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The Pipeline Between the Pipes

We’re taking a quick trip across the ocean to the Czech Republic.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are two goalies outside of the NHL under team control for next season: Troy Grosenick and Niclas Westerholm.

Among a few others, the organization has a decision to make on another goalie by June 1: Karel Vejmelka. The 2015 draft pick is under reserve control by the team until then as he looks for an entry-level contract. I’ll dive into the merits of his contract worth later, but he has been playing opposite of another Preds draft pick, Milan Klouček, in the Czech Extraliga this season.

With there being constant worries about the future of goaltending in the organization, I thought I would take a look at Vejmelka and Klouček’s production this year. Additionally, I reached out to the excellent mind behind @CZprospects to get their take on the two Czech netminders.

Goals Saved Above Average

If you’ve followed my previous analysis, you know my propensity to use goals saved above average as more contextual measuring tool for goalies than save percentage and goals against average. I’ll reiterate that those can be useful numbers, but goals saved above average is particularly helpful in this case, because we can better understand the impact a goalie like Milan Klouček has on a putrid HC Dynamo Pardubice team.

The Tipsport ELH website has an incredible wealth of analysis including their very own visualizations (thank you to the ELH digital team). To give a quick understanding of where Vejmelka and Klouček’s teams are at relative to their opponents, I’ve included a PDO chart below. If you’re unfamiliar, PDO is the combination of a team’s save and shooting percentage.

2018-19 ELH PDO
hokejcz

Klouček’s HC Dynamo is deep in the red with a league-worst 0.881 save percentage and 7.4% shooting clip. Vejmelka’s HC Kometa is near the middle of the pack with a .909 save percentage and 9.7% shooting mark.

2018-19 ELH sv%
hokej.cz

Of all goalies who have started 15 or more games this season, Vejmelka ranks ninth in 5-on-5 save percentage at .916 and Klouček ranks 19th at 0.897. Goaltending has been fairly remarkable in Czechia this season, with 10 goalies with a .915 save percentage or higher out of 14 starters. So what does this table look like when we consider goals saved above average?

2018-19 Czech ELH GSAA

Goalie Shots Against Goals Allowed Goals Saved Above Avg.
Goalie Shots Against Goals Allowed Goals Saved Above Avg.
Bartosak (Vitkovice) 1436 94 29.5
Frodl (Plzen) 1052 73 17.5
Hrubec (Trinec) 1156 91 8.4
Machovsky (Praha) 1235 99 7.2
Will (Liberec) 1245 103 4.1
Lukas (Olomouc) 572 46 3.2
Kroselj (Mlada Boleslav) 780 64 3.1
Maxwell (Mountfield) 686 57 2
Janus (Litvinov) 1154 98 1.2
Vejmelka (Brno) 769 65 1.1
Konrad (Olomouc) 846 73 -0.2
Kantor (Trinec) 375 34 -1.8
Kasik (Zlin) 616 55 -2
Novotny (Karlovy Vary) 1192 105 -2.5
Pavelka (Mountfield) 578 53 -3.3
Sedlacek (Praha) 1102 101 -6.2
Kloucek (Pardubice) 417 43 -7.1
Peters (Chomutov) 904 85 -7.3
Kacetl (Pardubice) 907 99 -21

The results from the table above should not be too surprising. Karel Vejmelka has been slightly above-average for a near-average team. He has by no means lost them games but has not stolen many either. Klouček has not been great, but he’s been better than his save percentage and goals-against average indicate. He’s been the better of Pardubice’s two goalies by a comfortable margin and has gotten little assistance from HC Dynamo’s league-worst offense, too.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As mentioned above, I reached out to @CZprospects to get more insight on Klouček and Vejmelka’s style of game:

Both are big goalies, use their size well, good positioning, good reactions. I see a lot of similarities in their style...

So I watched each of their last few games to get a visual on their positioning.

Milan Klouček

First, let’s take a look at Klouček. Below you see him go through his positioning motions on the right post: with the puck deep in the corner, he flattens out his stance to better cover the back door, then, as the puck moves into the circle and back out, he drops to seal off the right side, returns to his stand-up position, and squares up to the puck as it moves to the point.

Klouček’s right-side frame

In the next clip below, I’ve highlighted Klouček’s T-push across the crease. You will notice as he moves to his left that he first goes for a butterfly slide. He was beaten from that spot on the point earlier this game, so it’s possible he was trying to compensate. But he then returns to his extremely fluid T-push to finish across the crease and go back the other way with good puck tracking on the penalty kill.

Klouček’s T-Push

Finally, I want to highlight Klouček’s blocker side. It’s been noticed as a consistent weakness in his game, and he gave up five of six goals in this game due to it. Above all, the below clip shows really excellent shot timing. Klouček comes out of his crease to challenge and the shot is fired right as he starts dropping to the butterfly to kick out his leg. As mentioned, the low blocker is something to watch for him.

Klouček’s blocker side

Karel Vejmelka

Next we’ll turn to Karel Vejmelka. Just above I pointed out the low part of Klouček’s blocker side, and now I’ll point out the high corner of Vejmelka’s blocker side.

Vejmelka’s blocker side

Notice above how he’s just a few inches deeper into the crease. Vejmelka’s default stance has him lurched a tad forward. Since he isn’t at the top of the blue paint that corner is somewhat easier to pick.

Vejmelka’s butterfly slide

Above is a similar sequence on the penalty kill for Vejmelka. He uses the butterfly slide to track the puck behind the net, which is smart, but then you’ll briefly notice his T-push to the right is a bit choppier than Klouček’s. Again, both Klouček and Vejmelka fill the net similarly—although Vejmelka usually enjoys a wider stance—but they have differing techniques on how to get there.

What’s Next?

Vejmelka is in a contract year with Nashville and it remains to be seen if he will be offered an entry-level deal in North America. He has seemingly returned to form as a top starter in the Czech Republic, but he still started 10 games in the second tier league—why exactly? @CZprospects, once again, helped me out:

Development and to keep him playing. Vejmelka didn’t start the season as a number one goalie in Brno behind Langhammer and Kašik.

Even after respectable numbers in over 30 starts, Brno still acquired veteran goalie Marek Čiliak at the transfer deadline because they don’t entirely trust Vejmelka. That is a little disappointing to hear, but his past few years in Brno have consisted of plenty of back-and-forth. So can he make it in North America? It can be a difficult transition, as seen with Miroslav Svoboda, but my curiosity was addressed:

It’s difficult to predict, but I think he is mentally strong and can put up good numbers. Sometimes it’s difficult for European goalies to adapt to the North American style, but, if he could, he is definitely a goalie who can succeed in the AHL.

Klouček is younger than Vejmelka by two years, but was drafted in his final year of eligibility, so he’s already 20 years old. We can certainly expect a few more seasons in the Czech Republic from Klouček at the least, but how helpful is it playing for such a bad team:

Pardubice has been bad for the last three seasons; Klouček is definitely a bright spot—team performance is better with him in the crease. [I] don’t really understand why he doesn’t get more games, although there was some words from the new head coach that Klouček didn’t work on his [conditioning] as much as he should.

I did some digging on this and found some more background here. Klouček added (per rough translation) on his interim coach, “He told me what was expected of me...I’m working on myself, but rather physically. I don’t talk too much about catching; we said things outside the crease.”

So, it seems the focus for Vejmelka is tightening up the details of his game and it’s more conditioning concerns for Klouček. The latter still has time in the pipeline, but Vejmelka’s adjustments may not matter if Nashville chooses not to sign him this summer.

Thanks again to @CZprospects for all the help. Otherwise, all statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and hokej.cz.