Czech NHL rookies: Martin Erat

By Robert Neuhauser
Martin Erat is another from the young generation of Czech players, born in the early 80’s who
has made it to the NHL. Players like Erat, Milan Kraft, Josef Vasicek, Martin Havlat, Vaclav
Nedorost or Rostislav Klesla contibuted to at least one of the Czech back-to-back Under-20
WJC championship titles and now they have won regular spots in their respective NHL teams.
Let’s have a look at Martin Erat’s career!

Martin Erat was born on August, 29th, 1981 in the Czech city Trebic. Like most kids, he wanted to play some
sport and hockey is by far the top sport in the small city. Soccer team is far from being
the best and the hockey team is one of the better teams of the Div I league, so the Trebic
kids tend to play hockey and their role model is New Jersey Devils’ star winger Patrik Elias,
also born in Trebic. Patrik Elias wasn’t Martin Erat’s role model at first, though. Martin
was influenced mostly by his two years older brother Roman, who is now a regular in the
Div I team of Trebic. Roman played hockey and also Martin told his parents that he wants to
be like his brother and play hockey. That was when Martin was five. Their parents dedicated
lots of their free time to the “hockey education” of their kids and as usual their effort
was the first which directed Martin on the way to the NHL. The second then was his older
brother. Younger Martin competed with him in every hockey skill and because Roman was older,
Martin had to give 100 per cent at least to beat him. That’s a simillar situation to the
Nedorost brothers or Sivek brothers. Martin had the advantage of his talent. The coaches
soon recognized his hockey talent and he was able to outplay the opponents of his age
quite easily and score lots of goals. Martin did a lot of drills during the season and also
during the summer and it helped him a lot. He wasn’t very big, but very smart and blessed
with a nice portion of vision and hockey sense. His very solid skating skills and a solid
burst of speed were evident since a young age and he had also very soft hands and nice
puckhandling skills. Simply a young kid prospect the Extraleague teams look for to boost
their midget or junior teams. Martin was contacted by the nearby Zlin team and while Roman
stayed with Trebic, Martin Erat moved to Zlin to have a chance to play in the midget Extraleague
at 14. He has won a spot on the team but the 1996-97 season was for Martin quite
unsuccesfull, he was hampered by injuries and so he couldn’t perform for the Under-16 team,
he played at the selection tournament where his skills impressed the coaches but the
injuries prevented him from participating at the Four Nations Tournament, the top tourney
for the Under-16 teams in the season.

Not overly big, Martin Erat takes advantage of his very good skating skills and an ability
to reach top speed in a few strides. He has a terrific vision and hockey sense and a huge
offensive talent. Martin won’t be a great goalscorer, he scored and passed equally well but
now he seems to develop into an elite passer. An explosive player posesses top-notch
puckhandling skills and is very creative with the puck. Martin likes the one-on-one
situations and he uses all his skills to win those battles. When needed Martin can also
play a grinder role and he posesses good leadership skills.
On the downside Martin isn’t
very tough and he has to further develop his defensive play to become an all-round player.
That’s the kind of player he wants to be and at the previous Under-20 WJC Martin showed
that he is on the right way.

In the 1997-98 season, his second among the Zlin midgets, Erat’s star shone for the first
time. With 63 points for 34 goals and 29 assists reached in 43 games Martin Erat won by
far Zlin midgets scoring (second was Stepan Hruza with 48 points) and those 63 points were
good enough for a sixth place in midget Extraleague scoring overall. That year he also
practiced with the junior team, but didn’t see any signifcant playing time with the juniors.
With the Under-17 team Martin saw enough of ice time. The coaches played him often on a line
with Zlin teammate Ivan Rachunek, the two were used to combine with one another well and
the mix of the line seemed to click. The two also played at the Four Nations Tournament in
Sweden, which was the top meeting of the Under-17 teams in the season. Martin Erat helped
to the second place of the Czech team with two goals, the first
in the 4:2 win over Finland and the
second in the 3:4 loss to Russia which decided about the tournament winner. He added 2 assists
to finish with solid 4 points in three games.

