The son of a former NHLer of the same name, Libor Zabransky was Kelowna’s first CHL import pick. -Image: Warren Henderson/Capital News

Rockets high on Czech-born blueliner

The son of a former NHLer of the same name, Libor Zabransky was Kelowna’s first CHL import pick

Far across the Atlantic, Libor Zabransky already knew of the Kelowna Rockets’ propensity for producing NHL-calibre defenseman.

So when the Western Hockey League club selected the Czech-born rearguard this summer in the 2017 CHL Import Draft, Zabransky was quick to commit to his new career path in North America.

“Of course, Kelowna is one of the best places in Canada,” said Zabransky, 17. “My agent, he told me this is the best place for defencemen, there are lots of good defense coming from here, so that was a quite easy decision for me.”

Zabransky brings with him some strong hockey bloodlines, rooted both at the elite level in Europe and in the NHL.

His dad—also Libor Zabransky—played 40 games in the NHL in the 1990s with the St. Louis Blues, while his uncle, Tomas Vincour, played with five big-league North American teams, including three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

The elder Zabransky, who owns and coaches the HC Kometa Brno team in the Czech Republic, was able to provide some direction for his son in making a choice, but ultimately it was young Libor’s decision.

Between his childhood goal of playing in the NHL and the potential pressures of staying at home to play, Zabransky had two more concrete reasons for taking the Canadian major junior route.

“(We) talked about what’s best for me. My dream is to play in the NHL,” said Zabransky. “I think I can learn here a lot, the Canadian style of hockey, because it’s very different in Czech. It’s more physical here.

“In Czech, the mentality is different,” he added. “If I play there, they look at me and say, ‘Oh, he’s the son of the owner.’ The other reason (for coming to Canada) is it’s the best league for juniors in the world.”

A 6-foot-1, 180-pound skilled defenceman at both ends of the ice, Rockets head coach Jason Smith expects Zabransky—given a little time to adjust—will make a successful transition to the the North American game.

“First of all, he’s very competitive and he knows the game well,” said Smith. “He can transport the puck and shoot the puck, and he’s able to defend as well. There will be a learning curve with the North American ice and the heavier schedule in his first full season, but he has all the tools. He’s excited about the challenge.”

Zabransky, the Rockets 51st choice in the CHL import draft, is joined in Kelowna by one of his teammates last season on the Kometa Brno junior team. Forward Marek Skvrne, 18, was the Rockets’ second choice, 111th overall and is competing with Tomas Soutsal for the club’s second import slot.

Zabransky, who was injured this summer playing for the Czech team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U18 tournament, has returned to full health in time for this Friday’s WHL season opener at home to the Kamloops Blazers.

One month into his move, Zabransky couldn’t have asked for a much better introduction to Canada and the Okanagan.

“I’m excited to play first game,” he said. “Everything is perfect for me here, my billet, the coaches, the guys in the locker room are good. I like them and they are nice to me and the other Czech (Marek Skvrne). We are both excited.”

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