The Winnipeg Jets prospects have a lot of decent dark horses, which is a nice change. Jan Kostalek is definitely one of them.
Every year I tend to select one or two players who are little less known as being potential risers in the depth charts. I've done pretty well thus far (Julian Melchiori to surpass Cody Sol and Ben Chiarot; Scott Kosmachuk and Ryan Olsen to surpass Lukas Sutter). This draft I have selected Jan Kostalek and Marcus Karlstrom as my pet prospects, mostly because they are the Jets 2.0 first European selections; I'm predicting much higher placement in next seasons Top 25 for the two of them.
(Fair warning: my pro-Kostalek colours may show up in this article)
Previous Rank: NR
Jets 2.0 First European Draft Pick
We'll start a year earlier than we do with most of our prospects as the story is quite interesting.
In 2010, as a 15 year old, Jan Kostalek started the season playing in the Czech Republic's under 16 junior program. He started off well offensively, with a goal and three assists in his first six games. While this isn't complete offensive domination, Kostalek is more known for his defensive, physical and transitional play. He was moved up an age group to play in the under 18 league and did not seem out of place. Although he was the youngest on the 1st place finishing team, Kostalek faced most of the tougher minutes. He came out 3rd in his team's defensive scoring. His play earned him a callup to the club's under 20 team for a single game, thus playing 2 age groups above. Kostalek also represented the Czech Republic for multiple international tournaments and was the second highest scoring defensemen for the team.
The next season we see Kostalek playing three different levels again, this time being U18, U20 and an early debut in the Czech pro-league. Kostalek's 10 pro-games weren't super eventful, but Kostalek was 16 and the Czech pro-league is arguably only behind the KHL, SHL and AHL for league strength. In the U18 league Kostalek was the only defensemen to post over a point per game (although in very small sample of 7 games), but his offense did not transfer as well to the U20 level.
Kostalek was also busy that season playing in international tournaments, where he played for the Czech Republic's U17, U18 and U19 teams. Kostalek's stock was very high at this point, where he was selected 10th overall in the CHL import draft. Early projections had Kostalek as a late first round to early second round pick for the NHL entry draft.
Kostalek came over to North America to play in the QMJHL for his draft season. He played a large portion of the season with Samuel Morin -- Philadelphia's selection two picks prior to Josh Morrissey -- on the Rimouski's shutdown pair. Kostalek impressed many early but a broken collarbone in November set him back a bit. Kostalek was nominated to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team and also played in the CHL Top Prospects game. He also represented his country at the U18 WJC for the second season in a row.
Luckily for the Jets, Kostalek fell to Winnipeg in the 4th round of the 2013 draft, a draft deep in upside for the organization.
Other than an extreme giveaway that turned into a goal, Kostalek played extremely well in the prospects tournament and pre-season. Kostalek opened many eyes on how refined his game was for his age and many started to get excited for strong value from the fourth round.
Junior Offense and NHL Success
There is a strong correlation to scoring success in junior and successfully entering the NHL. It seems that overall talent is more important for translation into the NHL than specific area talents. Most defensive defensemen or defensive specialists in the NHL were touted as two-way players prior to the NHL, but just were not good enough to be able to create the same level of offense in the big league.
While he wasn't offensively inefficient, Kostalek's production was not as high in his draft season as many had originally hoped for the defender. This was considered the main reason for him falling in the rankings. His 0.38 point per game draft production is nearly half that of Josh Morrissey and slightly less than Zach Yuen. His pace however is higher than Paul Postma and Brenden Kichton's draft season; it is even higher than Julain Melchiori, Ben Chiarot and Cody Sol's Draft+1 season. Some have hypothesized usage to be a major factor, as is common with many rookie defensemen with low production (see Kichton and Postma's huge jumps).
The next two seasons will be very telling for Kostalek, as he gains more responsibilities for the Rimouski.
Moar RHD puck-moving defensemen
When it comes to defensemen who shoot right and are strong in puck transition, Winnipeg Jets may have the deepest pool when looking top-to-bottom: Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba, Paul Postma, Zach Redmond, Brenden Kichton, Jan Kostalek and Marcus Karlstrom.
Kostalek has risen the ranks to the top pair for Rimouski due to injured teammates. He's taken over the role well and being deployed in all situation types. Currently he is tied for lead in team defensive points, although his points per game is not much higher than the previous season. He will be one to watch for sure.