With their first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft the Calgary Flames selected forward Samuel Honzek out of the WHL at 16th overall. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had Honzek as the CHL’s third best available player coming into the draft. So what’s the story on Honzek and why did the Flames use their first-rounder on him? Let’s take a look.
Who is Samuel Honzek?
|Left Wing||Left||6’4″||194 pounds|
Honzek is a left shot, left winger. He’s listed as a centre by some scouts however he played primarily on the wing this past season and projects as a winger at the next level. Honzek hails from Trencin, Slovakia, the same hometown as former NHL stars Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik. This past season was Honzek’s first in North America.
Honzek shot up drafting rankings as the season went on, as he was being ranked as a low second-rounder in October and ended the season as a consensus first-round pick. He was ranked as high as 10th on Sportsnet’s draft board going into draft night.
Perhaps the most notable aspect about Honzek and no doubt one of the reason’s the Flames selected him is just how big he is already at 18. Honzek stands at 6’4″ and 194 pounds with plenty of room to grow. He was one of the largest forwards available in the first round, which is clearly something the Flames were targeting.
Honzek’s on-ice production
Honzek had spent his entire junior career in his home country of Slovakia until this recent season, where he came over to the WHL to play out his D+0 season after being selected 10th overall in the 2022 WHL import draft.
|Year||Draft Relative||League||Team||GP||G||A||P||Playoff GP||Playoff G||Playoff |
|2021–22||D-1||Slovak Extraliga||Trencin Dukla||49||10||4||14||1||0||1||1|
Honzek actually played in Slovakia’s top men’s league during his D-1 season as a 16/17-year-old. That year he posted 14 points in 49 games, good for 10th on his team. Across the league, Honzek’s 14 points were the fourth most by any U18 player behind 2022 second overall pick Simon Nemec, 2022 first-rounder Filip Mesar, and 2022 sixth-rounder Adam Sykora. His 10 goals were tied for first among U18 players with Sykora. To have that kind of success as one of the youngest players in the league was great for Honzek.
That same season Honzek represented Slovakia at the U18 World Championships where he finished the tournament with six points in five games. He also played for Slovakia at the 2022 World Juniors as a 17-year-old, unfortunately posting no points across four games.
This recent season Honzek came over to North America for his D+0 year to play for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. He found immediate success in his first North American stint, racking up 56 points including 23 goals in 43 games. His 56 points were the second most on his team behind 20-year-old Ty Thorpe. Likewise his 23 goals were also second on his team behind only Thorpe. Across the WHL he ranked third among rookies for points and second for goals.
It is worth mentioning that if it weren’t for a serious injury suffered at the 2023 World Junior tournament that caused him to miss two months of action, he likely would’ve led the Giants in scoring and perhaps all WHL rookies. Honzek only suited up for 43 of the Giants 65 regular season games so across full season he was playing at an 85-point, 35-goal pace which would’ve led his team.
He also added on four points in four playoff games as the Giants would get swept in the first round. It’s worth noting that the Giants were not a good team this season, finishing the year with a 28–32–8 record, making Honzek’s impressive point total stand out even more.
As a consensus first-rounder, it makes sense that Honzek’s skillset has many positives. There is a lot to like about him, plain and simple.
All around offensive game
Honzek doesn’t possess one particular high end skill offensively, but what he does possess is a solid base in most aspects of the game when it comes to offence. His shot, and in particular his wrist shot is very strong. He possesses a quick release that coupled with the power and accuracy of his shot can be difficult for goalies to read.
On top of his shot, he also possesses some nice hands for a big guy. He’s not going to wow anyone with highlight reel plays, but he’s able to control the puck in tight and use his long reach to our maneuver goalies. Due to his strong shot and hands, he’s able to finish plays from range and in tight around the net.
Below is a deeper look at Honzek’s underlying numbers courtesy of Mitchell Brown. It very much matches with the scouting report on Honzek. He’s very solid but not elite at most aspects of the game, with not many weaknesses. He plays an all-around solid, but not elite game in all three zones.
For a player his size, he’s a surprisingly quick skater. He’s not going to blow by anyone on the rush, but he uses his length and stride to get up to speed quick and is able to keep pace with much smaller players. It’s rare to find a player his size who skates as well as he does.
On top of his north-south speed, he has some very solid edgework. He’s able to make quick cuts in and out of traffic and combined with his size he’s able to shake off opponents with ease at times. With more work perfecting his craft in this area, he could be a nightmare to deal in a few years.
It’s one thing to have a size advantage, it’s another thing knowing how to use it effectively. Although there’s still room for improvement, Honzek has shown flashes of being a borderline elite possession player. When he’s on his game and using his size, he’s a very hard man to get off the puck. He does a good job most nights at using his size to win board battles and keep possession.
He uses this possession to either create scoring chances for himself, or distribute the puck to his teammates. He’s the type of player that NHL coaches would love at the next level as someone who can grind it out down low and go to work in the hard areas.
Honzek’s areas of improvement
With any draft pick though, there’s always more ways to improve, and Honzek’s no different here either.
Consistency/Getting more involved
One of the main areas for Honzek to improve in over the next couple years if he hopes to become an NHL player is his overall consistency. He’s very much still very raw and has plenty of work to do to round out his game and become a consistent threat every night.
At times you can be left wanting when watching him play as he doesn’t get as involved as you’d like a player of his size and skill to be. He very much enjoys playing on the perimeter at times, which limits the amount of high-danger chances that occur when he’s on the ice.
He does use his size well in some aspects of the game, however he still has plenty of room for improvement in that regard. It’d be nice to seem him use his size more consistently in all aspects of the game, as he tends to take a back seat some shifts and games. There’s no doubt room to improve there given his skillset, it’ll just take some time to become a more complete player in all areas given how raw he is.
Honzek’s next steps
Honzek will return to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants next season for his D+1 year where he will no doubt be the team’s go-to player and best all-around forward. He’ll also be a lock for Slovakia’s 2024 World Junior team and will likely play a ton as one of their most important players.
One interesting note about Honzek is that because of his November 2004 birthday, he’ll be eligible for the AHL as soon as next season in 2024–25. As Mike Gould mentions below, given his size and skillset there’s a good chance we see him suiting up for the Wranglers come October 2024.
Honzek’s projection with the Flames
Honzek is an interesting prospect. He doesn’t carry the same high-end upside or ceiling as some of his fellow 2023 first-round peers, but his overall game is built for the NHL. He was very much a safe pick. Players of his size who can move as well as he does are incredibly rare. His style of play and skillset should translate very well to the pro ranks, the question will be is it as an impact top-six player or more of a complementary piece.
He does have the skill and potential to become a legit top-six winger in the NHL one day, but even if he isn’t able to round out some areas of his game he should still become at worst a dependable two-way middle six winger.
Here’s more information for every player a part of the Calgary Flames’ 2023 NHL Draft class: