Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
Every June, shortly after the NHL Draft, the Canadian Hockey League holds their now-annual CHL Import Draft, serving as a stepping stone for players to adjust to the North American side of the game.
While CHL teams acquire the services of incredible hockey talents from around the globe, players come to the league looking to watch their stock grow ahead with the mindfulness of future NHL Drafts.
With talent like Aleksi Heponiemi, Henri Jokiharju, Ivan Provorov, Libor Hajek, and Juuso Valimaki a short list of the upcoming NHL stars who furthered their development in the Western Hockey League, a pair of products from the Czech Republic in Kristian Reichel and Filip Kral are following a similar path after their first year in North America.
Reichel, a forward with the Red Deer Rebels, and Kral, a defenceman with the Spokane Chiefs, are neck-in-neck when it comes to the NHL Central Scouting rankings; Reichel is ranked 53rd while Kral is ranked 54th. For the duo separated by a three-and-a-half hour car ride from their hometowns of Blansko (Kral) and Most (Reichel), they’ll no doubt add to the WHL’s strong legacy of import players getting selected in the NHL Draft this weekend.
For Reichel, his time in the WHL will be limited to two seasons at most considering he turned 20 last week, but he’s more than made up for any shortage of time.
The son of former NHL player Robert Reichel, Kristian tallied 57 points (34G-23A) in the 2017-18 WHL regular season, adding five points (4G-1A) in a pair of games during the 2018 WHL Playoffs. His 34 goals placed him second on the Rebels while also making him the goals leader among all WHL players from outside Canada or the United States.
“It was great opportunity for me to come over to North America from Europe,” said Reichel of his first season. “It was very good decision for me to come over.
“For me, for my hockey future and for my hockey development, all things was great.”
Reichel credited Rebels head coach Brent Sutter and his teammates for helping him adjust so quickly so far away from home.
“The guys made me feel at home right away,” Reichel added. “Brent was great coach. Everything was perfect.
“I wanted to go play CHL and follow my dream to play NHL.”
A year older than most of his fellow draft-eligible competitors, Reichel had the chance to showcase his strengths at the NHL Scouting Combine, which Reichel called a “great experience” after leading all draft-eligible WHL players invited in three categories while ranking third in another.
“Lots of teams talked to me. The fitness testing was great for me because I had really good results.”
Kral also partook in the draft, capping off a whirlwind year in North America for the Chiefs’ rearguard.
His 35 points (9G-26A) in 54 games helped him produce the second-best point-per-game pace of Chiefs defencemen, behind only fellow 2018 NHL Draft prospect Ty Smith.
Also a long way from home, Kral found the Chiefs to be a very welcoming place and left him wanting to come back for more.
“Spokane is very nice,” the 18-year-old said. “They helped me when I was in Spokane first couple weeks and they helped me be my [best].
“I’m looking forward for next season in Spokane.”
With key pieces of the Chiefs expected to move on, Kral will faced added responsibilities when he returns to the Pacific Northwest, eager to keep the Chiefs in the post-season.
“I will try to be leader,” Kral added. “I hope I can make more points for the team.”
Though separated by geography and age, the pair have played together. Both represented the Czech Republic at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and could theoretically end up on the same team together come this weekend. Either way, they’ll continue to carry the flag proudly and set the bar high for WHL players hailing from the Czech Republic who have NHL aspirations.