The Czech Republic are another team in the World Junior Championship tournament that always has a competitive team, but never seems to get the job done passed the group stage.
They always have the capability to pull off an upset in group play, but have struggled to find that same success to move the squad in the medal contention. All-time, the Czechs are 75-61-5 with eight ties since 1994. Since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czechs have only won three medals in the World Junior Tournament. Back-to-back golds in 2000 and 2001, and a bronze in 2005. Since then, the closest the Czech Republic have come to winning a medal was last year in Buffalo, where they fell to the United States. This year, the Czechs will look to make sure they do not waste a talented lineup like they have this year, and win the country’s first medal in the WJC in 14 years.
A Veteran Presence
In a tournament such as this, it is a rarity to see players play more than one tournament, due to most players getting called up to the NHL, they grow too old, etc. This year, the Czechs are tied with Denmark for the most returning players, with 10 coming back from last year’s team. This will be arguably the Czechs best chance to earn a medal with a team this deep, experienced, and talented. Obviously with the experience, these players know how to play in such a short tournament like this. They know how every game is like Game 7, and that kind of mentality will wear off on the newcomers, and give them the confidence they will need to succeed.
Who to Watch For
It is going to be tough call to see who will get the start in game one for the Czechs on Boxing Day, but if you want to ride with experience, you’ll ride with Skarek. The New York Islanders’ draft pick is a superbly agile goaltender. He moves very well laterally, and he uses his long legs to stretch across to make those tough saves. His flamboyant style is very similar to Pekka Rinne, as he tends to challenge the shooter more than some other goaltenders, and refuses to give up on the play. Currently playing the Pelicans in Finland, Skarek is 5-5-6 in 16 games so far, with a 2.02 GAA that is third-best in the league, and a .921 that is second-best in Liiga. He did not have the best tournament last year, as he had a 5.19 GAA and .848 SV%. The way he has been playing so far in Liiga he looks like he is ready to have a much better tournament this year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs draft selection from the fifth round of last year’s draft is someone that you should definitely pay attention to. Kral has become a very solid two-way defenceman in the WHL. As a rushing defenceman, he is very open to jumping into the rush. His hands for a defenceman are outstanding. He has a good first pass out of the zone, and can feather a pass in the o-zone to create a scoring chance. Last season, he totaled 35 points in 54 games with Spokane. This season he’s started a little bit slower as he missed the first month of the season with an injury he obtained in the Leafs’ rookie camp. He will be a key part on the Czech power play as he was on last year’s team.
Another defenceman capable of producing offencively, Salda is one of the most skilled d-men in the QMJHL. He is very smart with the puck, and is very efficient with his zone exits. While in the offencive zone, he takes smart shots from the point, and when entering the zone on the rush, he can get the job done at high speeds. Last year he played with a very poor Saint John Sea Dogs, but finished second on the team in scoring with 45 points. Now with the Rimouski Oceanic, he is used more on the second power play unit, but has been a big part of the Oceanic’s success in the first half of the season.
Pekar has the abilities to become a really key player on this Czech team. There is a reason why the Buffalo Sabres took him in the fourth-round last summer. Pekar is a very talented player, and is a nuisance for the opposition in front of the net. He has incredible hand-eye coordination to tip in shots from the point. He also has a good, hard, shot that is difficult for goaltenders to pick up. Pekar was a great playmaker last season for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL as he put up 40 assists in 56 games last season. This year, he’s picked up the scoring himself, as he has 12 goals and 21 assists in his first 30 games with Barrie. He will play a Wayne Simmonds-esque role on the power play, right in front screening the goaltender.
Another solid scorer from the CHL, really impressed Boston’s brass last year while playing for Pirati Chomutov in the Czech Extraliga. Lauko is fast, very fast. His breakaway speed is to that of Kasperi Kapanen. He uses his acceleration to find open spaces and lets the rest of his skills take over. With a good accurate shot, he will see plenty of time on the top two lines for the Czechs. Lauko is almost an after thought on an already stacked Rouyn-Noranda Huskies roster. In his first season in the Quebec League, he has scored 26 points in 26 games. Also, even as forward, he is a +19, showing why he is capable of scoring goals, but can also help his defence on the other end of the rink.
Without a doubt, Zadina is Detroit’s best prospect since Dylan Larkin. Very skilled, and very efficient. He features a good shot with a lightning-quick release. His speed is another strength of Zadina’s. He can stop on a dime, and reach top speed just a few strides later. He absolutely teared up the QMJHL in his one season with Halifax. In 57 games last year, he put up 44 goals and 38 assists, including five goals and seven assists in Halifax’s two playoff series. He’s been rather sheltered early this year with Grand Rapids, similar to how Anthony Mantha was brought in to the Griffins. Despite that, he has 17 points in 27 games. He is the game changer the Czechs need if they want to make a run to the medal round.
Lukas Dostal (SK Horoacka Slavia Trebic, Chance Liga)
Jiri Patera (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL)
Jakub Skarek (Pelicans, Liiga)
Daniel Bukac (Niagara IceDogs, OHL)
Jakub Galvas (HC Olomouc, Czech Extraliga)
Michael Gaspar (HC Stadion Litomerice, Chance Liga)
Hugo Has (Tappara U20, SM-Liiga (Finland))
Filip Kral (Spokane Chiefs, WHL)
David Kvasnicka (HC Plzen, Chance Liga)
Dalmil Mikyska (SK Horacka Slavia Trebic, Chance Liga)
Radim Salda (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
Libor Zabransky (Kelowna Rockets, WHL)
Matyas Zelinger (Rytiri Kladno, Chance Liga)
Matej Blumel (Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL)
Petr Cajka (Erie Otters, OHL)
Filip Chytil (New York Rangers, NHL)
Jan Hladonik (HC Ocelari Trinec, Czech Extraliga)
Krystof Hrabik (Tri-City Americans, WHL)
Jan Jenik (Bili Tygri Liberec, Czech Extraliga)
Martin Kraut (Colorado Eagles, AHL)
Jachym Kondelik (Connecticut Huskies, NCAA)
Jakub Lauko (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL)
Ondrej Machala (HC Frydek-Mistek, Chance Liga)
Martin Necas (Charlotte Checkers, AHL)
Matej Pekar (Barrie Colts, OHL)
Karel Plasek (HC Kometa Brno, Czech Extraliga)
Jakub Pour (HC Plzen, Czech Extraliga)
Filip Zadina (Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL)
Dec. 26 vs. Switzerland (4:00 pm ET/1:00 pm PT)
Dec. 28 vs. Russia (8:00 pm ET/5:00 pm PT)
Dec. 29 vs. Canada (8:00 pm ET/5:00 pm PT)
Dec. 31 vs. Denmark (4:00 pm ET/1:00 pm PT)
All stats found on eliteprospects.com
All records found on iihf.com
Featured Image Photo Credit – Pixabay.com