2019-20 Team: Sherbrooke Phoenix
Date of Birth: May 29, 2001
Place of Birth: Martin, Slovakia
Ht: 6-foot-3 Wt: 214 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2020 second-year eligible
In the summer of 2019, Samuel Hlavaj was sitting at his home in Martin, Slovakia, contemplating his future. He had just been passed over in the NHL Draft, despite being the Central Scouting Service’s (CSS) fifth-ranked North American goalie. It was a busy season for the goaltender — he represented his home country at both the U18 and U20 tournaments as the team’s starting goalie, then signing with the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Lincoln Stars. The transition was intended to boost his draft stock, but after 22 starts, he had just three wins to his name.
However, he was given a second chance. At the 2019 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft, the Sherbrooke Phoenix selected Hlavaj 27th overall. Playing in the CHL was his dream, but it hadn’t seemed realistic after his rough USHL season. Yet the Phoenix seemed intrigued by the lanky teenager, especially after he held the intimidating U20 American squad to just two goals at that seasons’ World Junior Championship, and they decided to give him a shot.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Fast forward to Sept. 2020 and Hlavaj is one of the top goalies preparing for the NHL Draft. He dominated in his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), putting up a 2.25 goals against average (GAA) and 0.915 save percentage (SV%) in 39 games, two of the best records among starting goalies. With him in net, the Phoenix had the second-lowest goals-against in the QMJHL, as well as the most wins with 51 and least losses with eight. Hlavaj’s performance made him this year’s top-ranked QMJHL goalie and the CSS’s third-best goalie prospect in North America.
Hlavaj’s biggest strength is arguably his athleticism. Despite standing nearly 6-foot-4, he is incredibly mobile, able to drop quickly to his pads and move seamlessly across the crease. He is also very flexible and can go down to a near-split to make highlight-reel worthy saves on a regular basis. He controls his rebounds well, using his long stick to place pucks exactly where he wants them. With shots that come up higher, he is able to use his speedy glove to snatch pucks out of the air. On top of his natural ability, he’s also very calm and does not get flustered easily.
There are some concerns with his overall game, however. He does quite well when facing a barrage of shots, but when he’s left alone for long stretches, he can sometimes end up making costly mistakes when finally facing down a shooter. There is also the suspicion that he benefitted from having a strong team in front of him. At the 2020 World Junior Championship behind a much weaker team, Hlavaj posted a 0.851 SV% and a 5.37 GAA. He didn’t fair much better in other 2019-20 international competitions, either, ending eight appearances with a 0.861 GAA and a 4.49 SV%. Granted, no goalie for Slovakia had a GAA over 0.900, but it has some skeptical of his potential.
Usually, there’s also a concern with over-age players in the CHL that their stats might be inflated due to being much older and bigger than the teenagers they regularly face. But with goalies, it’s a little different, as they often need a bit of extra time to develop. In Hlavaj’s case, he was also a rookie in the league, meaning he had to earn his playing time just like anyone else, despite his age. In the end, he has all the skills that could make him a top goalie and just the fifth Slovakian netminder in the NHL.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Samuel Hlavaj – NHL Draft Projection
There is very little chance that Hlavaj will get passed over in the draft again. He was one of the best goalies in the QMJHL this past season and his size and skills are very projectable. However, goalies are not an area of strength in the 2020 Draft as compared to the forwards and defenders, which could skew how teams approach selecting a prospect of that position. His rankings suggest he’ll fall in the fourth or fifth rounds, but don’t be surprised if a team jumps for Hlavaj in the third after a run of goalies, or he falls into the seventh after some riskier selections.
“Hlavaj has great mobility and is capable of tracking pucks with ease. His big frame helps him cover the bottom of the net well and he has good rebound control. He has a great glove hand and is good at handling the puck. With his name almost certain to be called at the 2020 NHL draft, Hlavaj will certainly bolster a team’s prospect pipeline. Although he will still need to put on some weight, Hlavaj certainly looks to have a bright future ahead of him.” – Mathieu Sheridan, The Hockey Writers
“Huge Slovak goaltender with terrific athleticism who kept his team in games against the highly stacked teams they played against. Was the Central Scouting Services 3rd ranked North American net minder.” – Bill Placzek, Draftsite.com
“Samuel really uses his stick side to keep pucks out and take weak angles away. What I find interesting about Hlavaj is that he comes far wide from the trapezoid of his crease and slides into a quick shot on net to boot it away. On breakaways, he does near split saves proving his flexibility is one of his best assets to grow his game.” – Joseph Stanislau, The Puck Authority
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Overall raw talent
Goalies are notoriously difficult to predict. Aside from players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, and potentially Yaroslav Askarov, few goalies are ever taken with high picks, no matter their potential. That’s why so many top goalies in the NHL fall to the fifth rounds or lower — Henrik Lundqvist was a seventh-round pick in 2000. So, while Hlavaj has everything NHL teams look for in goalie prospects, he still has a long way to go before he is competing for a starting job in the professional ranks. Still, if he can perfect his natural talents and continue to add strength, it’s entirely possible he becomes a reliable starting goalie or dependable backup, like Jaroslav Halak.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 4/5
Hlavaj has represented Slovakia several times on the world stage. He played for the U18 squad in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and twice appeared for the U20s in 2018-19 and 2019-20. In 2019-20, in his first season in the QMJHL, he was honored with the Raymond Lagacé Trophy as the league’s best defensive player and the Jacque Plant Trophy for the league’s best goals against average. He also appeared on both the All-Rookie Team and Second All-Star Team.