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2015 Top 25 Under 25, #18: Erik Cernak

Sliding in at #18 on this year’s Top 25 Under 25, Cernak is the second of two 2015 draft picks to make the list. Sorry if you were excited to read about Matt Schmalz, but we need to see more than his pure, unfiltered happiness to elevate him to such lofty heights.

Rank DOB Nationality Draft Year/Position Current League 2014 Rank
18 5/28/97 Slovakian 2015, 2nd round (43rd overall) Slovak N/A

The Kings selected Cernak with their first available selection in this year’s entry draft. He spent the most recent season playing with Kosice HC in the Slovak Extraleague. Generally speaking, he played in a league with men. Just five players under the age of 20 suited up for Kosice. Cernak was both the youngest and most used of any players in that group; he was the only under-20 player to skate in more than half the team’s games.

Cernak picked up 13 points in 43 games, making him the 3rd-most prolific defenseman on the team. Though the team was not filled with superstars that just wanted to play hockey closer to home, he did play on a team with some former NHL players. In fact, fellow defenseman Martin Strbak was drafted by the Kings way back in 1993.

The big Slovakian profiles as a physical, bruising defenseman that has been known to cross the line from time to time. Listed at 6’3”, 203 pounds at the time of the draft, he already has a huge frame for a young guy. Dean Lombardi has always enjoyed large young men.

With his large frame comes natural defensive acumen. Already known more for his defense than offense, he’ll enter a Kings system that has always seemed willing to develop the defensive side of the puck first. Cernak is known for using his imposing presence to clear the front of the net, and his extensive reach to pokecheck pucks away from oncoming attackers.

Skills aside, the Kings seem very excited about being able to control the developmental path of a European prospect:

“So, there are four or five different options we can deploy with him next year, all the way from staying in Europe, to going to the American league or going to Juniors – if we sign him. So, in terms of what our development staff can do, and the fact that we can get our hands on him immediately, where a lot of times – look at Kempe’s adjustment in just one month. Give our guys the whole summer, then a whole season. If that’s the path we choose, it’s rarely open to us, and the attributes he brings at that pick, with that flexibility, made it for us a no-brainer.”

Because he was drafted out of Europe and not the CHL, the Kings are granted a slew of options for him beginning next season. It seems most likely that he’ll wind up playing for the Erie Otters of the OHL, as they’re the major junior team that owns his rights. However, it is also possible that he begins the season with the Ontario Reign of the AHL. Though they have plenty of defensemen in the mix, Cernak could still play his way on to the team.

In the Kings system, Cernak blends in among a glut of defensive-minded defensemen. However, he has plenty of time to develop his game and gain some more offensive skill.

What sets Cernak apart from the rest is his mischievous face. That gives him a leg up on the competition, in my opinion. If he doesn’t make it with the Kings, he always has a back-up option as the villain’s sidekick in a teen drama.

Talking Points