The first thing that Martin Kaut said when he sat down at the podium to talk to the media in Dallas was to excuse his English.
“I’ll try my best,” he said, with a huge smile.
That smile stayed on his face the entire time he addressed the various questions and observations made following his selection by the Colorado Avalanche with the 16th overall pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, even as he navigated his way through questions in a language he doesn’t speak often.
“It’s always Czech in the locker room...
He wasn’t sure how to explain how he’d been learning beyond his English classes in school, and there were questions that just didn’t quite click.
What he did know, though, was how to tell people about his game.
When asked which player he felt he was most comparable to in the NHL, he had his answer ready immediately.
“Patrice Bergeron,” he said emphatically, before giving a big grin.
“And Nathan MacKinnon!” he laughed. By the time he’s more comfortable with his English, it’s easy to see him being a fan favorite for post-game scrums and media marketing events alike.
The 18-year-old right winger grew up in Pardubice, Czech Republic, where he played with fellow 2018 first round selection Filip Zadina for years prior to Zadina’s move to the QMJHL.
He didn’t get a chance to show teams - or fans - what he physically had to offer with a combine performance, missing out due to a heart condition that popped up during his medical testing in Buffalo.
After that, he was shocked when he was selected by Colorado in the first round. After all, it’s been just a few weeks since everything went down. But now, he’s just ready to get things going - and for him, that’s going to start in North America.
According to Kaut himself, the winger plans to make the move to play North American hockey next season. He suggests that his plan is to make the move to the American Hockey League next year, adjusting to the pro game in North America while getting ready for the NHL sooner rather than later.
Last season, Kaut officially made the shift to playing with the men’s pro team in Pardubice, after standing out with the U20 roster in the 2016-17 season. He’s too advanced for a move to the CHL - and with one of the earliest birthdays in his draft class, he’ll be 19 by the start of next season anyway - and after a standout U20 World Juniors performance as a linemate of Zadina, the Colorado Eagles should be an easy fit for a quick transition.
General manager Joe Sakic wasn’t asked whether or not the team had plans to sign Kaut quickly - but given how the player feels about the situation, don’t be surprised if it happens soon.
Scouts had Kaut slowly moving up the draft board as the 2017-18 season went on, even with his heart condition discovery at the combine.
Part of that was his game’s evolution in the last few years, although he’s always been considered a valuable piece of the Czech national team. Initially believed to be a natural goal scorer with a slightly weaker defensive game, he’s shored up both his responsibility in his own zone and his playmaking ability.
He’s more competent on all areas of the ice, which is something that general manager Joe Sakic confirmed stood out to the team when they considered him with their 16th overall pick.
Media spent more time at the draft on Friday addressing what the Avalanche had done just prior to the start of the first round, and Sakic didn’t spend much time talking about their own selection.
Far more interest was given to the acquisition of goaltender Philipp Grubauer, and likely for good reason. The Avalanche sorely needed a healthy goaltender to join their ranks after multiple injuries last year to both Jonathan Bernier and Semyon Varlamov, so picking up the Capitals backup via trade was a huge get for the team in Dallas.
Still, adding Kaut is worth more discussion in itself.
The Czech native underwent a routine procedure for the congenital heart condition that popped up during his medical testing at the combine, and he was as surprised as anyone when the condition was discovered. He’s expected to be at full strength by training camp, and the condition - despite some concerns voiced by Avalanche fans - isn’t expected to cause any complications with his playing career. In this day and age, it would have been quickly pointed out if he needed to hang up his skates for good.
Medical concerns aside, though, the Avalanche may have snagged themselves a player that they sorely need; he has high scoring ability, but also enjoys making plays and has spent the last few seasons actively working on developing a 200-foot game. Where the scoring talent came naturally, he’s now rounding it out with quality defensive ability.
Kaut still wants to get stronger, and it’s fair to say he’ll need to.
According to Josh Khalfin’s NHL Draft Quick Glance visuals, his chances of becoming an NHL star are a whopping 17 percent - impressive for a player who fell to the middle of the first round - but his chances of becoming an NHLer altogether sit at just 22 percent; he has the potential to make it big, but still needs to round his game out to make it at all.
Despite that, though, there’s a lot to like about the pick - and given the effort Kaut put into answering every question in a language he doesn’t speak, it’s fair to say he likes the pick too.