With a population roughly the same size as Los Angeles County, the Czech Republic has produced some of the greatest hockey players the world has ever seen, including Jaromir Jagr – 2nd all-time in NHL points – Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and goaltender Dominik Hasek, who some argue is the greatest goaltender in league history. However, here we’ll look at some of the great Czech-born players who have played for the LA Kings.
This is a list of the five best. Some had short tenures but scored a lot of points or had a profound impact on the team. At the end of the list, which is in no particular order, I’ll name the best Czech player in LA Kings’ history and my reason why.
Robert Lang was drafted by the Kings in the 7th round, 133rd overall, of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. A common theme here will be the height and overall size of the Czech players. Lang is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, which is hefty for a center. He sported excellent playmaking ability and was very useful on the power play, which goes hand in hand with his playmaking. Lang spent two seasons in his native Czech Republic with the CHZ/Chemopetrol Litvinov, taking his time to develop before he made the jump to the NHL.
He made his Kings debut in the 1992-1993 season playing 11 games and tallying five assists. The rest of that season, he spent with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the now-defunct IHL. In total, Lang spent four seasons with the Kings scoring 19 goals and 39 assists in 147 games.
Roman Vopat, younger brother of Jan Vopat, was drafted by the St. Louis Blues with the 172nd overall pick in the 7th round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He was a big, physical center at 6-foot-4 (the tallest player on this list) and 220 pounds. More of an enforcer than a skill player, Vopat only played 25 games for the Blues before he was traded to the Kings, where he spent parts of three seasons for a total of 57 games.
In those games, Vopat scored four goals and eight assists, or 3/5 of his career points were scored in LA. Perhaps a more interesting statistic is that he amassed 121 penalty minutes (PIM) for an average of 2.12 PIM per game. Other than that, he ranks fourth in games played by a Czech player in franchise history.
Cechmanek started his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers who drafted him in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft with the 177th pick overall in the 6th round. He was 29 years old when he was drafted.
Cechmanek was invited to the NHL All-Star Game in his rookie season and finished second in Vezina Trophy. He spent three seasons with the Flyers before he was traded to the LA Kings in the summer of 2003. In 49 games with the Kings, his stats were average at best, with an 18-21-6 record, five shutouts, a 2.51 goals-against average, and a .906 save percentage.
Jan Vopat was drafted in the third round, 57th overall, of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers, though he never played for the Whalers. Instead, he started his career with the Kings in the 1995-1996 season. In his rookie campaign, he put up one goal and four assists in 11 games. The following season, he tripled his games played.
In 33 games for the Kings in the 1996-1997 season, Vopat put up four goals and five assists, and in his last season with the team, he put up one goal and five assists in 21 games. The defenseman played 65 games in LA and scored 20 points. Throughout his career, Vopat suffered from a severe skin condition that limited the number of games he could play.
Modry was the New Jersey Devils’ ninth-round pick, 179th overall, in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Although not the biggest player, he had a solid career as a defensive defenseman, putting up good numbers for the Kings. In 2001-02, he scored a career-high 42 points, including 38 assists and was invited to play at the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, proving himself as a star player.
Modry spent more than half of his NHL career with the Kings and scored more than half of his career point-total, 164 of 250 points, while he was in LA. Of all the players on this list, Modry played by far the most games with 454, beating out Lang, 147 games, with nearly three times the number of games played.
The Final Verdict
The best Czech player in Kings history has to be Jaroslav Modry. He was a solid defenseman throughout his career, especially with the Kings. I could have chosen Jan Vopat or Lang, but their point totals and games played pale in comparison to what Modry achieved. Modry was also invited to an All Star game and performed rather well.
It was tough to find players for this list, but it was easy to pick the greatest Czech player in franchise history. Modry’s career was long and successful enough to rank him among the top-ten defensemen in Kings history.