One year ago, The Czechs were excited about a World Junior Championship played in their own back yard. When they managed to beat Team Russia on opening night, spectators started wondering if this could be a sign of great things to come.
Sadly, that was just about as good as it would get. The Republic lost to the group’s projected bottom-feeders, Germany, and narrowly escaped a humiliating relegation round against Kazakhstan by taking the game against Team USA to overtime. That extra frame will best be remembered by Montreal Canadiens fans for producing Cole Caufield’s first and only goal of the entire tournament.
This year, the Czechs come locked and loaded for a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, they do so with a lesser roster than they lined up a year ago. The NHL-calibre talent is scarce and their previous top talents Jakub Lauko, Jan Jeník, and Lukáš Dostál have all aged out.
Is all hope lost already for the Czech Republic? Of course not. They have Austria in their group, which means that a ticket to the quarter-finals is all but guaranteed right from the get-go.
Team Czech Republic final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|2||Jan Bednář||G||QMJHL||Acadie-Bathurst Titan (DET)|
|30||Nick Malík||G||OHL||Soo Greyhounds|
|1||Lukáš Pařík||G||WHL||Spokane Chiefs (LAK)|
|7||Martin Haš||D||OHL||Guelph Storm (WSH)|
|8||David Jiříček||D||Extraliga||HC Plzeň (2022)|
|3||Karel Klikorka||D||Extraliga||BK Mladá Boleslav|
|28||Michael Krutil||D||Czech2||HC Stadion Litoměřice (CHI)|
|23||Šimon Kubíček||D||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|4||Radek Kučeřík||D||WHL||Saskatoon Blades|
|22||Jiří Suhrada||D||Extraliga||Berani Zlín|
|5||Stanislav Svozil||D||Extraliga||HC Kometa Brno (2021)|
|24||Martin Beránek||F||Extraliga||HC České Budějovice|
|17||Michal Gut||F||WHL||Everett Silvertips|
|27||Filip Koffer||F||WHL||Prince George Cougars|
|10||Martin Lang||F||WHL||Moose Jaw Warriors|
|29||Radek Mužík||F||SHL||Luleå HF|
|19||Jan Myšák||F||OHL||Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)|
|16||Adam Najman||F||Extraliga||Bílí Tygři Liberec|
|13||Pavel Novák||F||WHL||Kelowna Rockets (MIN)|
|15||Filip Prikryl||F||Extraliga||HC Plzeň|
|21||Jaromír Pytlík||F||OHL||Soo Greyhounds (NJD)|
|26||Adam Raška||F||QMJHL||Rimouski Océanic (SJS)|
|25||Jakub Rychlovský||F||AHL||Bílí Tygři Liberec|
|11||Michal Teplý||F||AHL||Rockford Icehogs (CHI)|
|18||David Vitouch||F||Extraliga||HC Sparta Praha|
There are some reasonable characters who can provide offensive value for this team and possibly stand tall against stronger competition. If head coach Karel Mlejnek chooses to play Canadiens prospect Jan Myšák as a centre, he should have a strong one-two punch with Myšák and Soo Greyhound do-it-all Jaromír Pytlík.
If a few of the wingers, namely Michal Teplý or Minnesota Wild prospect Pavel Novák can provide their team with secondary scoring options, the Czechs can stir up at least minor problems for the top three teams in their group.
With that being said, there are no outstanding strengths on this roster. Considering that they will, with all probability, face the top seed in Group A after advancing to the quarter-finals, this could be yet another World Juniors to forget for the former giant.
Who will be the starting goaltender? Now that there is no more Lukáš Dostál, there is a cavity the size of Prague which needs filling. Both Nick Malík and Lukáš Pařík were part of the team a year ago, but underperformed when called upon. While waiting for their North American clubs to start the season, they have both enjoyed loan spells in the Czech second tier. Pařík has yet to impress after 10 games, while Malík has played better, although in a very limited sample size.
Could the solution be Jan Bednář? The Acadie-Bathurst Titan player has been equally unimpressive as Pařík has, but has at least done so in a higher tier. Bednář was a fourth-round draft selection by the Detroit Red Wings this October and is a former recipient of Extraliga’s honour for Rookie of the Year. He has both the size (6’4”, 196 lbs.) and athleticism to provide the audience with an exciting type of goaltending. On the downside, he has been looking for his stride ever since his rookie season and has posted a goals-against average of over four goals per game during his last two seasons.
This seems like a toss-up. Whoever has the hotter (read, least cold) hand during Christmas will get the start on le Lendemain de Noel against Sweden.
No matter who ends up in net, he will have to perform at a high level. This is due to the fact that the players in front of the goalie provide coach Mlejnek with another headache. Led by mid-round draft picks Martin Haš and Michael Krutil, the Czech Republic’s defence corps is not something which is set up to fend off hungry attackers from Sweden, USA, or Russia. Haš and Krutil are mobile and solid in both directions, but would without a doubt feature better as complements than as crucial pieces in a tournament of this magnitude.
There are some interesting names for the future, however. The Czech Republic has brought two defenders born in 2003 – one eligible for each of the upcoming drafts in 2021 and 2022 – with them to Edmonton. Do keep an eye on how Stanislav Svozil and David Jiříček fare if they end up on the final roster. Both already hold a spot on their respective teams in Extraliga at just 17 years of age.
Even without being a Habs homer, it is obvious that the star of this team is Jan Myšák. The Montreal Canadiens draft selection from October is one of only five forwards on the extended roster who have been drafted by an NHL franchise, and the sole player selected within the first three rounds.
As a returner from last year’s World Juniors, the Czechs expect Myšák to be a central piece whom the offence can flow through. He should be excited to play in a more tailored role than he has in HC Litvinov, no matter if Mlejnek end up deciding to play him as a centre or on the wing.
The aforementioned young defencemen could strengthen their draft position with a good outing. Svozil is currently ranked as a consensus first-round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. He played almost a full season with HC Kometa Brno already last year and succeeded netminder Bednář as the winner of Extraliga’s Rookie of the Year.
Turning 18 in less than a month, he has already received his first call-up to the senior international squad. He has terrific offensive vision and a passing ability to boot, which allows him to function admirably as a playmaking back on the power play. If Mlejnek is brave enough to hand over the keys of the defence to a 17-year-old, we could witness the birth of a future star.
The Habs Angle
This whole article has basically been a builder of hype for Jan Myšák. But the article would have been similarly written even if he wasn’t a Habs prospect. Myšák will play a crucial role for the Czechs in his second World Juniors appearance. It will be fascinating to see if he, as one of the potential returnees for next year, is ready to carry a team in dire need of experience, leadership, and an offensive spark.
I hope that Myšák’s confidence hasn’t been too rattled by these last few months, where he’s had to feature in a non-optimal bottom-six role for one of the weaker teams in the Extraliga. Though his production has been lacking as of late, I am still convinced that Marc Bergevin came away with a steal when he selected Myšák at number 48 this year. People who have interviewed him talk about how smart and determined he is, which is good news for both the Canadiens organization and for the Czech Republic’s national team.
I hope he can find his stride early on and get into a good partnership with his plausible linemates Teplý and Adam Raška. With a successful tournament, Myšák can give Montreal’s fans further reason to get excited for the future, and himself the probability of a higher ranking on next year’s Top 25 Under 25.
Below you can listen to our first Habsent Minded episode previewing the 2021 World Junior Championship. Accompanied by Thomas Roost, Patrik Bexell and I discuss the five Central European teams: Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Austria, and Myšák’s Czech Republic: