Last season after the World Junior Hockey Championship, the Czech Republic Ice Hockey Association went out and signed Liberec coach Filip Pesan as the coach for their U20 team, and it may be the best decision Czech ice hockey has made in a while.
Coach Pesan is young, has been involved in New York Rangers development camps, and he usually tries to get a chance to talk hockey with any coach he can when on the road in the Champions Hockey League, or out traveling in general.
Having met Coach Pesan briefly this summer, I have him pegged as the next European coach to get a chance in the NHL. I know for a fact that KHL teams are already looking at him, but the project in Liberec might still have some time to go.
Mr. Pesan can be described as a very progressive coach, and having coached Liberec to their first title in history and followed that up with a loss in the finals the last season, he brings success wherever he goes. He prefers to play a physically demanding, attacking brand of hockey with a lot of forechecking, and also employs a modern approach that includes a video coach and statistical analysis in order to get the best out of his players and develop them the best way possible.
He also relies on his staff with other responsibilities in order to make the team progress even further. It may be a year or two too early for the Czechs to find success among the world’s elite, but Coach Pesan is a rising star and will be very interesting to follow. He may even be able to break the hidden rules in Czech hockey and start bringing the U20 team out of the doldrums it has been in since 2006 when they last reached the semi-final.
Team Czech Republic roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|2||Milan Kloucek||G||Extraliga||HC Dynamo Pardubice|
|30||Josef Kořenář||G||Czech2||HC Benatky nad Jizerou (SJS)|
|1||Jakub Škarek||G||Extraliga||HC Dukla Jihlava|
|19||Vojtěch Budík||D||WHL||Prince Albert Raiders (BUF)|
|23||Jakub Galvas||D||Extraliga||HC Olomouc (CHI)|
|3||Libor Hájek||D||WHL||Saskatoon Blades (TBL)|
|11||Filip Král||D||WHL||Spokane Chiefs|
|7||Radim Salda||D||QMJHL||Saint John Sea Dogs|
|14||Ondrej Vála||D||WHL||Kamloops Blazers (DAL)|
|21||Filip Chytil||F||AHL||Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)|
|17||Kryštof Hrabík||F||Czech2||HC Benatky nad Jizerou|
|16||Martin Kaut||F||Extraliga||HC Dynamo Pardubice|
|28||Petr Kodýtek||F||Czech2||HC Litomerice|
|15||Daniel Kurovský||F||Extraliga||HC Vitkovice|
|20||Jakub Lauko||F||Extraliga||Piráti Chomutov|
|8||Martin Nečas||F||Extraliga||HC Kometa Brno (CAR)|
|25||Radovan Pavlík||F||Czech2||HC Litomerice|
|22||Kristian Reichel||F||WHL||Red Deer Rebels|
|27||Ostap Safin||F||QMJHL||Saint John Sea Dogs (EDM)|
|6||Marek Zachar||F||QMJHL||Sherbrooke Phoenix|
|18||Filip Zadina||F||QMJHL||Halifax Mooseheads|
The team will rely a lot on the Filip Chytil - Martin Nečas combo. Both were drafted in the first round in 2017 by Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively. While Chytil is more than NHL-ready and playing big minutes in the AHL, Nečas was sent back to Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga. Chytil can do it all: he has a great eye for the game and drives play through great controlled zone exits and zone entries. He can create a chance for himself out of nothing, and has a good shot to finish the play off.
Nečas is more of a playmaking type of centre who thrives with other skilled players on the ice. He has deft hands and can take the puck into traffic in order to pull defenders out of position and then find an open teammate. He is also a leader on the ice and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets a letter on his jersey.
Ostap Safin is playing very good in QMJHL. A big guy with a deadly release, he can find a way to get to the net, but he is most likely to shoot first.
Filip Zadina is a great sniper with a quick release and is projected to go high in the 2018 NHL draft. He likes to shoot a lot — maybe too much at times. His game is not as matured as some of the others, but the Quebec league suits him well, and playing on the small ice will benefit him in the WJC.
He is most likely to team up with Chytil, which leaves Nečas to line up with childhood friend, a new name to the North American public, Martin Kaut. Kaut is a rightie and a good shooter, rumoured to go in the late second round in the 2018 draft by some scouts where others disagree and have him lower. Kaut will look to prove himself in the tournament, and there are worse places to try to do that than on the wing of Nečas.
There are not enough good defenders to go around from the 1998 year, so there will be more younger guys born in 1999 on the roster.
Libor Hájek (a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect) should be the number one, while Jakub Galvas (Chicago Blackhawks) is looking good and taking solid minutes in the Czech Extraliga. Filip Král plays in the WHL, and while a bit small he comes with an offensive mindset and he was able to adapt in WHL very quickly. Ondrej Vála (Dallas Stars) is a huge defender with a long stick and dangerous slapshot. He is not the most agile player in the world, but with a long reach and a long stick he can be very annoying opponent for any opposing forward.
The upside for this roster should be on offence, where stars such as Nečas, Chytil, Zadina, and maybe Michnáč could perform at a high level and make a huge impact.
Personally, I also rate Coach Pesan as a strength. Success begets success, and having won the Czech title and being in the semifinal in CHL with Liberec, the young players knows and will have more belief in the system thanks to success at club level, and that can cary the Czech team far.
Looking at the defensive corps of Sweden, Finland, and Canada, the Czech Republic is a step or two behind. This will be the main weakness of the team, as many of the defenders are young and will be in the 2018 NHL draft.
While other teams have players that have performed at a high level in those positions, the Czech team hasn’t, and this will probably be the weakness that needs straightening out before the talented team can really make a push in the tournament.
It will come down to the Chytil - Nečas duo to provide the spark that can lift the Czech team to challenge for a medal. Zadina will be a “new” name for the average hockey fan, and his shot is something to keep an eye out for.
The Czech are also the underdogs, and we all know what a underdog Czech team can do — just look at Nagano 1998.
The first two games in the tournament against Russia and Sweden will be important. Good play and a couple of points can set the Czech team on fire, though the reverse could make them implode in a similar fashion as Finland did last year.
Getting to the playoffs is the first step, and avoiding the top seed from Group A would be the second. If they do that I can see the Czech team cause an upset or two in the playoffs.
I think it’s early to pick them for a spot in the medal round, but it will be an important first step for Czech ice hockey on its way to returning to the top tier in the World Junior Championships.