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2023 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Czechia preview & roster

First-round draft choices Jiříček and Kulich will try to shoulder Czechia’s expectations now that our own Jan Myšák has aged out.

Czechia v Canada: Preliminary Round Group A - 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

After this summer’s draft, the hockey world has been talking a lot about the recent surge among Slovakian prospects. This is natural when a country manages to get the first two selections from a draft and then sprinkle yet another first-round pick on top of that.

However, shaded in a little darkness, Slovakia’s arch-rivals from Czechia have a solid generation coming up as well. As Montrealers, we have seen Jan Myšák develop up close. In the 2020 NHL Draft, when Myšák went 48th overall, he was the only Czech player chosen in the first three rounds.

In 2022, the supremely talented sixth overall pick David Jiříček was followed by nifty forwards Jiří Kulich and Matyáš Šapovaliv as well as defencemen Tomas Hamara and Marek Alscher before round three turned into round four.

Even more fun is that all of these five players are on the Czech roster for the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton.

Team Czechia preliminary roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
1 Daniel Král G Czechia Bílí Tygři Liberec
30 Oliver Satny G QMJHL Cape Breton Eagles
31 Tomáš Suchánek G WHL Tri-City Americans
2 Marek Alscher D WHL Portland Winterhawks (FLA)
6 Ales Cech D U20 SM-sarja Kärpät U20
9 Tomas Hamara D OHL Kitchener Rangers (OTT)
5 David Jiříček D AHL Cleveland Monsters (CBJ)
8 David Moravec D QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads
3 David Špaček D QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix (MIN)
14 Stanislav Svozil D WHL Regina Pats (CBJ)
4 Jiři Ticháček D Czechia Rytíři Kladno
12 Jakub Brabenec F QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders (VGK)
21 Jaroslav Chmelař F NCAA Providence College (NYR)
17 Petr Hauser F Czechia HC Sparta Praha (NJD)
15 Jakub Kos F Mestis KOOVEE (FLA)
25 Jiří Kulich F AHL Rochester Americans (BUF)
16 Marcel Marcel F QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques
11 Adam Měchura F WHL Tri-City Americans
18 Matouš Menšík F Czechia HC Olomouc
13 Lukáš Pajer F Czechia Mountfield HK
26 Martin Ryšavý F WHL Moose Jaw Warriors (CBJ)
28 Eduard Šalé F Czechia HC Kometa Brno (2023)
20 Robin Sapoušek F WHL Victoria Royals
24 Matyáš Šapovaliv F OHL Saginaw Spirit (VGK)
27 Gabriel Szturc F WHL Kelowna Rockets

Strengths

Back in August, a Czech team — which to a large extent carried the same core as this year’s version — surprised the hockey world by knocking out Team USA in the quarterfinals and advancing to the medal rounds for only the second time since 2006.

If you look at the 26 young men on this roster, 17 were part of at least one of the two squads that played a U20 WJC last year. Sure, the winter edition did not come to much fruition due to the COVID outbreak, but we must never underestimate the experience of just having been part of a major tournament, as a dip your feet before going head first into the waves-sort of endeavour.

When you talk about experience as the main strength of a team, it’s easy to go right to the conclusion that there is little to no skill to evaluate. However, this is not the case in this year’s Czech edition.

Kulich was a monster in the U18 WJC, eventually winning the MVP award after having carried that Team Czechia to the semifinals. After being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, he has spent this autumn in Rochester, where he currently sits at 16 points in 24 games.

Jiříček was ranked as the second-best overall prospect by EliteProspects in last summer’s pre-draft process. He has already made his NHL debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets and is putting up an impressive first year with the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL. Don’t be too surprised if in a few years Columbus sports a defensive pairing of Jiříček and another gem of this group, left-handed Regina Pats starlet Stanislav Svozil.

Remember to keep an extra eye out for young right-winger Eduard Šalé, who is eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft. According to scouting reports, Šalé has an incredible offensive toolkit as his puck-handling skills, along with high-end offensive sense, separate him from most players his age (Sasha Lagarde, Dobber Prospects).

Weaknesses

“How deep is your love? Is it like the ocean? Pull me closer again”, sang Calvin Harris and Disciples in an annoying radio hit from 2015. Something similar could be said for this year’s Team Czechia. How deep is this roster? Is it like the ocean? I don’t think so.

Sure, there are probably more players on this roster who project to be of solid NHL prospect quality compared to rosters of years past, where many of the NHL-drafted players became nothing more than NHL fodder or AHL regulars. But that still just means that we are talking about five or six good players instead of two or three.

If this Czech team wants to break the curse and take their country’s first medal since 2005, it will have to rely heavily on its few glimmering stars and minimize any harm caused by the lack of depth.

In the summertime, when the weather was high, goaltender Tomáš Suchánek could stretch right up and touch the sky. Suchánek’s 28 saves against Team USA was a key ingredient to the biggest upset of the tournament. Can he do it again this winter? Both he and his main backup option Oliver Satny come into the tournament with a seasonal save percentage of just above .900 from their respective CHL teams (Cape Breton and Tri-City).

The dark horse in the race for the main paddle comes in the shape of 19-year-old Daniel Král. Král has impressed during two separate loan spells in the Czech second tier this season and is currently the only one of the three who play pro hockey.

One thing is for sure; one of these three goalies will need to step up if Team Czechia wants to compete for silverware this Christmas.

Projection

Team Sweden and Team Canada should be one number too large during a four-game group stage. If this projection comes to fruition, Team Czechia will in all likelihood face either the United States or Finland in a subsequent quarterfinal.

You know what they say... lightning apparently never strikes twice in the same spot. I have a hard time seeing Team USA falling into the exact same trap two years in a row.

However, on a good day, over one 60-minute game, if everything comes into place and the stars align, this Czech team has enough creativity and oomph to challenge teams like Sweden, Finland and Slovakia.

I wouldn’t bet my house that this will be the first year since 2005 where the Czech team will have medals around their necks come January 5, but if there is one thing I’ve learnt from beloved Canadian national treasure Justin Bieber, it is to Never Say Never.


Czech Ice Hockey Reporter Darina Vymetalikova joins the podcast to discuss Czechia’s chances in this year’s World Junior Championships: