 2023 NHL Draft. The prospects available then are likely going to be like Dvorak. Prospects who have limited potential even if they do realize it in time. Prospects who fell for one reason or another, such as a regular season limited both in ice time and with injury. I can see the argument about the Devils taking a chance on Dvorak if the belief is that he has recovered and has a good shot of developing into a NHL player. That is ultimately the goal.
However, the Devils have players like Dvorak already in their pool. Some are further along like Topias Vilen and Daniil Misyul, others are still in process elsewhere like Case McCarthy, Artem Barabosha, and Charlie Leddy. I do not know if the Devils need to keep adding this kind of defenseman. If they were lacking in defensemen, then sure, go for it. But the Devils are not. Therefore, I would prefer if the Devils take a chance on someone with more upside even with more risk, or someone else that falls but has a more offensive skillset. The one-way defensive defenseman is a throwback and will never leave the game, but there is a reason it is not as valuable as it once was. I am confident Jakub Dvorak could very well turn some heads in 2023-24 after what turned out to be an unfortunate 2022-23. He could make some wish he was taken earlier. But I do not think New Jersey will be one of them - assuming he makes it that far.
I do want to point out that Dvorak will have his appeal to others and I respect it, but I am not as moved by it. In the meantime, I would love to know your take on Jakub Dvorak in the comments. What do you think of his season as a whole? What did you like reading about him? What did you not like reading about him? Regardless of what I think, would you want the Devils to take him in the second round? Or later, if available? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Dvorak in the comments. Thank you for reading.