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World Juniors 2015: Czech Republic team preview

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Dark Horse Czechs look to medal for the first time since 2005

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The Czech Republic is an interesting case as they have vacillated from winning it all (2000, 2001) to being up for relegation (2010, 2011) to winning a bronze (2005) at the beginning of Canada's dominant five year reign. They're a tough team to count out and they're a tough team to bank on medaling. They are a perennial dark horse which makes them a very exciting team to watch. This year is no exception as the Czech Republic has a three headed goaltending combo, an unheralded defense, and a very intriguing forward core with lots of firepower.

Roster

Player Pos Draft Year* League Current Team (NHL drafted)
Miroslav Svoboda G 2013 CEL Ocelari Trinec
Vitek Vanecek G 2014 (WAS 39th)
CEL Bili Tygri Liberec (WSH)
Daniel Vladar G 2015 FNHL Rytiri Kladno
Marek Baranek D 2013 CEL HC Litvinov
Tomas Dvorak D 2013 CEL Energie Karlovy Vary
Lukas Klok D 2013 CEL Vítkovice Steel
Jan Kostalek D 2013 QMJHL Rimouski Oceanic (WPG)
Dominik Masin D 2014 (TB 35th)
OHL Peterborough Petes (TB)
David Nemecek D 2013 Jr. A SM-liiga TPS Turku Jr.
Jan Scotka D 2014 CEL HC Pardubice
Jan Stencel D 2013 CEL Vítkovice Steel
Sebastian Gorcik F 2013 CEL Energie Karlovy Vary
David Kämpf F 2013 FNHL Pirati Chomutov
David Kase F 2015 FNHL Pirati Chomutov
Ondrej Kase F 2014 (ANA 205th)
FNHL Pirati Chomutov (ANA)
Dominik Kubalik F 2013 (LA 191st)
CEL HC Plzen 1929 (LA)
Jan Mandát F 2014 QMJHL Val d'Or Foreurs
David Pastrnak F 2014 (BOS 25th)
AHL Providence Bruins (BOS)
Marek Ruzicka F 2013 CEL Ocelari Trinec
Michael Spacek F 2015 CEL HC Pardubice
Daniel Vozenilek F 2014 CEL HC Pardubice
Jakub Vrána F 2014 (WAS 13th)
SEL Linkopings HC (WSH)
Pavel Zacha F 2015 OHL Sarnia Sting
Patrik Zdráhal F 2013 CEL Vitkovice Steel

*grey text for undrafted players

Draft Eligible Players

The Czechs have four players who are in their first year of draft eligibility: goaltender Daniel Vladar, and forwards David Kase, Michael Spacek and Pavel Zacha.

All four have strong cases to be made for being top 60 picks. Vladar is a hulking goaltender who has performed well for Kladno. He's rated as an 'A' prospect by NHL Central Scouting which means he's a candidate to go in the first round. I'd read that with a grain of salt - late second round/third round is more likely.

Kase is a smallish forward, his brother Ondrej was drafted last year by Anaheim in the 7th round. David is smaller than his brother, but supplies more offense. He could be a late round steal for teams enamoured by his speed and not at all bothered by his undersized frame.

Spacek is another smallish forward, but with his hockey sense and skill it's far less an issue than it is with Kase. Spacek has played well on the international stage providing loads of offense and smart play. He's also rated as an 'A' skater by NHL CSS suggesting first round potential, but a mid round selection is probably far more reasonable. His junior rights are owned by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Generally considered the best Czech prospect since Jakub Voracek, Zacha is the jewel in the crown of Czech prospects at the moment. His first round status in the 2015 draft isn't up for debate, only where he'll go. Zacha has the potential to go anywhere from 3rd to 10th. Why do scouts like him so much? He has size, physicality, experience, and dominance. He's still growing and has a power forward mentality to go along with his 6'3" 200 pound frame. He's found success at every level and has always played at a level or two above his cohort. A strong showing at the WJC could cement a top five position at the draft.

Strengths

The Czech Republic's biggest asset heading into this tournament is its forward depth and potential.

Up front the Czechs have 6 returning forwards led by Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak. Vrana himself already has 11 games of WJC experience under his belt and Pastrnak is in the middle of a very good AHL season with Providence. Pavel Zacha is a lock for top 10 selection in this year's draft and a high end offensive talent. His ceiling is higher than Vrana or Pastrnak. Ondrej Kase gives the Czechs yet another slick, reliable, forward with experience

The forward ranks are bolstered by Kubalik and Mandat all of whom have experience (and varying levels of success) on the smaller North American ice surfaces. The forward ranks are so deep that Charlottetown rookie Filip Chlapik, a sure bet to be drafted in the second round, was left off the roster even in the midst of a solid rookie season in PEI. If the Czechs are going to come through the opening round of the tournament their forwards have to be dominant.

Weaknesses

The Czech Republic's goaltending might be their biggest issue as they enter the tournament without a clear cut number 1 goalie. None have any WJC experience or much North American experience. Svoboda's the oldest, Vladar's the biggest, and Vanecek's the best prospect. It would seem that it's Vanecek's job to grab, but his inconsistency in the past and his lack of poise hurt his chances. If Vanecek is able to put it together and have a coming out party at the WJC, he could be a steal for the Caps and guide the Czechs to an unlikely medal.

X Factor

Pavel Zacha

If Zacha lives up to the Tomas Hertl/Jakub Voracek comparisons and produces at or near a point per game clip, the Czechs have a chance at being a contender in this tournament. Their pool isn't terribly strong - wins against Switzerland and Denmark seem all but assured and while Sweden will more than likely clobber the Czech Republic, Russia isn't quite as challenging. A fifth place finish would be respectable and welcomed, but with this collection of talent firing on all cylinders, the Czech Republic could be a medal winner.