When the Detroit Red Wings signed Czech defenseman Libor Sulak to a 2-year, entry-level contract in May 2017, they weren’t quite yet sure what they were getting.
Humble Beginnings Overseas
Sulak began his adult playing career in the Czech Extraliga, the highest league in the Czech Republic. Playing for Piráti Chomutov in 2013-14, he played in 32 games and recorded 2 goals among 4 points, and ended the season a minus-12. Nothing spectacular, but it was good playing experience for a green-gill Sulak.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season, Sulak was playing in the Austrian Hockey League for Orli Znojmo. A much better showing for the young blueliner, he posted 6 goals and 18 points in 51 games played. He also managed a minus-2 on the season. The following year with the same team, Sulak found his stride. In 54 appearances, he scored 10 goals among 28 points, and posted a team-best plus-19 on the season. It was at this point that Detroit picked up his scent.
Strutting His Stuff in the Mitten
Sulak signed his entry-level deal that following May, and was subsequently invited to the Red Wings’ training camp. Detroit’s brass liked what they saw from the young defender, but Sulak did not manage to crack the roster. He was reassigned on loan to the Finnish league, playing for the Lahti Pelicans. He also appeared in 2 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins during the 2017-18 season. (2 A, plus-2)
What does this block of information mean? It means that Sulak is an established blueliner playing the slower European game of hockey. He remains a slight question mark on North American ice, where the surface is smaller and decisions have to be lightning fast. Regardless, what he’s shown the Red Wings thus far in three appearances has been promising.
Sulak’s averaging 20:07 of ice time per game, and while that hasn’t yet translated in points, he’s managed three blocked shots and 11 hits. The Red Wings are looking for him to use his size and his stride to his advantage. Standing at 6’2″ puts him on the taller end of the spectrum, and roughly 207lbs to throw around is a lot of player to get hit by. With great reach, good speed, and a nose for the game, once he adjusts more to the North American game, Detroit’s blue line could be anchored by Sulak down the road. His two-way play makes Detroit’s brass sweet on him, and makes him a threat at both ends.
Look for Sulak to continue to improve throughout the year. This season was never about amassing wins or seeking a playoff berth. It’s about player development, day-by-day improvement, and allowing the kids to show what they’re made of in the top hockey league in the world.