This is 17 year-old Czech Republic born defenceman Libor Zabransky. Zabransky was taken with the Rockets first round selection in Wednesday's CHL Import Draft.
It is very rare for the Rockets to select a defenceman, with only two other examples where a European born player has patrolled the blue line. In the 2001 CHL Import Draft, the Rockets selected Tomas Slovak, who would become one of the highest scoring d-men in franchise history. Slovak, a 2nd round pick of the NHL's Nashville Predators, was an important, yet unappreciated component of the Rockets 2003 WHL championship team. The only other example is Alex Edler, now of the Vancouver Canucks, who was chosen in the 2005 CHL Import Draft. Edler played one short season in Kelowna, picking up 53 points in 62 WHL games.
In my brief texting conversation with Zabransky, he is extremely excited to join the Rockets organization this fall. No stranger to North America, his father Libor (yes same name) played 40 games in the NHL as a defenceman with the St. Louis Blues in the mid 90's (playing with Brett Hill in 1996-97) before being forced to retire because of injury. The elder Zabransky was a 9th round pick of the Blues in the 1995 NHL draft. As mentioned earlier, Libor Zabransky (Junior) is a defenceman, who hopefully will fill the void left by the departure of Lucas Johansen, Devante Stephens and likely one of two overage d-men this season in either Gordie Ballhorn and James Hilsendager. Or does the team employ two 20 year-old's on the blue-line in 2017-2018? Wait and see on that situation when training camp unfolds in August.
Zabransky's teammate - 17 year-old forward Marek Skyrne - was the Rockets second round selection in the draft. Skyre will hopefully fill the void left by MVP Calvin Thurkauf, who is destined for pro hockey this fall in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.
So where does that leave forward Tomas Soustal, who could return as a 20 year-old this season? My gut says he won't be back, but the hockey club will update his status later this summer.