The Saskatoon Blades appear to have their defense core ready to go for the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season with signing its two 2019 import-drafted players to standard player agreements.
Selected 55th and 115th overall by Saskatoon in the 2019 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, 19-year-old Libor Zabransky and 17-year-old Radek Kucerik, both hail from the Czech Republic.
Excited that Zabransky and Kucerik have committed to the Blades, general manager Colin Priestner praised the pairs international playing experience with Czech Republic and said they will instantly add depth to the teams defense.
“Libor has two years of WHL experience and is a big, rangy, right shot blue liner who can play in all situations,” Priestner said in a Blades release. “ He captained Czech Republic to a silver medal at the Ivan Hlinka in 2017, so we know he has good leadership abilities and his previous experience to North America should make his transition to our team very smooth.”
From 2017 until 2019 Zabransky was a member of the Kelowna Rockets then finished the season with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League. Zabransky accumulated 28 points, four goals and 24 assists, over his two seasons in the WHL while recording four goals and 12 assists for 16 points in 16 games in the USHL.
Priestner added Zabransky’s experience in North America will help Kucerik along with his transition to the North American game and lifestyle as they are friends who train together in the off season.
Described as a tough, shutdown defenseman, Kucerik was praised for his size and has a late 2001 birthday making him NHL draft eligible come June.
“He’s a hard guy to play against and plays a bit of an old school style that we think will translate well to our division,” Priestner said of Kucerik.
Career highlights for Kucerik include winning the Czech U-20 championship with the Brno Comets in 2017-18 and winning bronze with Czech Republic at the world Ur-17 hockey challenge in 2017. Last season the blue liner amassed 23 points, six goals and 17 assists in 43 games with the Comets while serving as the captain of the under 19 squad. Additionally, Kucerik played four games between the Czech Extraliga and the Chance Liga.
Last season Saskatoon had 1999-born forward Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen and 2001-born defenseman Emil Malysjev as their two import players. Roykas-Martinsen piled up 29 points, while Malysjev had 17.
Saskatoon also had two d-men from the Czech Republic back in 2016-17 and 2017-18, when Mark Rubinchik and Libor Hajek were roaming the blue line.
The signings bring the Blades up to 11 signed defensemen heading into the 2019 training camp. Nolan Kneen, Scott Walford, Aidan De La Gorgendiere, Majid Kaddoura, Zabransky and Kucerik. Alex Ozar , Parker Malchuk, Charlie Wright, Spencer Shugrue and Marek Schneider will also be at camp.