Photo: The Canadian Press
With the departure of goaltender Vitek Vanecek via trade to New Jersey and the departure of defenseman Michal Kempny in free agency, the current Washington Capitals team is absent any players born in Czechia for the first time in a long time.
Past Five Seasons
Ever since Jakub Vrana earned a regular role for the Washington Capitals at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, there has been at least one player from Czechia on the Washington Capitals roster. Since that season, there were often two or more Czech players on the Roster.
Vrana was on the Capitals’ roster throughout the 2017-18 season, except for “paper” transfers to their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. That season, the Capitals acquired two Czech defensemen at the trading deadline, Michal Kempny, and Jakub Jerabek, which upped the Czech total to three players. All three players were part of the team that won the Stanley Cup, although Jerabek played sparingly in the playoffs.
Photo: NHL via Getty Images
During the 2018-19 season, both Kempny and Vrana remained with the team. That season, they also claimed Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers who remained with the team for the entire season.
Jaskin was born in Russia, but moved to Czechia during infancy. He competes for Czechia, internationally, but also identifies as Russian and socializes with Russians more than with Czechs.
For the 2019-20 season, the Capitals added another Czech defenseman in a trade, Radko Gudas. For the late starting, shorter-than-normal 2020-21 season, the Capitals started with two Czechs on the roster, Vrana and goaltender Vitek Vanecek who had finally earned a full-time role with the team.
Kempny spent the season on injured reserve as he injured his leg while training in the off-season. Vrana himself was traded to the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline.
Last season, 2021-22, featured two Czech players, Vitek Vanecek and Michal Kempny although the latter spent much of the season with the Hershey Bears. Thus, the Caps had featured at least one Czech on their roster for the last five seasons.
Years Since 2014 Draft
The 2014 NHL Draft was notable for the Caps in that they drafted Czechs in both of the first two rounds, selecting winger Jakub Vrana with pick #13 overall and goaltender Vitek Vanecek with pick #39.
During 2016-17, Vrana was called up from Hershey a few times and played in several games for the Capitals although he did not earn a full-time role yet. That same season, Vanecek also played in Hershey. While there, they shared a special bond.
Other Capitals Czechs After Lockout of 2004-05
During the period after the lockout of 2004-05 through the 2013-14 season, several Czech players dressed for the Capitals. The most prominent Czech forward during that time frame was Tomas Fleischmann, who played for the Capitals from 2005-06 through 2010-11.
There was also Jakub Klepis, Jiri Novotny, and Peter Sikora, who appeared in the years immediately after the lockout but before the Capitals were a playoff team, with none of them earning a regular role for the Capitals.
During the “Young Guns” era, there was Michal Neuvirth in goal who made his debut during the 2007-08 season, becoming a full-time NHL player in 2010-11. He remained with the team through the trade deadline of 2012-13.
Fellow Czech goalie, Tomas Vokoun, was with the team for the 2011-12 season. Defenseman, Roman Hamrlik, was with the team for the 2011-12 season until early in the 2011-13 season when he was flipped to the New York Rangers.
At the trade deadline of the 2012-13 season, the Capitals acquired Martin Erat in the ill-fated deal that sent Filip Forsberg to Nashville. They also had defenseman Tomas Kundratek briefly, who played a few games during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
Czechs Before Lockout of 2004-05
The first Czech player ever to join the Capitals was Milan Novy. The Capitals drafted him in the third round with the 58th pick overall. He had a commendable rookie season, with 18 goals and 30 assists, but had difficulty adjusting to North American culture and style of play. Hence, he did not return to Washington for the following season.
The second Czech to join the team was Michal Pivonka who, so far, has been the most productive Czech player in franchise history, leading in Games played, Goals, Assists, and Points. He played on the Capitals from 1986-87 through 1998-99. He was part of the Capitals team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997-98 and also part of the team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 1989-90.
Another Czech who was part of the Stanley Cup Finalist team of 1997-98 was Jaroslav “Yogi” Svejkovsky, although he played in just one playoff game that postseason. His NHL career was derailed by numerous injuries.
Jan Bulis came up to the Caps during the 1997-98 season and played for the Caps through the 2000-01 season. He did not become a full-time NHL player until he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens during his last year with the team.
After the “turn of the century”, the Caps acquired Jaromir Jagr, a star from the Pittsburgh Penguins, when the Penguins were having financial difficulty. He played with the Caps from 2001-02 through 2003-04 and was traded as part of the Caps’ fire sale. While he produced nearly a point a game during his time with the Capitals, it was not at the same level as his production with the Penguins had been.
Robert Lang was another former Penguin the Capitals had acquired before the 2002-03 season. He was also traded as part of the fire sale in 2003-24.
Other Czechs on the Capitals before the lockout were Frantisek Kucera, Jakub Cutta, and Patrik Augusta.
The Capitals have had 25 players from the Czechia in franchise history, with 22 skaters and three goalies. Of the 25 Czech players, just two were born after Czechoslovakia split into two separate nations. Those two players were Jakub Vrana and Vitek Vanecek, who were both born in 1995.
The Czechs playing the most games for the Capitals were Michal Pivonka (825), Jakub Vrana (284), Tomas Fleischmann (281), Jaromir Jagr (190), and Jan Bulis (181). Michal Kempny is the Czech leader in career games for a defenseman.
The highest number of goals for Czechs in Capitals history were Pivonka (181), Jagr (83), Vrana (76), Fleischmann (60), and Lang (51).
The highest number of assists for Czechs in Capitals history were Pivonka (418), Jagr (118), Lang (92), Vrana (81), Fleischmann (78), and Bulis (62).
The most points for Czechs in franchise history were Pivonka (599), Jagr (201), Vrana (157), Lang (143), and Fleischmann (138).
The Czech goalie with the most appearances is Michal Neuvirth with 143. Vitek Vanecek appeared in 79 games. Tomas Vokoun appeared in 48 games. Neuvirth has the most wins with 59. Vanecek has won 41. Vokoun had won 25.
Statistics were obtained from Quanthockey, Hockey Reference, Stat Head, and NHL.com
By Diane Doyle
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