Dave Hakstol has been with the Flyers only since May, and he's already said that his impact in the team's draft selection process was fairly minimal. And as we discussed yesterday with Felix Sandstrom, Ron Hextall made it clear that he wanted to restock the Flyers' cabinet of goaltending prospects in the 2015 draft.
So despite the Hakstol's connection to goaltender and incoming University of North Dakota commit Matej Tomek, it's unlikely he played a crucial role in the Flyers' decision to take Tomek with the 90th pick in last June's draft. This isn't exactly Hakstol borrowing #DuckBias from our friends across the South Philly sports complex and going all-out to get one of his guys from @college.
20. Matej Tomek
Still, it's long been clear that the Flyers' new head coach had found something in the young Slovakian goalie that he really liked:
Dave Hakstol was after Matej Tomek so hard on the recruiting trail at UND that the family man adjusted the time of his wife's birthday dinner because of an official visit from the standout goalie.
Perhaps a risky move there by Hakstol, but it's pretty easy to tell why exactly he was so desperate to bring Tomek in to his North Dakota program.
After a pair of excellent seasons in Slovakia on under-18 teams in his age-15 and 16 years and an appearance on the country's under-18 World Junior team in 2013-14, Tomek came across the ocean and put together an outstanding season with the Topeka Roadrunners in the NAHL, America's second-level junior league. Tomek said recently in an interview with Steve Coates on the Flyers' website that he really wanted to play college hockey in America, and that he believed playing in Topeka was his best opportunity to do so.
That belief ended up working out fairly well for Tomek. While the NAHL maybe isn't seen by most as a hotbed for developing NHL talent, it's still quite impressive what Tomek did there as a 17-year old in his first season on this side of the world. His .928 save percentage for the Roadrunners was outstanding, he was also top-5 in nearly every other major goaltending statistic (GAA, shutouts, wins), and he was named the league's Goaltender of the Year.
So it's not surprising to hear -- via that Grand Forks Herald article quoted above -- that more than twenty NCAA programs recruited him over the course of the year before he ultimately committed to North Dakota.
Checking in at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds via NHL dot com, Tomek fits the mold of a modern-age goalie in that he's both big enough to cover a lot of the net by himself even when in the butterfly and also athletic enough to move from side to side quickly to cut off other opportunities for shooters. Tomek described himself in that same interview with the Flyers in very simple terms as a "tall goalie, pretty athletic, using butterfly style", and ESPN's Corey Pronman (who had Tomek as his No. 6-ranked goalie in last June's draft) had the following to say about the young Slovak (ESPN Insider article):
After being a top prospect in the Slovak program for a few years, Tomek came to North America this season to play in the NAHL (a tier below the USHL in quality of competition), where he was dominant. He's very athletic for a man his size, and while he still has room to fill out in his frame, his athleticism and size are notable. He is gifted in his movements and stays composed. The issue with Tomek isn't one of a glaring hole as much as the quality of opponents; his puck-tracking and hockey sense haven't been truly tested at the NAHL level. He has committed to play at North Dakota in 2015-16.
If the worst thing that a respected prospect evaluator can say about a goalie prospect is that he just needs to start playing against better opponents, that's not a bad place to be at all. And Tomek will likely get that chance to play against better competition this upcoming season.
With the departure of Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre, who started all but one of North Dakota's 42 games last season before leaving Grand Forks to sign an entry-level contract, there stands a pretty good chance that Tomek will get reasonable playing time in his first year with North Dakota. The two guys he looks to be competing with for time in the crease -- junior Matt Hrynkiw and sophomore Cam Johnson -- have combined for a total of 43 minutes played at the NCAA level, all by Johnson. The spot very much looks to be wide open.
The fact that Tomek getting serious ice time as a freshman at a perennially excellent program like North Dakota is a possibility goes to show just where Tomek's stock is right now, and how good of a goalie prospect he is.
Even so, though, as Charlie mentioned yesterday, there's just so much risk in trying to project any goalie prospect as a remotely "safe" contributor. Despite Tomek's outstanding track record to date, it's really hard to peg him as a key part of the Flyers' future with any sort of confidence. But the team has as many as four years to watch him develop in the U.S., and the hope is that he can handle this newest, toughest challenge yet in stride -- and the fact that the team's head coach clearly has confidence in him counts for something.
How we voted for Matej Tomek:
Who we voted for at No. 20:
|Danick Martel||Cole Bardreau||Radel Fazleev||Felix Sandstrom||Danick Martel||Valeri Vasiliev||Matej Tomek||Felix Sandstrom||Oskar Lindblom||Robert Hagg||Brandon Alderson||Tyrell Goulbourne|