The Leafs selected Filip Kral in the 5th round in 2018, the first draft under Kyle Dubas as GM. He is the first (and only) Czech the Leafs have drafted since Jiri Tlusty in 2006. He has a late birthday, so he was selected after his 18 year old season in the WHL. To that point Kral had already dressed in 27 games for Kometa Brno at the Czech pro level, before coming to Canada and playing in the top 4 D for Spokane.
Kral would spend the next two seasons with the Spokane Chiefs after being drafted, but could never work his way up to the top pairing. Anyone familiar with the WHL may know that’s because he was stuck behind Devil’s 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith, one of the WHL’s top defencemen during Kral’s tenure. Still, Toronto’s pick found a way to improve every year in the role he was given, eventually wearing the “A” for Spokane in 19-20.
Rank – Grade – NHL Readiness
17TH – C – 2-4 YEARS
Weight: 172 lbs
Drafted: 2018 5th round, 149th overall
What kind of player is he?
In the 2018 draft, Kyle Dubas made clear he was targeting players with “Hockey IQ”. Players who think the game at a high level and have the ability to use their teammates. Given the high-end talent the Leafs already have, this is essential to have for any prospect hopeful of cracking the lineup. A good example is Rasmus Sandin, who doesn’t have the physical ability of a player like Timothy Liljegren or the fleet of foot that Travis Dermott has, but utilizes his vision to be an effective defender.
Like Sandin, Kral demonstrated at the CHL level that he has a great first pass on the breakout. He often uses his smooth hands to buy time in the defensive zone, while Spokane’s wingers broke out for a stretch pass. Kral doesn’t have top end speed, but can also use his stickhandling to skate the puck out:
Filip Kral (TOR) is one of the craftiest puck-movers in the WHL. Not an explosive skater, but consistently separates with convincing deception through fakes, crossovers, changes of speed, cunning routes. Probably won't see a ton of these rushes in pro, but I appreciate the tools. pic.twitter.com/Xx9hBIGZI4
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) April 1, 2020
For some prospects you can point to their shot or their skating as an NHL-level tool, and that’s what makes them worthy of drafting. Kral does not have one physical attribute that stands out that way, but he uses his hockey IQ, stickhandling, and passing in combination to be an NHL-level breakout artist. Thinking about the tools we currently have to evaluate defencemen, crossing blue lines with control is something that certainly translates well.
That’s not to say Kral lacks offence, he actually produced quite well in the WHL. It’s not what he’s known for, but Kral has proven adept at moving the puck in from the boards and getting a tippable shot on net.
— Spokane Chiefs (@spokanechiefs) February 16, 2020
By the numbers
Kral had 35 points in 54 WHL games in 17-18 (his draft year), and picked up 1 point in 7 games for the Czech Republic at the World Juniors where they lost in the Bronze medal game. After being drafted he would attend Leafs development and training camp, but didn’t really stand out.
It was the 18-19 season where Kral differentiated himself from other 5th round picks with 36 points in 47 games, as he involved himself in a high percentage of Spokane’s offence. He did so with limited powerplay time, as Ty Smith ran PP1. The team’s strong blue line led them on a playoff run that ultimately ended in the Conference finals. Kral also suited up for his country at the 2019 WJC, though the Czech team would lose in the quarterfinals.
Heading into the 19-20 season it still was not clear if Kral was worthy of an ELC. He returned to Spokane and was one of the top scoring D for the first half of the season. When Ty Smith returned from Devils training camp then injury it limited Kral’s role, but he still finished with 49 points in 53 games. That was comparable to Parker Wotherspoon or Austin Strand’s 20 year old WHL season, and enough to secure a 3 year ELC from the Leafs.
Under normal circumstances, Kral would have started the 20-21 season in the ECHL with the Newfoundland Growlers. Obviously this has not been a normal offseason, and as a result Kral was loaned to a 2nd level Czech pro league. At the time he was loaned I speculated Kral went to a lower league for more minutes, and it appears that was correct.
Kral was playing as much as 25 minutes a night for HC Prerov and had production to match. 10 points in 7 games as a defenceman proved he was too good for that league, and he was recalled to the top Czech league by Kometa Brno. You can see that his TOI was reduced with the call up, but this is still good for Kral’s development. He is currently playing on the same team and getting similar minutes to Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins 2015 1st round pick.
What’s next for Kral?
He is in a good situation for the time being, Kral’s past two seasons with HC Kometa Brno ended in the team winning a championship. While expectations for the team has declined for 20-21, expectations for Kral have only grown during his stint in the WHL. Kometa’s blue line is deep but Kral should be able to maintain a spot in the top Czech league this season.
The Minor league situation in North America is still unclear, but at the time of the loan the expectation was Kral would return to NA when leagues opened up. If the Marlies have 8 D with more experience, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to keep Kral in Czech with the organization he grew up in. Wherever he can log minutes, Kral will benefit from playing against men in a pro league.
Looking forward to 21-22 Kral should have a crack at the Marlies top 4. That will be his first real opportunity to audition for a job on the Leafs, and at that point he’ll be 22. I think it would be really interesting to see him paired with Mac Hollowell, another defencemen who has dominated zone entries and exits in the CHL.
Mac Hollowell is one of the many 'under the radar' high probability NHLers that makes the Maple Leafs prospect system so rich. Filip Kral is another one. https://t.co/XeFlmAnHuD pic.twitter.com/bQDn3GhZM0
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) November 18, 2020
The upside for Kral is a bottom pairing defenceman at the NHL level, but one suited for the modern possession game. In the next couple seasons we will get a better understanding of what the organization sees in him, as his deployment at the AHL level will determine his trajectory. One thing I’ll say is since he was drafted, Kral has appeared to improve faster than his peer group. When he’s given more resources at the pro level, Kral is the type of player who can take advantage. Look for him to be a Marlies fixture over the next few seasons, and if things go well we’ll know more about his NHL upside for next year’s prospect rankings.