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2024 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Slovakia preview & roster

Credit: SportsLogos.net

Following their exceptional showing in the 2022 NHL Draft, Slovakia’s under-20 class was expected to impress at the 2023 World Juniors. Tying Finland with seven points in group play was a good achievement for the nation, but despite taking Canada, the eventual tournament winner, to overtime in the quarter-finals, Slovakia’s event came to end before reaching the medal round.

It was the neighbouring Czechia that had the better tournament, winning its group and playing in the final game versus Canada to win a silver medal. Slovakia will want to take advantage of the final year of eligibility for its golden generation to take a big step forward in 2024.

Preliminary roster

Player Position League Current team (NHL)
Rastislav Elias G SM-sarja HIFK U20
Adam Gajan G USHL Green Bay Gamblers (CHI)
Samuel Urban G USHL Sioux City Musketeers
Richard Baran D BCHL Victoria Grizzlies (2024)
Viliam Kmec D WHL Prince George Cougars
Marian Mosko D NCAA Cornell University
Dávid Nátny D Extraliga HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas
Milan Pisoja D Extraliga HK Spisska Nova Ves
Luka Radivojevic D J20 Nationell Örebro HK J20 (2025)
Maxim Strbak D NCAA Michigan State (BUF)
Boris Zabka D Slovakia 2 HC Topolcany
Alex Ciernik F HockeyAllsvenskan Västerviks IK (PHI)
Peter Cisar F USHL Fargo Force
Frantisek Dej F QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix
Dalibor Dvorský F OHL Sudbury Wolves (STL)
Samuel Honzek F WHL Vancouver Giants (CGY)
Roman Kukumberg F OHL Sarnia Sting
Filip Mesar F OHL Kitchener Rangers (MTL)
Martin Misiak F OHL Erie Otters (CHI)
Juraj Pekarcik F USHL Dubuque Fightning Saints (STL)
Servác Petrovský F OHL Owen Sound Attack (MIN)
Peter Repcik F QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs
Alex Sotek F Extraliga HK Poprad
Markus Suchý F Extraliga HK Poprad
Adam Sýkora F AHL Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Adam Zlnka F USHL Waterloo Black Hawks (ARI)

2023 tournament returnees in bold

Strengths

The current roster holds 15 returning players from last year’s event, and 11 of them play forward positions. What was a young group of attackers in last year’s event is now a veteran bunch, many of whom are drafted prospects who’ve received the benefits of an NHL training camp or two.

There are several players who come into the tournament scoring around a point per game in the North American Junior system, including Dalibor Dvorský, Samuel Honzek, Filip Mesar, Martin Misiak, Juraj Pekarcik, Servác Petrovský, and Peter Repcik, while Adam Sykora is playing in the American Hockey League. It’s a team with the ability to score enough goals to easily make the quarter-finals, and perhaps move up the standings to claim a higher seed.

One of the returnees is also the winner of the top goaltender award from last winter, Adam Gajan. He finished the 2023 event with a save percentage of .936 while posting a 2.40 goals-against average. He enters this tournament with a .911 save percentage through 20 games in the USHL.

Weaknesses

Gajan is going to need to play close to the level he did last year because the defence is the weakest aspect of the club. There’s no Simon Nemec, the 2022 NHL Draft’s second overall pick, to captain the team from the blue line once more, and, unlike the forwards, many of the defencemen have been passed over by NHL teams in recent drafts.

The burden of carrying the defence corps will fall on the shoulders of Maxim Strbak, a player preparing for his NHL career by playing in the NCAA with Michigan State University. He’s going to play every situation for his coach, and may push the 30-minute mark in most of the games.

There is a couple of promising up-and-comers on the blue line. Richard Baran is the second-leading scoring defenceman of the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, and the 16-year-old Luka Radivojevic is racking up assists in Sweden’s under-20 league, so Strbak may not have to do all the quarterbacking for the team.

Projection

Some added offence from the back end would be helpful to the club’s fortunes, and the defencemen are bound to register a few points just getting the puck to the quality forwards in front of them. The biggest question for Slovakia is how difficult they will find it to get play turned out of their own zone and set the forwards up to take over on the attack. One of the reasons why Gajan was named the top goalie last year was because he faced an average of nearly 40 shots per game, and this year the defence ahead of him isn’t as good as it was then.

The first indication of how the defence will fare will come in the very first game of the tournament on Boxing Day when they measure their play versus Czechia. A win over the defending silver medalists would not only help on the way to securing a quarter-final spot, but give the defence a needed boost of confidence that it can hold its own and connect the two strongest elements of the squad. If they can help keep Gajan somewhat fresh for the playoff portion of the event, anything could happen when things shift to single-elimination play.

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