Pavel Brendl is another in a long line of top draft picks that dominated junior and international competition but failed to make even a small impact in the NHL.
Brendl was drafted 4th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, but would actually never play a professional game with the organization.
His early junior career began in the Czech Republic playing for HC Olomouc Jr. His goal scoring ability was evident immediately scoring 35 goals in 40 games that season.
His next season with the Olomouc Jr. team would be just as successful, scoring 29 goals and 52 points in 38 games before being called up to the Olomouc Division 1 team for which is he would play 12 games.
After this experience, Brendl decided he wanted a taste of North American Hockey and entered the CHL Import Draft in 1998. He was selected 34th overall by the Calgary Hitmen of the World Hockey League, (“WHL”), which proved to be a major steal for the Hitmen.
The 1997-98 season, his first with the Hitmen, was a whirlwind of success for Brendl. He took the league by storm, immediately showing his great instincts with the puck. Interestingly enough, while he played center most of his career in Europe, he was moved to the wing with Calgary, giving him more freedom for his offensive raids. He earned rookie of the month for his first month in the league, a spot on the WHL All-Star Team and also played in the Top Prospects game. The one blemish that year was that he wasn’t selected for the Under 20 World Junior Championship Team. He was beginning to earn a bad reputation, deserved or not, of being a very lazy player and having a bad attitude when he wasn’t 100% sure he wanted to play in the tournament or not.
Once the season had concluded, Brendl had accumulated 73 goals and 134 points in 68 games, falling just shy of a 2.00 point-per-game average, and the record of 145 points scored by a rookie, held by Petr Nedved. Brendl took home trophies for top rookie, the league’s top scorer and also made the post-season all-star and all-rookie teams.
Next came the NHL draft. It was clear that Patrik Stefan, The Sedin Twins (Henrik and Daniel) and Brendl were the top prospects in the draft. The Rangers contacted Brendl ahead of time, asking him if he was ready to play in the NHL. He emphatically claimed yes and things started rolling. The Rangers chose Brendl 4th overall in the 1999 Entry Draft, trading away starting goaltender Dan Cloutier and other picks to move up to the 4th position.
During 1999, Brendl would enter his first pre-season camp with the New York Rangers. What a disappointment it became. Brendl reported to camp out of shape, refused to learn the coaches tactics or play any defense. He also didn’t score enough to compensate for the lack of defensively play or physical shape. Many believe his lack of desire and physical shape was due to the Czech food his host family in Canada learned to cook for him. He didn’t have the typical diet of a young athlete. This may have worked in the WHL, but it sure wouldn’t in the NHL. As a result, he was returned to the Calgary Hitmen for his sophomore season in the WHL.
Very disappointed at not making the Rangers, Pavel wanted to work on his defensive play to lose the “one-dimensional” player tag. Brendl’s numbers decreased slightly from the previous season, but he was improving as a better overall player. He would finish the season with 59 goals and 111 points in 69 games. The Hitmen would be eliminated in the playoffs and Brendl would play two games with the Rangers AHL affiliate Hartford Wolfpack, going scoreless.
During his second camp with the Rangers, Pavel played much better. He came in good shape, meshed well with his Czech teammates, displayed the offensive skill he was known for and also showed decent effort away from the puck. Unfortunately, he was one of the last cuts and would return to the WHL one more time.
Fortunately, this season Brendl was chosen to play in the Under 20 World Junior Championships for the Czech Republic Team. His team would win the tournament and Brendl would be named the best forward scoring 4 goals and 10 points in 12 games. He also would score 40 goals and 75 points in 49 games with the Hitmen.
Brendl was now ready to make the Rangers roster. However, before the season began, Brendl was involved in a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers for Eric Lindros, who wanted out of Philadelphia. Brendl would join several Czech players in Philadelphia as well, which was expected to make him comfortable. He made the team out of camp, but after 8 games and only 1 goal, he was sent to the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL.
Brendl was given another chance with the Flyers in 2002-2003 where he would play 42 games, scoring 5 goals and 12 points. Unfortunately, although he wasn’t the defensive disaster he had been in the past, Brendl is primarily a scorer and he never socred enough to justify the roster spot. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in a package deal which included Sami Kapanencoming to Philadelphia. He would only play 26 games over parts of two seasons withthe Hurricanes, scoring 5 goals and 9 points. He would never be heard from in the NHL again other than 2 games with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005-06.
The lazy tag would follow him throughout his NHL career, although he did try to work on it somewhat. Unfortunately, when you are a scorer and you don’t score enough you will not stay on an NHL roster.
After bouncing around the minors in North America, Brendldecided to sign a contract with Mora IK from the Swedish Elitserien League, (“SEL”) for the 2006-07 season. Brendl would break the league’s record that season with 34 goals ,and the most points by a foreigner, with 57 points in 55 games.
following season Brendlsigned a 3-year contract with Brynas IF Gavleof the SEL, having another impressive season with 31 goals and 55 points in 51 games. He also added some grittiness to his game with 110 penalty minutes.
During 2008, Brendl, ignoring his contract withthe SEL, choose to sign a contract with the new Kontinental Hockey League’s, (“KHL”), Torpedo Nizhny Novgoradand is currently playing withthe team. He has scored 35 goals and 50 points in 56 games so far with the team.
Like Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan before him, Brendl was a highly regarded player, which undeniable skill that just did not seem to have the desire it takes to make it in the NHL.
It is unclear if we will ever see him want or get another opportunity to play in the NHL (he is still relatively young at 28 years old). Part of me wonders how successful he could be, assuming he has matured, with the volume of speciality team play in the NHL these days. Someone with the obvious offensive skill, instincts and hands of Brendl would be an excellent fit on any powerplay. Unfortunately, its the even stregth play where he had his issues. If we never hear from him again in the NHL, it appears Brendl has finally found a home playing in Europe and Russia where he has scored 100 goals in 167 games over the past 3 seasons.
For Brendl’s career stats, refer to the Internet Hockey Database