Around this time last year, the headline "Petr Straka sits at No. 15 heading into make-or-break year" was one that ran on our website (in this very same 25 Under 25 feature, of course). The premise of Charlie's article there was fairly straightforward: Straka hadn't really established himself as a strong prospect in his two years (to date) with the organization, and he was likely coming up on his last chance to prove himself as a potential future NHLer.
This was more or less the same blueprint that I'd written out in my head when I went to write this year's article about Straka. A pessimist would interpret that fact by saying that Straka spent his "make-or-break year" down in the minors, never really even in the conversation for NHL playing time. An optimist would look at that fact and say that, despite Straka's seemingly uneventful year and the logjam of forwards the Phantoms look like they'll have this year, the Flyers still retained Straka this past summer, signing him to a one-year, two-way contract extension back in July.
So which one is it?
No. 19: Petr Straka
Age: 24 (6/15/1992)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 19 G, 18 A in 64 GP
Nationality: Czech (Plzen)
Acquired Via: Signed as an undrafted free agent in April 2013
Truthfully, calling Straka's year "uneventful" isn't totally fair to him. If you were looking for him to get out to a good start to his contract year, you couldn't have asked for much more out of him: he had 14 goals by the time November had ended -- already matching the total he had from the entire 2014-15 season. He was the AHL leader in goals for much of the season's early going, positioning himself as a call-up option were a winger on the Flyers to get injured.
The fact that some regression would ensue is unsurprising -- Straka had just 2 goals in December -- but things took an unfortunate turn for the young Czech winger in early January, when he blocked a shot in a game in Portland on January 3 and ended up missing about a month of game time with the dreaded lower-body injury (which, according to Highland Park Hockey's Tony Androckitis, was a knee injury). Things never quite got back on track for Straka, who played in 26 games after returning from said injury and tallied just two goals (and nine assists) in that time.
To be sure, some bad luck was likely in play for Straka down the stretch. His shooting percentage in those 26 games was a paltry 3.3 percent, a number which should be expected to rise given time alone. And it's very possible that he wasn't playing at full strength for some or all of that post-injury time, or that he came back too soon and it hurt his play, or that he was otherwise affected by the injury in some fashion. The play Straka showed in those 26 games is probably at a level below what we should expect him to play at this coming season.
But the problem is that we don't know what we can expect him to play at this season. His torrid pace through November was fun to watch, but we can pretty safely say that he was playing at a pace there that he can't maintain long-term -- Straka shot 26.4 percent during that time, something that no one can reasonably expect him to do with regularity. And taking the whole season into account -- the highs of October and November to go with the lows of February to April -- Straka's overall production, on a per-game basis, was just .58 points per game.
That's a respectable number in a vacuum. But Straka's a 23-year old who's played in three AHL seasons, and he's a guy mostly hailed for his offensive ability. If you're looking for a guy on the cusp of being a point-producing NHL winger, you probably want to see a more dominant performance than that.
Also, that per-game total is comfortably a career-best for Straka in his three-year AHL career. Again, there are two ways to look at this: the pessimist would think that this may be the best he can do and think it's time to move on, while the optimist would think that at 23 there's still a chance he has a breakthrough coming.
The Flyers, though, seem to be taking the optimist's view on Straka, as they gave him that aforementioned contract extension in mid-July. And truthfully, it's a perfectly fine for them to give. There's little downside for them; it's a two-way contract, Straka's not blocking anyone important at the AHL level, and at worst, he's shown that he's at least a decent AHL winger who helps the Phantoms win now. And at best, Straka finds some of the magic he had during that early-season run last year, scores a bunch of goals, and gives the team a reason to take an even longer look at him -- whether that's in the form of a call-up this year or another contract next summer.
Still, it does feel like this is an actual make-or-break year for Straka. His first two months last year likely bought him a longer look this upcoming season. But at 24 years old and going into his fourth year, he can't afford to have an AHL season that's anything short of dominant if he wants to keep himself in the Flyers' long-term conversation.
How we voted for Petr Straka :
How we voted at No. 19 :
|Oskar Lindblom||Alex Lyon||Alex Lyon||Carter Hart||Radel Fazleev||Taylor Leier||Danick Martel||Robert Hagg||Radel Fazleev||Carter Hart|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: