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LA Kings' Top 25 Under 25: #21 - Tomas Hyka

Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be anymore Kings-Flyers connections....

The Kings-Flyers Story: Chapter 2349882. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Kings-Flyers Story: Chapter 2349882. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tomas Hyka is a player with an interesting back story, probably more interesting than the player himself at this juncture. But before we get into that, I suppose some basic facts would probably be a good idea. Hyka is a 20-year-old right wing out of the Czech Republic, listed at 5'11 and just 156 pounds. In his original draft eligible season of 2010-11, he played for the BK Mlada Boleslav in his native Czech Republic, putting up 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points in 8 games at the U18 level, and then 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points in 38 games at the U20 level. In addition, he played for the Czech national team in the U18 tournament that year, scoring a goal and an assist in 6 games.

Apparently these numbers weren't enough to overcome the fear that he was simply too small to play in the NHL, because he passed through the 2011 NHL entry draft without being drafted. This despite the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers (yes, those guys again) had some level of interest in him. Despite not drafting him in any of the seven rounds of the draft, the Flyers would invite him to their training camp, where he'd even play a preseason game for them and score a goal (complete with an apparently epic celebration). The Flyers began to look into signing Hyka.

Now, if you've paid any attention to LA Kings' drafts over the years, this should immediately raise a few red flags for you. The Kings have made a habit of drafting overagers in drafts, or in another words players who passed through an earlier draft their first or sometimes even second years but put up such impressive numbers (usually in Canadian major junior) that they warranted a second look. Most recently you may recall that their 2012 1st round pick, Tanner Pearson (30th overall), was passed up on in the 2010 & 2011 drafts, but grabbed by the Kings in his third and final year of draft eligibility due to his standout season in the OHL. "But wait a second." you're probably saying, "If anyone could just sign a guy who wasn't drafted the first year, how did Tanner ever make it back into two more drafts without someone grabbing him?" Um, well, that's because you can't sign someone who was just passed up on in one draft. The Philadelphia Flyers, for whatever reason, apparently didn't know how this part of the CBA worked. SBN's Flyers blog, Broad Street Hockey, apparently did a better job reading the CBA than the team they cover did, and broke it all down even before the Flyers officially acknowledged they screwed up. From their excellent article:

Hyka played in Europe -- outside of North America -- for all of last year, and according to this part of the CBA, he's ineligible to play in the NHL this season. If he was drafted, this would obviously be a different story. But because he played in Europe last year, was passed over in the draft and isn't 22 years old, it doesn't appear to us as though an NHL team can sign him to a contract. We can't find any other section in the CBA that would counter this notion.

Until somebody can dig up that section -- I've searched for about an hour tonight and can't find it, and several of our commenters have done digging as well on this tonight -- we're going with the assumption that Hyka simply goes back into the draft next year, where the Flyers or any other team can take him.

So while the Pearson comparison wasn't perfect, since apparently the rules are at least a little different for European players than North American-based ones, at the end of the day Hyka still had to go back into the draft, just like Pearson. The Flyers would later admit they screwed up, invited a player who was not allowed to sign with them to come to camp and even play in a preseason game, and Hyka was sent to the junior team who owned his rights (the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL) as he looked to get acclimated to the North American game. This monumental screw-up by the Flyers looks even worse when you consider there were some in the organization who compared him with- seriously- Claude Giroux, and yet when they had the chance to take Hyka with a 2011 seventh-round pick (which would have obviously rendered all of this completely moot), they passed up on him to take face-puncher Derek Mathers instead. But who could pass up Derek's 2010-11 numbers of 5 points in 55 OHL games? "Next Claude Giroux" or face-punching goon is a tough call.....if you're the Philadelphia Flyers, I guess.

To be fair, calling Tomas Hyka the "next Claude Giroux" is an extremely optimistic opinion of his future in the NHL, and if the Jewels staff agreed with this assessment he would be ranked a hell of a lot higher than 21st on our list. But if your scouting staff honestly believes this, passing up on him in the seventh round of an NHL draft was a ludicrous idea. It's not like Hyka did anything of note between the 2011 NHL entry draft and the Flyers' preseason camp, when the Flyers suddenly decided they wanted him after all. As it is, this became yet another entry in the "lol Paul Holmgren" files.

So Hyka was not a Flyer, but he was an Olympique, and in his first season in the Q he was a reasonably productive one as well. Hyka scored 20 goals and 44 assists for 64 points in 55 games in 2011-12, adding another goal and an assist in four playoff games. In the U20 tournament (commonly called the World Juniors), Hyka suited up for the Czech team and had no goals and two assists in five games. But even after a productive year of junior hockey, concern about his lack of size once again saw every NHL team (including those same Flyers who had him on a line with Giroux & Scott Hartnell in the last preseason) pass up on him for five-plus rounds. Finally, the Kings would take Gatineau's leading scorer with their sixth-round pick (171st overall) in the 2012 entry draft, and given the long history between the LA & Philly franchises perhaps there was no more appropriate end to the Tomas Hyka Saga than being drafted by the Kings.

After being drafted, Hyka returned to Gatineau for the 2012-13 season, where his numbers declined a bit. He posted 20 goals and 34 assists for 54 points in 49 games. A possible factor in the decline was injury, as he ran headfirst into the boards in an early season game and had to be helped off the ice by his teammates. But even before the injury, he had only put up 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 12 games, which was actually slightly below his pace for the rest of the season. According to some first-hand viewing of Hyka in the QMJHL last year obtained by Jewels, Hyka seemed to shy away from physical contact throughout the season, playing mostly on the perimeter. For a player who used to play more of a "crash-and-bang" style, this was obviously not a positive development. It's possible that Hyka's well-documented size issues didn't allow him to continue playing that style effectively at the CHL level, and considering that players in the AHL & NHL are obviously much bigger than CHL players, this doesn't bode well for him going forward. On the positive side for Hyka, he did return to the U20 tournament for the Czech Republic and put up decent numbers, with 3 goals and 2 assists in 6 games.

Hyka had a bit of a disappointing playoff with Gatineau, posting just 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points in 10 games. The 2012-13 season was Hyka's last year of CHL eligibility, and at its conclusion Hyka made the decision to return to Europe, signing a two-month tryout deal with Färjestad of the Swedish Elite League. While this does mean Hyka will be competing with full-grown men rather than junior players, Kings fans know far too well of the danger in losing prospects to the SEL; Bud Holloway and Oscar Moller have both spent several seasons in the SEL, and though there has finally been talk of Holloway returning to North America this offseason, nothing has been made official yet on that front and for now he remains unsigned. We could be looking at a similar situation with Hyka, or perhaps he'll be with the Monarchs or the ECHL Reign before long (especially if his tryout in the SEL doesn't take).

Regardless, Hyka is an interesting prospect who has shown a definite scoring touch at the CHL level. His numbers declining from year-to-year with Gatineau obviously wasn't good, nor was his apparent shying away from physical contact in his second season with the Olympiques. The promise of a player someone in the Flyers scouting staff thought was "the next Claude Giroux" is likely still there, but he almost certainly will need to add some more size to his frame if he wants to be effective at the NHL level. This is an ultimate example of a "boom-or-bust" prospect: either Hyka will someday make it to the NHL and play effective top-six minutes as a natural scorer, or (more likely) he'll never play a single NHL game. He has no future as a third- or fourth-line forward in the NHL. But such a "boom-or-bust" pick is a fantastic way to use your sixth-round draft pick, and there's at least a chance the Hyka pick could look like a stroke of genius five years from now. We'll just have to wait and see.