The Nashville Predators have returned to the European goalie pool to add to their pipeline. The team has announced the signing of goaltender Miroslav Svoboda from HC Plzen of the top Czech league - the same organization that produced Marek Mazanec.
The recently-turned 23-year-old was initially drafted 208th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015 - that’s three picks after the Predators chose goaltender Evan Smith who retired from hockey the following season. If you have an idea of how reserve lists work in the NHL CBA, you may be wondering why Svoboda still isn’t Oilers property. I’ll create a quick comparison to explain:
Karel Vejmelka was drafted that same year out of the Czech Republic. He was 19 at the time of the draft. Svoboda, however, was 20 at the time of the draft. The CBA stipulates that players drafted out of leagues with an NHL Transfer Agreement (Czech, SHL, Liiga, etc.) remain the unsigned property of the drafting team for four years if they are drafted at 18 or 19 but only two years if drafted at 20 or older. So, Svoboda technically became an NHL free agent on June 1, 2017, hence his availability.
Anyway, Svoboda was a star in Czechia this season. In 47 starts for Plzen, he posted a 2.10 GAA and a .926 save percentage. He started 10 more games in the playoffs and finished with a 2.25 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Although this was his first full season in the top Czech league, he helped HC Dukla Jihlava gain promotion to the top league last season.
Below I’ll do the usual breakdown: the numbers, the eye-test, and the contract.
By The Numbers
As mentioned above this past season was Svoboda’s first in the top Czech league, and he had stellar numbers. But even before that, he has put up impressive numbers in two full seasons in the second-tier league and two full seasons in the U20 junior league. It’s a crowded stat sheet and that can be both a benefit and detriment to European goalies. On one hand, they are more likely to get minutes in leagues above them as they progress but a complex loan system rarely gives up-and-coming goalies a shot with one team for a full season like Svoboda had this year.
In terms of career arc, I can think of three goalies he reminds me of so far: David Rittich, Alexandar Georgiev, and Antti Raanta. Rittich came to North America around a similar age with a similar background in the Czech Republic. To date, he carries a 2.73 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 43 AHL games and a 2.96 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 22 NHL games. Granted those are with a weak Calgary Flames organization, but those are still respectable numbers for a relatively unknown goaltender.
Svoboda immediately jumps out as the frontrunner to be Saros’ backup once Rinne retires or moves on with his numbers. We’ll see how that translates to North America.
Svoboda isn’t huge, but he has a decent frame, and it shows well when he’s covering the net in tight. At 6’3” his height isn’t an outstanding factor, but I don’t think that matters much at all. Something I’ve noticed in watching his tapes is that his stance is very much rooted in fundamentals - which I am a fan of.
I like this penalty kill sequence from Svoboda. On the first attempt, you notice his quick step on tracking the puck across the zone. He goes for the save on a shot heading wide but doesn’t overcommit and recovers excellently. He resets near the top of his crease but not aggressively and swallows the next shot.
Here is a 5-on-3 kill from Plzen. First, Svoboda aside, what an aggressive collapse by the defense - I don’t hate it. Anyway, not many power plays in the NHL operate with two guys behind the net, but I love Svoboda’s stance the whole time here. He hugs the posts well, flares out his opposite side stick or glove to cover up high, and doesn’t get sloppy as he shifts across the crease with excellent and very technical legwork.
This is one incredible shot by the Kometa defenseman. I think Svoboda saw this going glove-side the whole time. Regardless, I want to point out a few things. He doesn’t hold his blocker side in quite as much as some goalies and keeps his glove slightly turned down and out when setting up. That latter part makes sense for players shooting across the net. I’ve also noticed this a lot in younger goalies whereas some older goalies hold their glove out and up as if to receive something.
Above is an instance I’ve noticed here and there. Svoboda favors one side when committing to the butterfly and gets beat up high. This won’t happen all that much and better defense helps prevent it, but it’s something take note of.
Overall, I find him to be a very technically sound goalie who won’t overcommit or make glaring mistakes.
The Predators’ now have three goalies signed in the pipeline for next season with Svoboda, Niclas Westerholm, and Troy Grosenick. It seems Svoboda is most likely to end up in Milwaukee in the fall behind Grosenick assuming Lindback is not re-signed.
As mentioned above, Svoboda immediately stands out to me as having the best NHL shot of all the Preds’ goaltending prospects. I’m not sure what this means for Karel Vejmelka exactly (his rights are retained until June 1, 2019), but I would surmise the organization is maybe higher on Konstantin Volkov after this season. We shall see.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com.