Not being picked in your draft year doesn’t mean that you don’t have the chance for a NHL career any more. Players from Europe can’t be signed as free agents, but scouts look also at the performance of the older prospects, searching for a diamond in the rough. The latest example of this was Detroit Red Wings prospect Miroslav Blatak, who despite being overlooked at the 2000 NHL draft pulled off an impressive showing the next season and appears to be a steal by the Red Wings scouting staff now. Another player hoping to repeat the ‘Blatak case’ is Bedrich Kohler, a forward with the Vitkovice seniors. Last year was the first year of his eligibility.
Bedrich Kohler wasn’t brought to hockey by anyone in his family, but he was talented in sports. And it was his best friend Citrad Ovcacik, now a defenseman with Beroun of the Czech Div I league, who gave the seven-year-old Kohler the idea to start playing hockey.
“I was a bit bored with just sitting at home in the afternoons, so when Citrad began to play hockey, I wanted to give this sport a try, too,” said Kohler.
A native from Ostrava, Czech Republic, Kohler entered the entry level team of the local Extraleague franchise, HC Vitkovice. He had the advantage of playing in the system of a team with a strong developmental base from the very beginning of his career and didn’t need to move anywhere. Seeing the lanky kid on the first practices, Vitkovice entry level team coach has slotted him to play defense. Kohler spent the first two years of his career patrolling the blue line, but this fact changed when head coach Milos Holan Sr. took over the coaching duties of the Vitkovice 3rd grade team and switched Kohler to a forward. He accepted this change gladly.
Kohler, a Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche fan, was showing hockey talent and his skill took a significant rise compared to the other kids on the team. This talent was supported by his outstanding dedication to the off-ice workouts. He was always eager to improve his strength and stamina by competing with others in various sports and drills. Kohler’s above-average conditioning was a valuable asset for him in the hockey games. He emerged as the offensive catalyst of his team and reached his first individual success at a tournament of the 4th grade teams in his home Vitkovice arena. After an impressive showing Kohler took home the ‘Top forward’ trophy.
Thanks to an overly good season for the Vitkovice 5th grade team has the 6th grade team head coach, former goaltender Jindrich Krawczynski, awarded Kohler with the ‘C’ on his jersey. He spent two years with captaining his team and the second campaign was one to remember for Kohler. The season in the 7th grade was the best for him prior to moving up to the midget level. Kohler was red-hot during the whole course of the season, staying one point shy from the 100-point plateau. In 33 games Kohler averaged exactly three points per game with 99 points for 66 goals and 33 assists, proving that he developed a good knack for scoring goals.
“That season was one of the best I can remember. Everything just clicked well for me that year and I had a good chemistry with my linemates.”
One year before being promoted to the midget team Kohler managed to win his second individual award. He was the recipient of the ‘Top forward’ trophy again, this time at a tournament of the 9th grade teams, but also in the Vitkovice arena. Kohler was playing against players one year older than him and still was able to pull off some good showings. He was an integral part of the team coached by head coach Radek Kuridym and a solid two-way force.
Kohler recorded a solid, but unspectacular entry on the midget Extraleague level. After making it impossible for Vitkovice midgets head coach Bretislav Bochensky to cut him from the team at the summer camp thanks to his good showing at the camp, Kohler played most games of the 1999-2000 schedule already with the midget team as an underager. He didn’t see as much ice time as the more experienced players and had to take also the defensive duties into account, so he wasn’t tearing up the scoring charts. Kohler skated as a dependable third-line force, with some offensive output as a bonus. In 31 midget games in 1999-2000 Kohler registered 9 points for 6 goals and 3 assists. His +11 proved that he filled the two-way role responsibly, that along with only 6 PIMs. Because he wasn’t used very frequently by his parent Vitkovice midget team, he was also loaned to the nearby Koprivnice team to perform in the Div I midget league and was competing at two different hockey levels for a short time.
The next season, 2000-2001, he could make use of his previous season’s experience and get on the scoresheet more often. Kohler had a strong nose for the net as his persistence around the goal area paid dividends. He wasn’t a liability in his own end and made strides also in his physical play. Kohler was willing to play the body with more tenacity and emerged as one of the better forwards on the team. He was used on the special units more frequently than in the previous season and the power play time helped him to boost his confidence. In 2000-2001 Kohler dressed out for 45 midget games, scoring 24 points for 16 goals and 8 assists, along with a +5 and 39 PIMs.
The outstanding dedication to physical workouts enabled Kohler to impress the Vitkovice midgets coaching staff at the summer camp of 2001, where he took the fitness testing results by storm and was the best prepared player for the new season. The 2001-2002 campaign was about to be Kohler’s last in the midget Extraleague, because his birthdate wouldn’t make him eligible for the next season. As a midget vet was Kohler counted on to lead the team and he withstood to this expectation. For the first time in his midget career he scored at a point-per-game pace for almost the whole season. He could be a good mentor to the younger forward talent on the team, which included the likes of Petr Pohl, now a member of the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, Petr Valusiak or Michal Novak. Kohler provided a good portion of the team’s offense, skating on the elite two lines and making the most of his ice time. In 36 games for the Vitkovice midgets in 2001-2002 Kohler amassed 34 points as he found the net 21 times and added 13 helpers. He posted a good +/- with +14 and decent 59 PIMs.
