The Czech Republic hasn’t always been a hockey hotbed but they’ve produced numerous NHL players of note, several of which suited up for the Habs at some point in their career. Here is who our readers voted for as the top Czech line in Canadiens history.
Tomas Plekanec (97.7% of votes): In his prime, Plekanec was one of the more effective two-way centres in the NHL at a time where the Habs were typically bereft of quality talent down the middle. He was never a real offensive dynamo – he never hit 30 goals and only hit the 70-point mark once – but he was pretty consistent at that end, averaging at least 0.6 points per game in eight of his first 11 years with the team. Defensively, he was almost always the go-to player on the penalty kill or in late game situations which helped make him a 1,000 game player in the NHL. All but 17 of his 1,001 regular season appearances came with the Canadiens and Plekanec even came back after being traded although his deal was terminated early in the 2018-19 campaign. Since then, he has played in the Czech Extraliga. Plekanec sits 13th on Montreal’s all-time scoring list, just 35 behind Saku Koivu for a top-10 spot.
Canadiens Stats: 984 GP, 233 goals, 373 assists, 606 points, +57 rating, 537 PIMS, 2,341 shots
Martin Rucinsky (82.5% of votes): While the mere mention of his name automatically makes everyone think back to the Patrick Roy trade, Rucinsky actually had a pretty good tenure with the Habs over parts of seven seasons. He was better than a point-per-game player after being acquired in 1995-96 and while he didn’t quite get back to that level at any other point in his career, he led the Habs in scoring in the 1999-2000 season. Montreal got his best offensive output over the other seven teams he played for in his 16-year NHL career. After leaving the NHL in 2008, he spent seven seasons in the Extraliga and retired at the age of 44 after putting up an impressive 54 points in 51 games that year. The Roy deal wasn’t the only big trade he was technically a part of. Rucinsky was drafted 20th overall by Edmonton back in 1991 with one of the picks they acquired as part of the Wayne Gretzky trade.
Canadiens Stats: 432 GP, 134 goals, 163 assists, 297 points, -8 rating, 398 PIMS, 1,110 shots
Robert Lang (48.7% of votes): Lang’s tenure with the Habs was rather short-lived so his appearance on this list may come as a bit of a surprise. He came to the Canadiens after GM Bob Gainey gave up on his attempts to convince Mats Sundin to join them for the centennial season and was quite effective. Unfortunately, a torn Achilles’ tendon ended his year prematurely (let’s not remember the barber pole sweaters being worn in that game) and he wasn’t able to come back for the playoffs. At the time of the injury, Lang was leading the Habs in scoring. He left for Arizona in free agency and retired the following season just 11 games shy of reaching 1,000 for his career.
Canadiens Stats: 50 GP, 18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points, +6 rating, 36 PIMS, 101 shots
Just Missed The Cut: Jan Bulis
Roman Hamrlik (89.7% of votes): Signing a 33-year-old blueliner to a four-year contract seemed like a bit of a risky move at the time but bringing in Hamrlik back in 2007 turned out to be a shrewd move for the Habs who used him to replace Sheldon Souray. While he didn’t have the blistering shot that his predecessor had, he was a well-rounded all-around defender that was capable of logging heavy minutes on the top pairing which is something Montreal really needed with Andrei Markov battling injuries for a good chunk of Hamrlik’s tenure. He was basically a big stabilizer on the back end and played a big role in helping them get to the playoffs in each of his four years with the team including a Conference Final appearance in 2009-10. The contract was certainly a gamble but it paid off quite handsomely. Hamrlik received a two-year deal with Washington in free agency in 2011 and once that deal was done, he called it a career.
Canadiens Stats: 312 GP, 22 goals, 97 assists, 119 points, +15 rating, 237 PIMS, 501 shots
Petr Svoboda (89.0% of votes): Nowadays, defencemen going in the first round don’t often make the jump to the NHL at 18. Back then, it also rarely occurred. Svoboda was one of the exceptions as he went from being the fifth-overall pick in 1984 right into a regular role in Montreal’s lineup just months later. He stayed there for parts of eight seasons before being moved to Buffalo for Kevin Haller who was a useful part of Montreal’s blueline for their 1993 Stanley Cup championship. Svoboda provided some physicality and offence to the back end as he and Chris Chelios flipped placing first and second among blueliners in those particular categories. Svoboda stuck around the NHL for nine more years after leaving the Habs but his best years came with the Canadiens.
Canadiens Stats: 534 GP, 39 goals, 190 assists, 229 points, +162 rating, 761 PIMS, 734 shots
Just Missed The Cut: Jaroslav Spacek
Tomas Vokoun: He is the only Czech-born goalie to suit up for Montreal and even that is somewhat of a stretch. Vokoun played one period for the Canadiens and was lit up for four goals on 14 shots. He was left unprotected by the Habs in the 1998 Expansion Draft where he was picked up by Nashville where he went on to spend eight seasons with the Preds before spending time with Florida, Washington, and Pittsburgh to wrap up his NHL career. Making matters worse, Vokoun wasn’t Nashville’s top choice in that expansion draft, Peter Popovic was but then-GM Rejean Houle agreed to send Sebastien Bordeleau to the Predators in a post-draft move to get them to take Vokoun. Popovic was gone a year later in a trade that yielded Sylvain Blouin and a fifth-round pick. It’s safe to say this whole sequence of events didn’t work out well for Montreal.
Canadiens Stats: 1 GP, 0-0-0 record, 12.00 GAA, .714 SV%
Be sure to check back on Monday for the Team Europe edition of our poll series.