18. Filip Chlapik (Reader Rank: 17, Last Year: 5)
As Mikhail Gorbachev once said, “If you don’t move forward, sooner or later you begin to move backward”. The stakes here, the ranking of the Ottawa Senators’ young stars, might not be quite as high as nuclear disarmament but the sentiment remains true nonetheless. Filip Chlapik had a perfectly good season last year, and yet he failed to cement his case for a role with the NHL squad this year and thus he finds himself tumbling down our list.
I’ll preface the rest of this article by saying that I was actually quite a bit higher on Chlapik than our readers and some other members of the staff; I had him all the way up at 13. But even in my more generous assessment, the young Czech centre would still have fallen eight spots from his ranking last year. The addition of some of intriguing forward prospects such as Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers played a part, but some of Chlapik’s cohorts from last year also had better seasons — Drake Batherson and Logan Brown readily come to mind. To my thinking there’s reason to believe Chlapik can be a good third line centre in the NHL, but if there was real top 6 potential I suspect we might have seen it by now. What’s holding him back? It would be fair to say that his skating might cap his growth. During his NHL stints, there were a few times when I remember thinking “his skating could use work” and a typical Chlapik scouting report will almost mention that his skating is his biggest weakness. With a bit more power in his stride, Chlapik might yet get the separation he needs to make truly special plays.
We’re at the stage in Chlapik’s development where observers start to focus on the warts in his game, rather than his potential. To some degree that’s fair: Chlapik turned 22 in June and has five points in 25 NHL games to show for it so far. But I do wonder if in this case we are rushing to christen the next generation when the prospects that have been around for a few years are just starting to come into their own. After all, Chlapik was rated as a “Legit NHL Prospect” by Corey Pronman in his farm system rankings at the start of last year, and he was a notable for having “just missed the cut” in Pronman’s mid-season ranking of the top prospects in the league. Our own Ary and Colin had Chlapik as a “Very good prospect” in their end of year recap.
One thing that may have to change for Chlapik in the NHL is playing the wing instead of centre. While Ottawa may be short on elite prospect centres, only Logan Brown even vaguely fits the mold if you really squint, there’s a real logjam in serviceable skaters. If Chlapik is going to earn a spot this season it will almost certainly have to be on the wing.
NHL careers are short, and the chances afforded to players drafted outside of the first round are sometimes few and far between. Chlapik’s earned the right to challenge for a spot on the Senators this season. Whether he seizes the opportunity might go a long way to determining the arc of his career.