The Washington Capitals made a minor-league trade last Tuesday, sending 23-year-old Hershey Bears winger Francois Bouchard to the New York Rangers organization in exchange for 21-year-old defenseman Tomas Kundratek, a 2008 third-round draft pick (90th overall). The trade means little to the NHL teams involved, but it has a big impact at the AHL level.
Francois Bouchard was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2006 draft (35th overall) as Bouchard came off a 102-point season with Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. He joined the Hershey Bears for his first full professional season in 2008-09 but enjoyed his breakout season in 2009-2010, scoring 52 points and adding 10 more in the playoffs to play an integral part in the Bears’ 2010 Calder Cup championship.
Despite collecting two Calder Cup rings with Hershey, it became clear that Bouchard was not in position to develop into a future roster player for the Capitals. In his time with the Bears, he was never called up to the big club, let alone seen action in an NHL game. In nine games with the Bears this season, Bouchard had no points, eight penalty minutes, and was a minus-four.
The trade brings another young defenseman into a Hershey team that had been overstocked with offensive talent. In a reverse situation, Kundratek had been fighting for ice time on a Connecticut Whale blue line heavy with talented defensemen and asked to be traded, and subsequently welcomed the movement to the Washington organization. “It was tough to get in to play in the top six defense,” Kundratek told Tim Leone of The Patriot-News. “I was a healthy scratch for five games.”
Joining a hot Hershey team gives the 6’2″, 192-pound Czech native a fresh start in his professional career. In 70 games last season with Hartford/Connecticut, Kundratek, a defensive defenseman who idolizes Dion Phaneuf, scored 12 points and ended the season with an even plus/minus. Since the other young Hershey defensemen, like Dmitri Orlov, Zach Miskovic, and Patrick McNeill, are more offensive-minded, Kundratek fulfills the need for a physical, stay-at-home, puck-moving defenseman with a cannon of a shot.
But most importantly, unlike Bouchard, Kundratek is a legitimate prospect that could someday find himself in a Capitals uniform. “I think Tomas has a chance to be a solid defenseman in the NHL,” Rangers scout Ernie Gare said in June 2010. “He’ll be more of a defensive shutdown guy. I think his skating will allow him to defend against the rush, and he’s got enough size and strength to be able to play well defensively in his end.”
It’s not yet been determined when Kundratek will make his debut in a Bears uniform. Hershey assistant coach Troy Mann told The Patriot-News that the defenseman’s debut would be imminent. “He’s got good size and looks like he moves pretty well,” Mann said. “We’ll just have to see here over the next few games if we can get him in there to get a true evaluation.”
Editor’s note: Kundratek didn’t play for the Bears on Friday against Wilkes Barre-Scranton, but may crack the roster for today’s 5:00 pm home game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
As for the rest of the Bears, in the short term, Bouchard’s departure potentially opens up a forward spot in the line-up. Recent Regina Pats graduate Garrett Mitchell was called up in October from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL to replace the injured Kyle Greentree (broken arm), but Bouchard’s now-vacant spot means that Mitchell could remain with Hershey even when Greentree is again healthy. Since Mitchell is playing so well during his call-up, with two goals and a minus-2 in seven games, the Hershey player benefiting the most from the Bouchard-Kundratek trade may very well be the rookie from Regina.