The only Slovak to be drafted at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia was Poprad-born goaltender Maximillian Pajpach, who was selected in the 6th round (174th overall) by the Colorado Avalanche. It is the last time since 1989 that only a single Slovak has been drafted. Pajpach is also the first Slovak goalie to be drafted in five years, since Jaroslav Janus was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009.
Only four goaltenders (Peter Budaj, Jaroslav Halak, Jan Lasak, Rastislav Stana) from Slovakia have played in the NHL and Maximillian is hoping to be the fifth one to break through. Pajpach idolized Lasak growing up. Lasak was the goalie who earned instant fame in his country by leading Slovakia to its first and only World Championship gold medal in 2002.
Pajpach was ranked 9th amongst European goalies at the NHL Draft so it wasn't a huge surprise by any means to see him picked. He probably first appeared on the radars of NHL scouts at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he put on an incredible display of goaltending against the powerful Russians, making 53 saves in 2-1 loss.
For his whole career, Pajpach has been playing in the HK SKP Poprad junior system as well as various Team Slovakia junior teams (U17/U18/U20). But for the upcoming 2014-15 season, in an effort to keep improving as a goaltender, Maximillian will be heading to Finland to play for Tappara (U20) of the SM-Liiga.
IIHF.com sat down with Pajpach to talk about the draft and his career.
What were you doing when you found out you got drafted?
I was in school learning some stuff so I can pass my exams that were starting the next week!
Did you expect to be drafted?
Well at the beginning of the draft, I didn't expect it very much because I wasn't at the World Juniors. But after so many goalies were drafted before me, I started to expect it more and more.
How much do you know about the Colorado Avalanche?
They are one of my favourite teams in the NHL and right now they have legendary goalie Patrick Roy as their coach so that makes me even more happy. I would like to go there for their upcoming summer camp!
How many NHL teams were you in talks with prior to the Draft?
I think it was 2 or 3 teams that my agent was talking with, but I wasn't talking to anyone from Colorado so I was surprised that they picked me.
What was it like growing up and playing in Poprad?
Poprad is a small town and people here like to watch and play hockey so it was great to grow up here. But at the same time I think that hockey in Poprad is declining because many good players leave Slovakia and go play somewhere else like Canada, Sweden or Finland.
What is your playing style?
I'm trying not to always be in the butterfly so I guess I'm a hybrid goalie. My style is however somewhat similar to Jonathan Quick's. I think that I'm pretty fast in the net and can use my stick well.
Does it mean anything to you being the only Slovak drafted at this year's NHL Draft? And the last Slovak goalie to be drafted since Jaroslav Janus in 2009?
It is a big honour to be drafted. I didn't expect to be the only Slovak player drafted this year. It's also a big challenge because all those Slovak goalies drafted before me are now playing in the biggest leagues in the world and I don't want to be an exception-so I have a lot of work to do.
What are some of your most memorable moments in hockey so far?
The best moment in my hockey career happened just now when I was drafted to the NHL. My best game was probably at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament last year when we lost 2-1 to Russia and I made over 50 saves.
Are you excited to play for Tappara in the Finnish League this year?
Yes of course I am! It's one of the best teams in Finland and the Finnish coaches they have are great so I hope I'll improve my goaltending while in Finland.
Do you expect to play for Slovakia at the World Juniors this year?
It's my goal to play at the World Juniors so I'm going to work hard and hopefully I'll be there playing.
NHL Team: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche
Childhood Idol: Jan Lasak
Video Game: Need For Speed
Movie: Pulp Fiction
TV Show: Two And A Half Men
Pump-Up Song: Have Faith In Me - A Day To Remember
Activity Away From The Rink: Basketball, Soccer