Last year, the Czechs had what was considered their strongest squad in recent memory, but there was still plenty of room to improve in order to compete with the stronger teams in the annual tournament. They did give quite the scare to the Russians and Finns, who barely squeaked by the Czechs in the preliminary round.
Scoring 12 goals and allowing 10, the Czech squad did enough to earn a berth in the quarter-finals, however they were summarily dispatched by the Americans 7-0. Ultimately it was the Czech Repblic’s bad penalty kill (62.5%) and power play (9.1%) that was the big difference maker.
This year, the Czechs will be part of Group A, with Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Finland. Despite two rocky exhibition games against Team Canada, the Czechs will be looking to improve on last year’s signs of growth, but they would be hard pressed to go deep in the tournament.
Czech Republic have not won a medal at the World Juniors since winning bronze in 2005. Their glory days were in 2000 and 2001 when they won back-to-back gold medals.
Team Czech Republic
|Petr Kvaca||12-Sep-97||6'1"||G||Undrafted||CZE2||HC Ceske Budejovice|
|Jakub Škarek||10-Nov-99||6'1"||G||2018 Draft||CZE2||HC Dukla Jihlava|
|Daniel Vladař||20-Aug-97||6'5"||G||2015 (#75)||AHL||Providence Bruins|
|František Hrdinka||02-Mar-98||6'0"||D||Undrafted||SuperElit||Linkoping HC J20|
|Filip Hronek||02-Nov-97||6'0"||D||2016 (#53)||OHL||Saginaw Spirit|
|Petr Kalina||09-Jul-97||5'11"||D||Undrafted||CZE||HC Sparta Praha|
|Daniel Krenželok||29-Jul-97||6'3"||D||Undrafted||CZE||HC Vitkovice|
|David Kvasnicka||14-Apr-99||5'10"||D||2017 Draft||CZE||HC Plzen|
|Ondřej Vála||13-Apr-98||6'4"||D||Undrafted||WHL||Kamloops Blazers|
|Jakub Zbořil||21-Feb-97||6'0"||D||2015 (#13)||QMJHL||St. John Sea Dogs|
|Filip Chlapík||03-Jun-97||6'1"||F||2015 (#48)||QMJHL||Charlottetown Islanders|
|Lukáš Jašek||28-Aug-97||5'11"||F||2015 (#174)||CZE2||HC Frydek-Mistek|
|David Kase||28-Jan-97||5'11"||F||2015 (#128)||CZE||KLH Chomutov|
|Radek Koblížek||20-Oct-97||5'9"||F||Undrafted||Jr. A SM-liiga||Karpat U20|
|Daniel Kurovsky||04-Mar-98||6'3"||F||Undrafted||CZE||HC Vitkovice|
|Adam Musil||26-Mar-97||6'3"||F||2015 (#94)||WHL||Red Deer Rebels|
|Martin Nečas||15-Jan-99||5'11"||F||2017 Draft||CZE||HC Kometa Brno|
|Kristian Reichel||11-Jun-98||6'0"||F||Undrafted||CZE||HC Litvinov|
|Šimon Stránský||21-Dec-97||6'0"||F||Undrafted||WHL||Prince Albert Raiders|
|Filip Suchý||16-Dec-97||5'8"||F||Undrafted||USHL||Omaha Lancers|
|Michael Špaček||09-Apr-97||5'11"||F||2015 (#108)||WHL||Red Deer Rebels|
|Tomáš Šoustal||15-Feb-97||6'2"||F||Undrafted||WHL||Kelowna Rockets|
The Czechs’ starting goaltender should be Daniel Vladař. One of seven returning players from last year’s squad, he is on loan from the Boston Bruins, spending the majority of his season with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. Regularly facing professionals, the netminder has maintained an above-league-average .914 save percentage, and therefore should be well prepared for the rigours of this tournament.
Should he falter, Jakub Škarek represents the future of goaltending for the Czech Republic, and has shown in a few brief appearances in the Czech Extraliga that he is more than capable on taking on the responsibility, posting a .952 save percentage in three starts in the top Czech league.
The Czech team will be composed of players from various leagues, including 10 players who are currently playing Junior hockey in Canada — generally considered the best place to develop in the world — and it will be these players who will have to drive the team’s offence.
Filip Chlapik leads the pack with his 20 goals and 24 assists for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He will be supported by four forwards from the Western Hockey League: Adam Musil, Šimon Stránský, Michael Špaček, and Tomáš Šoustal, all of whom are having good seasons for their respective clubs.
One player who could have a breakout performance is Martin Nečas, a highly touted prospect for the upcoming draft. The club also brought in David Kase as a late addition to the roster, and he joined the team on Thursday after getting clearance to play after recovering from injury.
The top defensive pairing consisting of Libor Hájek and Jakub Zbořil, along with Filip Hronek, should provide the Czechs with some solid blue-line defending.
Although the forward top six is decently stocked for the Czechs, it is the depth on offence that is questionable, and where the Czechs may be at a disadvantage compared to other countries. With 10 players on their squad that went undrafted in the NHL, the talent pool is weaker overall compared to the powerhouse nations such as Canada and the US.
With David Pastrnak gone for this year’s tournament and dominating full-time with the Boston Bruins, there are no NHL-ready talents to control the play for the Czechs. Some offensive hopes lied on standout forward Dominic Lakatos who was having a strong season with the Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Extraliga. Unfortunately for the team, Lakatos broke a collarbone trying to deliver a check into the boards in the first exhibition game against Canada, which knocked him out of the tournament.
If the Czechs hope to make it far in the tournament, they will have to implement and stick to a solid structure of play to overcome their depth issues. One way to help that area would be for the New Jersey Devils to assign Pavel Zacha to the World Junior Championship. He would add an immediate boost to the offence and could potentially be a huge difference-maker for the team. At the time of this writing there have been some preliminary talks in this regard, but nothing has been made official.
Note: Thanks to The Hockey Ninja (@The_HockeyNinja) for his contribution to this article.