With the 160th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres drafted winger Lukas Rousek from HC Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga. After going undrafted the previous two drafts, the 20 year-old Czech winger was finally selected. His pre-draft rankings by scouting agencies were all over the place as Future Considerations had him ranked #101, NHL Central Scouting had him as the #39 EU skater, while Hockey Prospect left him unranked.
Rousek is a player who the Sabres have had their eyes on throughout this year’s draft process. According to Ryan Jankowski, he was a player their Czech scout, Frank Musil, strongly advocated for. They actually flew in Rousek earlier this month for their team combine where he did some on-ice and off-ice testing.
Rousek played in 34 regular season games for HC Sparta Praha, recording 4 goals and 5 assists. He also spent some time on loan with HC Stadion Litomerice of the Czech 2nd League where he had 7 goals and 8 assists in 16 games. Rousek would end the season with some solid postseason production, putting up 5 points in 4 Extraliga playoff games.
So, why bother writing an article about a guy who went in the 6th round in the NHL Draft? Well, I do not believe that Rousek is a typical throw-away 6th round pick, I actually think he has some NHL potential. The two reasons why I think he can succeed at the next level? His skating and his compete level.
Let’s first take a look at Lukas Rousek’s skating ability. One of the first things that stands out is his fast acceleration. He has very quick first steps that allow him to reach his top speed almost instantly. He looks like a roadrunner on skates, at times he appears as if he is running on the ice rather than skating.
His strides appear to be a little choppy yet he still manages to get around the ice faster than his opponents. I do believe that his strides can be improved which would allow him to become a more efficient skater. But, at the same time, this unique “roadrunner” stride works for Rousek and it does not appear to tire him out.
Speed is the key to Rousek’s game as it makes him an effective player on both the offensive and defensive end of the ice. He consistently wins puck battles by beating opponents with his great speed and it also allows him to be an efficient puck carrier on zone exits and entries. Rousek’s speed helps him generate offense as he can beat defenders and generate scoring opportunities.
The second standout aspect of Rousek’s game is his compete level, which makes him a very effective player when combined with his speed. What’s one thing that all good forecheckers in the NHL have in common? Their feet are always moving. Rousek is always keeping those skates moving and you’ll likely never catch him flat-footed. I like to think of him as an Energizer Bunny on ice.
He is great on the forecheck and is more than willing to hound his opponents as they attempt to carry the puck up the ice. His speed and intensity allow him to excel at retrieving pucks in the offensive zone. Rousek also has a great sense of anticipation that allows him to quickly read plays and create turnovers. All of these tools are perfect for a penalty killer at the next level.
Despite playing such a speedy, hound-like game, Rousek appears to have great conditioning as he rarely appears gassed during his shifts. He is a player who can compete at 100% for a full game. His game is almost designed for playoff hockey as he is that prototypical speedy agitator that can chip in offensively. I mean, he did play his best hockey of the season in the 2019 Extraliga playoffs.
It is certainly not very easy to crack an NHL roster and there are plenty of fast skaters who can forecheck who do not make it at the top level for a variety of reasons, whether it be lack of hockey IQ, lack of puck skills, etc. For the most part, it takes a well-rounded game in order to be successful in the NHL.
The primary obstacle for Lukas Rousek and his path to the NHL will certainly be his offensive skill. He possesses a good set of hands, yet his passing and shooting can both be improved upon. However, he did end the season on a high note offensively after leading Sparta Praha in playoff points with 5 in 4 games. According to Jankowski, his playoff run “gave us a hint that there’s some skill on offense there.”
Rousek is likely to receive an elevated role with HC Sparta Praha in the Extraliga this season where he should see top 6 duties. This should certainly help him get an uptick in production for next season. I do not believe he will ever be a high-end offensive producer at the next level, but I do believe that his skill can get to level where he can be an effective bottom six guy in the NHL.
After watching this year’s NHL playoffs, it is apparent that this is a league where speed, skill, and compete are greatly valued. Ideally, I imagine Rousek as that fast, bottom six energy guy who can also be used on the penalty kill. Maybe the Sabres can pair him up with fellow countryman, Matej Pekar, and create a speedy pest line someday.
He is under contract with HC Sparta Praha for the next two seasons where he will be able to develop his strength and skill at the pro level. If his development continues to trend upwards, he could be making the trek to North America by the 2021-22 season. I know, I know, 6th round picks usually never make it to the NHL, but Lukas Rousek is a prospect with some very intriguing tools. It would be great to see him in the blue (hopefully royal blue by then) and gold someday.
**GIFs from Andy Lehoux’s Lukas Rousek video**
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