Coming in at #15 overall, is defenceman Filip Kral. Having just been drafted by the Leafs just a couple months ago, Kral is not well known among Leafs fans – yet. There are certainly a few reasons for fans to be excited about this young player. His road to the NHL is still quite a long one, but Kral is debuting on our list ahead of some much older and more experienced defenceman. Could be “shiny new toy” syndrome or maybe he is just going to be much better than expected.
The only Czech Republic-born player in the Leafs system, Filip Kral has seen success throughout the Czech youth system. A fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Kral played his first season of North American hockey just last season with the Spokane Chiefs. At 6’1″ and 172 lbs, he is certainly not one of those defencemen that has the potential to be pushed around.
His youth club HC Kometa Brno has been the key destination for Czech-born players to see a path to the NHL. Martin Necas, Pavel Zacha, and Jakub Zboril, are just some recently-drafted prospects that came out of the same youth system. Kral even got to play a total of 27 games for the men’s team in the top league in Czech Republic – playing with the Nashville Predators trade legend Martin Erat.
Kral was awarded the Spokane Chiefs 2017-18 Rookie of the Year award.
All of Kral’s numbers in the Czech Republic are not that appealing when you first look at them, but there are certainly some promise within them. His point totals in the youth leagues are certainly impressive as a defenceman but being able to be a point-per-game player is somewhat expected with a NHL prospect. Being able to play a total of 23 games in the top men’s league in the Czech Republic is impressive by itself, not even considering the fact that Kral was only 16-years-old when that was happening. Playing alongside and against players that are usually double his age.
With his first season of North American hockey, Kral was not that extraordinary in the boxscore either. But the main thing to look at is how his numbers are divided between powerplay and even-strength. Of Kral’s 35 points, only 10 of them were on the man advantage – meaning that he did not pad his stats with easier assists or goals. It would have been a much bigger number if all he did was play six minutes of powerplay time a night and pass the puck to Jaret Anderson-Dolan or Kailer Yamamoto.
Meanwhile, other top WHL defensive prospects like Calen Addison and Cal Foote, were able to score almost half of their total points on the powerplay.
As demonstrated below, there are many more reasons and numbers from his first WHL season to get excited about Kral as a potential NHL defenceman.
At 5v5, Kral was one of the best defencemen in the WHL last year.
Among all WHL defencemen, he sat 15th in 5v5 Pts/GP with 0.44. All but one player of that fourteen above Kral was younger than him – New Jersey Devils prospect and Spokane Chiefs teammate Ty Smith. Considering his age and draft eligibility, Kral should have definitely been talked about more within prospect circles.
All of Kral’s comparables in the WHL that were taken in the 2018 NHL Draft, were taken much earlier than the fifth round. Jett Woo, Ty Smith, Alexander Alexeyev and Calen Addison, all had similar years to Kral at even-strength. Considering the chart below from Mitch Brown, he looks like a very solid bet to make in the later rounds of the draft.
Leafs take Filip Kral, yet another one of my favourites. Above-average offence and transition numbers. He was one of the very best NZ defenders I tracked all season — and he did it playing on his off side. pic.twitter.com/yF31TnOuaH
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) June 23, 2018
Like Mitch Brown said, Kral did all of this playing on his off side. The left-handed defenceman spent most of his playing time with the Spokane Chiefs on the right side. This is a slightly smaller sample size than preferred, only eight games were tracked, but this is still a good sign of a mobile defenceman that does well on both sides of the ice.
Being able to enter the zone with control of the puck as a defenceman, is a very important skill to have in the modern hockey landscape. Kral was in the 91st-percentile in controlled entries per hour, then again he did not have a very preferable success rate. This is telling that Kral attempted a ton of zone entries in control – which is also something nice to see. Even if he was not very successful, being able to try this and potentially getting better at doing so, is something to look for in a prospect.
Overall, Kral had a very up-and-down year with the Spokane Chiefs. He would experience highs and lows in his stats throughout his first season of North American hockey – that is really expected from a player adjusting to a different style of the sport.
For instance, Kral started the year with two goals and five assists in just five games for the Chiefs, but then promptly followed that up with getting only one assist in his next seven games.
Kral’s season might have also benefitted with being able to either play with or just behind top prospect Ty Smith. It could be also seen as Kral was the unsung hero on the Chiefs blueline that helped Smith have the astounding season he had. Either way, we know that Kral had a wonderful underlying season for his first year in North America.
Has his progression been as expected?
Coming through the Czech Republic youth hockey system, Kral was able to be among the top scoring defencemen in his league. Having also played in the Czech Extraliga at such a young age puts his progression at a slightly accelerated rate. Getting that experience playing against men will put him in front of his Canadian peers when it comes to becoming an NHL player. If a player goes through the traditional Canadian route, they will not get that experience until they are 20-years-old and in the AHL.
If Kral is able to stay on the same path he is on now, his name will be much earlier in our rankings from now on.
As Seen on TV
a couple of rly nice goals by filip kral. rly liked this pick at 149. pic.twitter.com/A234ElThp3
— william nylander's burner account (@DylanFremlin) June 24, 2018
Kral certainly does not have any problems skating with or without the puck on his stick – a key attribute for a NHL defenceman to have.
In all of his goals, he shows a unique patience and vision for the net. Waiting out either the goaltender or approaching winger, Kral can then use his excellent shot to put the puck in the net. His lateral skating ability helps him get that open shot as well. Being able to score from a set position or on the rush, is another useful skill for him to have.
Overall, Kral shows his amazing skating ability well in all of the goals he scores.
Mostly not on the same skill level, but the way Kral skates and can shoot the puck really reminds me of Flyers defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere.
Surely, every Leafs fan will be praising Dubas even more if he was able to get a talent like Gostisbehere in the fifth round of his first draft as a GM, but it most likely will not happen that way. This comparison is more in style and not in skill or ability. He is a left-handed defenceman that appears somewhat on the small side on the ice and is extremely mobile.
Another comparable I would like to make is Torey Krug. A similar player to Gostisbehere, but with more an emphasis on shooting.
Simply put, Kral is set to become a fan favourite among other Leafs prospects. Since Kral was either unlucky or not on the ice enough on the powerplay, there is the potential for his raw point total to increase by a fair amount. If all goes correctly, he can have a massive breakout year with Spokane next season and be yet another player that fans can look forward to playing with the Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies in a couple years – and then we’ll see from there.
As he gets more established with North American hockey, Filip Kral is someone that both the analytically-savvy and traditional fans can potentially fall in love with.