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2020 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Czech Republic preview & roster

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The goaltending will be critical for the Czechs if they are to have a chance at a medal.

United States v Czech Republic: Quarterfinals - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

There will be a spotlight on the on the Czech team as they play in front of their fans at home, but there is no end to the problems they will face.

For starters, they are located in a very tough Group B, and their lack of quality defensive players should make that even tougher. They’ll only need to finish ahead of the Germans to make it through, but things won’t get any easier if they squeak through the opening round.

Coach Vaclav Varada likes to play the neutral zone trap, and this year’s defence is built to suit that kind of play better than that of 2019. However, defence is their biggest weakness, which isn’t ideal if you plan to play the trap.

Contrary to most teams, the Czech defence is big and not very mobile or nimble. Hugo Haš looks interesting, but even he had some issues during previous tournaments. Being a gritty player himself, coach Varada wants this team to play physical, finish their checks, and play nasty around the nets. So there will be no surprise that the Czech team will play that way come crunch time.

It is fair to say that the team will stand and fall with the goalkeeper, Lukáš Dostál. He’ll have to get off to a good start when the Czechs take on Russia in the opening game in Ostrava. He has been impressive in Liiga (Finland) this year, and is a big part of Ilves success, a team that is currently residing in fourth place of the Liiga table.

His 1.92 GAA is third best in the league, his 79.55 SV% is second best, and the Czechs will need him to be even better if they’re to compete for a medal on home ice. Considering the lack of quality defenders in front of him, he’ll need to be at the top of his game.

Jan Jeník will lead this team offensively. The young forward has a great year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, averaging a staggering two points per game. He was an Eyes on the Prize favourite before the 2019 draft, and he has continued to impress since. The big question is whether he can put up numbers without the supporting cast that he enjoys with the Bulldogs in the OHL.

Team Czech Republic preliminary roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
2 Lukas Dostal G Liiga Ilves (ANA)
30 Nick Malik G Czech2 HC Frydek-Mistek (2020)
1 Lukas Patrik G WHL Spkane Chiefs (LAK)
9 Tomas Dajcar D Czech2 HC Stadion Litomerice
7 Hugo Has D Mestis KOOVEE (WAS)
3 Karel Klikorka D DHL Cup BK Mlada Boleslav U20
23 Simon Kubicek D WHL Seattle Thunderbirds (2020)
4 Radek Kucerik D WHL Saskatoon Blades
8 Libor Zábranský D WHL Moose Jaw Warriors
17 Matej Blümel F Extraliga HC Dynamo Pardubice (EDM)
24 Petr Cajka F U20-Elit Genève-Servette U20
14 Jan Jenik F OHL Hamilton Bulldogs (ARI)
13 Jakub Lauko F AHL Providence Bruins (BOS)
27 Jan Mysak F Extraliga HC Litvinov (2020)
15 Ondrej Pavel F USHL Fargo Force
10 Matej Pekar F OHL Barrie Colts (BUF)
21 Jaromir Pytlik F OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2020)
26 Adam Raska F QMJHL Rimouski Oceanic (2020)
16 Otakar Sik F Czech2 HC Stadion Litomerice
29 Jan Sir F Czech2 HC Benatky nad Jizerou
11 Michal Teplý F WHL Winnipeg ICE (CHI)

This team is built around aggressive, hard working forwards such as Pekař, Jeník, Lauko, Čajka, Teplý and Pytlík. They have a lot of high-end skill, and if they can come together as a team, they can be dangerous. Especially if they get the fast breaks that the Czechs are prone to excel at, and that the trap can often provide.

Keep an eye out for 2020 NHL draft prospect Jan Mysak, who has good transition play. and enough skill that he can make things happen all by himself.

Strengths

This is Lukáš Dostál’s big stage, if he gets hot and stays hot, many teams will shake their heads in frustration. Dostál will need to play on a level that leaves no margin for error game after game, though it is somewhat doubtful that he can keep that level all through the tournament.

The good thing is that he knows he can do it, but the big question remains whether he can do it in front of his home crowd and with the nations hope on his shoulders?

Weaknesses

As mentioned several times, it is the defence. It might very well be the worst defence in the tournament, and even if Hugo Haš is good, he isn’t the type of player that can unilaterally morph a defensive unit into that of a contender. Very few defenders are.

Also, the home crowd must be mentioned. If the Czechs aren’t playing well, they can leave and create an away game atmosphere, or even worse, turn against their team. The pressure will be excruciating, and it can definitely harm the team.

X-factor

Lukáš Dostál needs to be a major player, but I will go with Jan Jeník as the x-factor for this team. For the average hockey fan, the youngest player of last years draft will leave an impression in the way he plays the game.

Jeník will need to score goals at his OHL pace to drag the Czechs into the playoffs. The hard-working winger has made an impression in Canada, but he’ll be looked at to carry his country in this tournament.

Prediction

It all hangs with Jan Jeník and Lukáš Dostál. Though they only need to win one game to get through the group stage, that likely means a matchup with Sweden thereafter. Defensively, that presents a whole new level of nightmares for the Czechs, so they’d need some ungodly goaltending to go further.

They certainly aren’t favourites in this tournament, but with a little luck, some timely offense, and of course some good goaltending, they have a chance to do some damage.