However, Kohler was no can’t-miss prospect going into the 2002-2003 campaign. He was no longer midget Extraleague eligible and spent the season practicing with the junior team of Vitkovice under head coach Mojmir Trlicik. The roster spots weren’t up for grabs on the junior squad as lots of talented youngsters from the midget team were fighting for the loose spots. Kohler didn’t lack motivation because he was playing in his draft year and also his remarkable attitude was industrial in his first place at the fitness testing once again. But lots of depth at forward on the Vitkovice junior team caused that Kohler wasn’t able to get a regular spot in the offensive rotation and was occasionally send down even to the Frydek-Mistek team of the Div I junior league. Unlike in the Vitkovice juniors Kohler logged a huge portion of playing time and it helped him to regain his confidence. But his stats in the junior Extraleague for Vitkovice weren’t impressive in any way. Also due to lack of playing time Kohler posted mere 3 points for 2 goals and 1 assist in 29 games for the junior team, that along with 16 PIMs. No wonder none of the NHL teams drafted him.
Dedicated to the summer workouts as always, Bedrich Kohler, nicknamed ‘Kely’ from his surname, returned back with a vengeance in 2003-2004. Already in the first games of the new season it was evident that the player with his favorite number 9 on his back isn’t the same as in the previous season. Kohler could outplay the opposition and slip to the scoring chances more smoothly than ever before. He also showed a solid commitment to his defensive duties and his stock took a steady rise. Kohler soon saw himself skating on the elite line of the Vitkovice juniors and had to deal with a bigger role as a leader. He coped with this without any significant trouble. Kohler could chip in offensively consistently and switched to a more playmaking role than in the previous campaigns, where he emerged as a sniper. He was setting up plays for the Vitkovice snipers, but could also finish his own chances, which resulted into 46 points for 20 goals and 26 assists in 48 junior games so far. Kohler spent 62 minutes in the penalty box along with a +5.
Vitkovice seniors head coach Ladislav Svozil, a former draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, didn’t overlook the fast-rising Kohler on the junior team and decided to test him in a trial-by-fire in the senior Extraleague. Kohler finished his road from a Div I junior leaguer to a senior Extraleague player in one year. He was used mostly on the fourth line of the Vitkovice senior team, focusing on a defensive role. Kohler filled the role of the shut-down player conscientiously and maintained his spot with the team. He didn’t rush forward and tried to learn as much as possible in the 13 senior games he played for the senior team so far. In those contests he registered 1 point for 1 assist, a -1 and no PIMs.
The rapid progress of Bedrich Kohler in 2003-2004 helped him also to earn his first invitation to the Czech junior national team. Kohler put on the international jersey in a three-game series between the Czech and Finnish Under-19 teams for the first time. There for a team coached by coaches Karel Najman and Zdenek Pavlis he registered 2 points for 2 assists in 3 games. Kohler understood well on the ice with Zlin juniors forward Pavel Kubis.
“Pavel Kubis is a very good player who is great to play with. He is a threat in the offensive zone just like on the backcheck and is effective in all three zones.”
He was also invited to the Five Nations Tournament of the Under-20 teams, played in Finland this past February. Kohler made a good name for himself on the international stage with 3 points for 2 goals and 1 assist in 4 games. He was voted the best player of the game against Switzerland.
Bedrich Kohler is a smooth skater for a big man and possesses good first-step quickness. He plays with a solid agility and is tough to get knocked off his skates thanks to his above-average lower-body strength. He is an adequate stickhandler and even if his hands could see some improvement, he isn’t a liability when handling the puck. Kohler has a solid knack for scoring goals, utilizing on his accurate wrist shot with a fast release. He unleashes also a decent slap shot. Kohler can’t be labeled as one-dimensional because of his strong defensive awareness. At 6’2.5”, 202 lbs. he possesses a huge frame, which he knows how to use in front of the opposing net and in the corners. Kohler could throw more hits, though.
On the downside Kohler seems to misread the plays at times and does the odd bad decision with the puck. Overall is Kohler more of a project, but a decent prospect to look at in the later rounds of the draft.
His hockey role models are Paul Kariya from the Colorado Avalanche and Martin Havlat from the Ottawa Senators.
“Both players are extremely skilled and very good players. They are exciting to watch and just like me, they wear the number 9 on their jerseys.”
Kohler belongs to the more superstitious players. “I have quite a lot of pregame superstitions. I always use the same warmup and this season I drink the energy drink Red Bull before each game. I don’t think it helps me in a special way, but it helps my psyche.”
A secondary school student in his native city Ostrava, Kohler takes advantage of an individual plan of his studies. School takes him a lot of non-hockey time, but still he prefers to be active in his spare time.
“I enjoy playing all kinds of sports. When I have a free while, I meet my friends for a game of soccer, beach volleyball or basketball. From the individual sports I like to play bowling, go swimming or skiing in the mountains.”
Kohler also likes to spend free time with his girlfriend, play videogames and is a huge movie fan.
“I visit cinemas quite often and borrow videotapes with movies. From my most favorite movies I would mention Gladiator, Men in Black or Armageddon.”
He is interested in music, too, where the Czech groups Wanastovi vjecy and Lucie lead the way.
Represented by agent Miroslav Frycer, Bedrich Kohler tends to take the European route to the NHL.
“My plan for next season is to stay home and try to fight out a regular spot on the Vitkovice senior team. I’m not rushing to the CHL and would like to play in the Czech senior Extraleague full-time first.”
Kohler was ranked 99th among European skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau Mid-Term Ranking and has a chance to be picked in the late rounds of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.