The next year Martin was already a regular with the juniors and he immedately became the
player relied upon. Martin’s career took a great rise, he began to dominate junior games
as a rookie and when injuries hit the senior team of Zlin, Martin Erat was promoted along
with Ivan Rachunek. It was a huge surprise for Martin, he didn’t even have a jersey with
his name on his back ready, for his first game among the seniors he wore the jersey of
injured Tomas Zizka, only the name Zizka was missing. His stint with the seniors lasted for
5 games, he didn’t record any points, only one minor penalty. Much bigger force he was among
the juniors, where Erat recorded 44 points for 21 goals and 23 assists in 35 games. That
meant 15th place overall in the junior Extraleague scoring, but he finished only second among
Zlin juniors, Ivan Rachunek was the Zlin juniors scoring champ in 1998-99.
Martin didn’t need to worry about this, under coaches Petr Misek and Radomir Kuzilek he played
the full schedule of the Under-18 team and only at the Five Nations tournament Martin didn’t
score a goal. He was the guy talked about when speaking about the NHL draft and he could
confirm that at the first Under-18 WJC, that year played in Germany. The whole Czech team
didn’t play very well, bad defense and individual mistakes influenced their play and after
a 0:1 loss to Slovakia there was only the fifth place left for the Czechs. Martin Erat
also didn’t play his best at the Under-18 WJC. Even if he tried hard he wasn’t able to score
a goal, but still made very good passes and worked hard to help the team.
Maybe a bit of nervousness on a big tournament
damaged his play and his draft stock dropped a bit. Martin scored 2 points (2 assists)
at the Under-18 WJC and he shared the team’s lead in penalty minutes with 12 along with
Michal Sivek and Ivan Rachunek.

He could still look forward to the NHL Entry Draft. Due to his lack of size he wasn’t considered
a top prospect, there could be bigger Czech names had like Pavel Brendl or Martin Havlat.
Before the draft Martin Erat looked like a solid mid-round choice, but slipped to the seventh
round, though. Nashville Predators were lucky that he was still available when they made
their choice with the 191st overall pick. So Martin Erat became a Nashville Predator and from now
on he focused on making the team as soon as possible. He chose to leave Zlin and he joined
the Saskatoon Blades from the WHL which selected him in the CHL Import Draft.
As expected Erat made the Blades team and he soon got used to the different playing style and
culture. His first WHL season was not spectacular but very solid and he kept on improving
during the course of the season. Martin finished his first North American season with 53
points (27 goals + 26 assists) in 66 games.
After the summer spent in Trebic practicing with Patrik Elias Martin Erat was in good shape
for the Preds main camp. He left a very good impression but the Predators staff decided that
one more year among the juniors will be the best for him and they returned Martin to the
Saskatoon Blades.
And he wanted to prove that he can dominate games. He averaged more points that coveted
prospect of the same age Pavel Brendl and his superb passing skills were instrumental in many
Blades wins. No wonder that coach Jaroslav Holik selected him to perform at the Under-20
How good this decision was was evident already in the tournament opener as Martin Erat scored
the game-winning goal in the 2:1 win against the USA team. His point scoring streak in the
regular group games came to an end in the last game, a 5:0 win against Slovakia, but Martin
had 3 points (2 goals + 1 assist) after 4 games. That’s also the number of points he finished
with, in the playoffs Martin moved more to a grinder role and he tried to work on the team
and prepare scoring chances while the star first line of Pavel Brendl-Vaclav Nedorost-Zdenek
Blatny provided scoring. The Czech team was fortunate enough to beat Finland 2:1 in the
finals and Martin Erat could celebrate with his teammates all of whom had gold medals around
their necks.

At that time Martin couldn’t know that it won’t be his last celebration that season. Soon
after the WJC he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels, a team stocked with high quality
players, focusing on the Memorial Cup win. Also due to the WJC Martin finished the regular
season with “only” 82 points (23 goals + 59 assists), but he reached that number in 48 games,
which means an amazing 1.71 points pro game average!
In the playoffs Erat also came roaring out of the gate and he stood out in the playoffs
where he led the Rebels to the WHL Championship title with his great offensive play. En route
to the Memorial Cup finals Martin scored 36 points (15 goals + 21 assists) in 22 WHL playoff
games, which was WHL’s best. And the another celebration came when Martin Erat could hoist
the Memorial Cup over his head, as a member of the winning Rebels. His junior days were
finished with a Memorial Cup win, a win only few Czechs achieved (former Hull Olympique
Pavel Rosa was the first).

In the summer Erat practiced with Patrik Elias again and the Devils “A-line” star gave him
many tips how to succeed in the NHL. Martin felt he is NHL ready when he entered the Predators
camp and he used the tips he got from Elias to avoid a demotion to the AHL. Martin really won
a regular spot among the Predators forwards and even if he still waits for his first NHL goal,
his sound offensive play with exceptional passing skills helps him to earn a solid reputation
among NHL rookies. Let’s hope Martin Erat won’t wait for his first NHL career goal very long!