With Travis Konecny, Timo Meier, and Jeremy Roy getting snatched up at 13, 14, and 15, we here at Copper & Blue had a tough decision to make regarding the sixteenth overall pick. I touched on the subject here about a little over a week ago, suggesting there may be a few enticing options at forward available at 16th—and there were in SB Nation's mock draft, as Nick Merkeley and Yevgeny Svechnikov were still up for grabs. However, the consensus among staff here was that the best player available was Czech defenceman Jakub Zboril, and thus history was written.
The Saint John Sea Dogs player is listed as 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, and came over to the QMJHL after posting 5-16-21 in 36 games as a 16 year old with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Republic's U-20 league. In his CHL rookie season he didn't miss a beat, managing an enticing line of 13-20-33 in 44 regular season games and another 1-2-3 during the Sea Dogs' brief five game playoff run, ultimately earning all-rookie team honours.
Impressions of Zboril are varied, though all scouting services have him ranked in the first round. He belongs to a cluster of defencemen that should be picked in the mid-late first round after the three blue-chippers in Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, and to a slightly lesser degree, Zachary Werenski. NHL Central Scouting slots him at #12 among North American skaters, while ISS ranks him #22 overall. Popular resource McKeen's has Zboril at #18 and Future Considerations, at #20. His highest ranking on a combined list is #14, courtesy of TSN insider Bob McKenzie's widely read draft rankings. TSN Director of Scouting had this to say about the player:
Jakub is more of a puck mover and transporter to the offensive blue line but can play on the power play and contribute with a good shot. He competes physically, bears down on others, doesn’t give an inch and can be nasty as evidenced by two suspensions this season. A top three defenceman who makes it hard on opponents.
While his offensive abilities are easily recognized in his production in the QMJHL and the Czech U-20 league, Zboril's willingness to engage physically is an encouraging sign for a player of decent—but not impressive—stature, especially at the defensive position.
Zboril racked up 73 penalty minutes during the regular season and another 18 in five playoff games. He received two suspensions as well: one game for kicking and two games for hitting to the head. In an NHL.com feature about Zboril, his former coach had this to say about his feisty nature:
"One of our first exhibition games we were playing in Charlottetown, and the play was down in their end coming back up our way and one of the Charlottetown players was challenging him to a fight the whole way up the ice...I was yelling, 'Jakub, no, no, no.' He dropped his gloves and knocked him over with one punch and that was it for the fight. When a 17-year-old does that, that's a pretty good sign that he's willing to get involved and not afraid. … He was finishing checks and playing hard in front of the net pretty much from Day One. That's just the style of play he plays."
Even so, the Oilers shouldn't be too concerned with drafting anymore hulking defenders in the near future, as Bruce McCurdy of Cult of Hockey pointed out recently that this strategy hasn't worked out so well for them in recent years. While the article in its entirety is well worth a read, McCurdy summarizes:
"The more salient figure here is the height of the successful draftees, which averages out to exactly 6’1. With the exception of Seth Jones, one of three 6’4 giants (Nurse, Ristolainen) chosen in the top ten in 2013 draft, there’s absolutely nothing here that suggests a bigger player is more likely to succeed."
Jakub Zboril's size should be of little concern to the Edmonton Oilers or their fans. What both parties should be looking for in a defensive prospect is two-way ability and a high degree of on-ice intelligence. Zboril appears to have both in abundance.
Jakub Zboril is a smart, fleet-footed two-way defenseman that plays to his strengths in all three areas of the ice. While he doesn't aim to impress, he does all of the little things right and plays with an edge. The neutral zone is his launching pad: he is able to take off into the offensive end, or backcheck quickly into his own end. Very sound positionally. Smooth skater with lots of energy to burn.
Could end up being that home-run pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Few holes in his game. A low-risk, high-reward type of player. Reminiscent style of play to that of NHL D-man Keith Yandle.
If the Oilers do in fact take Zboril with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, they'll be coming away with the type of player who could flourish into a reliable, minute-munching defenceman with the ability to excel in all situations. That doesn't sound so bad to me.
Arctic Ice Hockey, you're on the clock!