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World Juniors 2016: Czech Republic team preview

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This year's edition is possibly its strongest in years. Can the Czechs earn their first medal since 2005?

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The Czech Republic is considered one of the core hockey countries in European hockey, and with that has come success at several levels of competition, including at the World Championships, medalling twice in the last five years, and a silver medal at the 2014 U18 World Championships. Yet success has eluded the Czechs at the World Junior Championship, not having won a medal at the U20 stage since 2005 when they captured bronze. In fact, since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the Czech Republic has only won three medals at the IIHF U20 tournament.

This year the Czechs will be part of Group B with Russia, Finland, Belarus, and Slovakia. They will have a lot to improve on over last year where they had the worst PK and goaltending, second worst PP, and losing in the quarterfinals against their eternal rivals Slovakia.

The Czech roster is considered one of the strongest they have sent to the U20 tournament in quite some time, although they have no illusions as to their relative position amongst the rest of the field. Their goal is to get to the quarterfinals, at which point anything can happen in a one-game playoff. First-time U20 head coach Jakub Petr is quite familiar with most of the players, as he coached them to that silver medal at the U18 World Championship two years ago.

Roster

NAME BIRTH HEIGHT NHL RIGHTS LEAGUE TEAM
GOALTENDERS
Ales Stezka 6-Jan-1997 6.04 2015 round 4 #111 overall by Minnesota Wild USHL Sioux Falls Stampede
Vitek Vanecek* 9-Jan-1996 6.01 2014 round 2 #39 overall by Washington Capitals ECHL South Carolina Stingrays
Daniel Vladar* 20-Aug-1997 6.05 2015 round 3 #75 overall by Boston Bruins USHL Chicago Steel
DEFENCEMEN
Alex Rasner 12-Feb-1996 5.11 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE HC Olomouc
Jan Scotka* 20-May-1996 6.02 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Dynamo Pardubice
David Sklenicka 8-Sep-1996 5.11 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Skoda Plzen
Jakub Zboril 21-Feb-1997 6.02 2015 round 1 #13 overall by Boston Bruins QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs
Filip Hronek 2-Nov-1997 6.00 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft 1 Liga HC Stadion Litomerice
Dominik Masin* 1-Feb-1996 6.02 2014 round 2 #35 overall by Tampa Bay Lightning OHL Peterborough Petes
Ondrej Miklis 5-May-1996 6.01 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft 1 Liga HC Stadion Litomerice
Filip Pyrochta 24-Jun-1996 6.00 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft QMJHL Victoriaville Tigres
CENTERS
Dominik Lakatos 8-Aug-1997 5.11 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Bili Tygri Liberec
Jan Ordos 18-Sep-1996 5.11 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft 1 Liga HC Benatky nad Jizerou
Jiri Smejkal 5-Nov-1996 6.02 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft WHL Moose Jaw Warriors
Tomas Soustal 15-Feb-1997 6.03 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft WHL Kelowna Rockets
Simon Stransky 21-Dec-1997 6.00 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft WHL Prince Albert Raiders
LEFT WINGERS
Jiri Cernoch 1-Sep-1996 5.10 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Sparta Prague
Filip Chlapik 3-Jun-1997 6.01 2015 round 2 #48 overall by Ottawa Senators QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders
David Kase* 28-Jan-1997 5.11 2015 round 5 #128 overall by Philadelphia Flyers CZE Pirati Chomutov
RIGHT WINGERS
Michael Spacek* 9-Apr-1997 5.11 2015 round 4 #108 overall by Winnipeg Jets WHL Red Deer Rebels
David Tomasek 10-Feb-1996 6.02 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Dynamo Pardubice
Radek Vesely 5-May-1996 6.01 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft 1 Liga SK Kadan
Daniel Vozenilek* 10-Feb-1996 6.02 Eligible for 2016 NHL Entry Draft CZE Dynamo Pardubice
Pavel Zacha* 6-Apr-1997 6.03 2015 round 1 #6 overall by New Jersey Devils OHL Sarnia Sting

* denotes a returning player from the 2015 World Junior Championships

Strengths

The team can count on an above-average offence led by NHL first-round pick Pavel Zacha, who was on the verge of playing in the NHL this year before being returned to the OHL's Sarnia Sting. He will centre the first line in his third year with the Junior team.

Czech Republic's success will depend on Zacha's production to a certain extent, but expect Filip Chlapik, Michael Spacek, and Simon Stransky to also lend their support to the offence. All three are having very strong seasons thus far in the Canadian Hockey League and will surely play in the top six.

Stransky is a very highly rated prospect expected to be drafted in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Other players expected to draft high this year include Tomas Soustal and defenceman Filip Hronek, so it will be interesting to see them play.

Dominik Lakatos, Jan Scotka, and David Sklenica play regularly in the Czech Extraliga men's league, and will bring that experience with them to the Junior tournament.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately two key forwards will miss the tournament this year due to injuries: Jakub Vrana (13th-overall selection in 2013 by the Washington Capitals) and Vaclav Karabacek (drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2014). Losing these two forwards seriously impacted the team depth, and perhaps will affect their medal possibilities.

The defensive corps is the weak link on this year's edition of the team, as beyond Jakub Zboril and Dominik Masin, there isn't too much defensive depth on the roster. Head Coach Jakub Petr knows that the team will not be able to compete if they try to play possession hockey, so the plan is to stick to a very conservative defensive strategy and look for breakout opportunities. This style of play was well demonstrated during a warm-up game against Team Canada on Sunday afternoon, where the Czech's held Canada to only a single goal. The team's ability to play within the system and capitalize on their opportunities will be a major factor.

X-Factor

A major piece might yet be added to the team as the Boston Bruins have not yet decided whether they will loan David Pastrnak to the Czech Republic, as he has just returned to the Providence Bruins of the AHL after suffering a broken foot on October 23rd. Pastrnak produced 22% of last year's points for the Czechs, so his addition could be enough to tip the balance for a deep run in the tournament.

Thanks to @The_HockeyNinja for providing some additional information for this article.