Goaltending prospect Vitek Vanecek, taken by the Capitals in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft (39th overall), likely will be leaving the Czech Republic to play for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL next season, Caps goaltending coach Mitch Korn said Thursday.
“There was a discussion of leaving him there, but I think the majority of us felt that the sooner we can acclimate him to North America and he becomes able to communicate, the sooner we can start to make more progress,” Korn said, “and I’d rather start that now than later.”
Vanecek, 19, spent most of last season with Benalky of the Czech Republic’s second-tier league, where he had a 2.24 GAA and .925 save percentage in 20 games. He also played two games with Liberec Bill Tygri of the top Czech League and represented his country in the World Junior Championships.
“I think (South Carolina) is the best place for him to start as a 19-year-old,” Korn said. “We want guys to have success at every level they play at. We don’t want them treading water; we want them swimming ahead.”
Vanecek speaks little English and Korn found the best way to communicate with him last season was through Czech League goaltending partner Jan Lasak, a Slovakian netminder who was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1999 and worked with Korn in the Predators organization.
“Jan has kept me informed throughout the season,” Korn said. “It’s nice to have spies throughout the world. It’s hard to communicate with Vitek because his English has been an issue. It is getting better.”
Korn said the improvements he’s seen in Vanecek’s game over a calendar year have been dramatic.
“He’s way better,” Korn said. “Last year when he came over here the proverbial deer-in-headlights probably comes to mind. I can just imagine picking myself up and dropping myself into a country that speaks no English and having to perform being that young.”
Korn said Vanecek is now exhibiting better balance, better rebound placement and better quickness in the crease than he showed at last year’s development camp.
“I often joke that when you take the SATs the second time you’re no smarter, but you’re results are better and they should be because we all have a learning curve.”
Following his season in the Czech Republic, the Capitals flew Vanecek to Hershey to spend 12 days working out with the Bears and taking English lessons. He is also taking English lessons this week.
Meanwhile, the Capitals’ 2015 first-round draft pick, Ilya Samsonov, is working out with his KHL team, Mettalurg Magnitogorsk, which is why he is not at development camp. Samsonov stands 6-foot-3, 201 pounds and was the first goalie taken in this year’s draft. Korn said he has only seen Samsonov on video, but likes what he sees.
“He’s an ominous body and for a big man he moves exceptionally well,” Korn said. “And there’s a thing that we call goalie sense. It’s not where the puck is, it’s where the puck’s going, and the guys that are really good know where the puck’s going, whether it’s off the stick to the net or off the stick to another option.
“He seems to have really solid goalie sense. The speed of the game requires great processing and he seems to possess that. But you never really know I until you own it, and until I get to know him first-hand I’m projecting.”
Speaking of goaltending, Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann said he is preparing to lose goalie Philipp Grubauer to the Capitals and accept veterans Justin Peters and Dan Ellis as his two goalies in Hershey next season.
“From a coaching perspective I don’t think (Grubauer) has anything left to prove at the American Hockey League level,” Mann said.
As for Peters and Ellis, Mann said both are quality goalies and quality people.
“We’ll see how we have to handle it,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge for (goaltending instructor) Scott Murray with potentially two older, veteran type of goalies. It’ll be a bit of a balancing act there. If you can’t be in the NHL I would think Hershey’s a pretty good spot with what I would consider an NHL atmosphere in the building.”