Team Czech Republic will get to Finland with a team considered by many one of the best editions of the latest few years. The Czech didn’t achieve much in the latest few editions, and this season’s team may become a turn in trend, especially if the offensive line will gel and deliver since the tournament start. The team led by Jakub Petr, who coached some of this year’s players at the U18s last April, will have as strong side their offensive players, while defensemen and goalies appear to be at a slightly lower level. The Czechs will have to deal with a few good players injured, like for example Buffalo Sabres second rounder, forward Vaclav Karabacek, and this is never a good thing, especially in a short tournament like the WJC where single players can be very valuable.
Players to watch:
Pavel Zacha (C, Sarnia Sting, 6th overall New Jersey Devils)
Undoubtedly the start of the team, Zacha was meant to be playing in the NHL this year for the Devils, but he ended up in the juniors, therefore being easily eligible for the WJC. The Sarnia Sting center is having a strong season in the OHL and will definitely center the first line. Zacha will be at his third WJC and the Czech will surely hope that he will boost his statistical contribution if compared to the fist two tournaments. This will be a very important moment in Zacha’s career because he will have to show that he is able to carry a team on his shoulders.
David Kase (W, Pirati Chomutov/SK Kadan, 128th overall Philadelphia Flyers)
After leading the U18 team last year at the Ivan Hlinka and the U18 WJC, Kase will most likely play on Zacha’s wing on the team’s first line. Kase, whose brother Ondrej is also an NHL draft pick for the Anaheim Ducks, is having a good season with SK Kadan of the second-tier Czech league, loaned from Pirati Chomutov. Not a big player (5’11”, 170 lbs.), Kase gets things done with his vision, puck skills, and great skating ability. A long-time captain of the ’97-born players national team, Kase is expected to bring in some leadership, and not only skills, to his team. The Flyers definitely had a very interesting pick at the fifth round this year.
Vitek Vanecek (G, South Carolina Stingrays, 39th overall Washington Capitals)
Having pro hockey players in the lineup is always an advantage, and having a pro goalie may be even more important. The Czechs will head to the tournament with Vanecek as the best candidate as number one goalie and he is expected to be a good show in Finland. Vanecek already represented Czech Republic at last year’s WJC, but now-graduated, Oilers prospect Miroslav Svoboda had better stats than him.
Jakub Zboril (D, Saint John Sea Dogs, 13th overall Boston Bruins)
Having a first rounder in the lineup never hurts, and Zboril is expected to play a significant role for the Czechs. A solid all-around defenseman, Zboril is expected to have plenty of ice time. He should also be a dangerous threat on the blue line during powerplays with his big shot. He’s not very big at 6’2″, 185 lbs., but can be a physical player in the Czechs own zone.
At the moment of writing this article, it’s not clear if David Pastrnak will play or not at the tournament and his presence could be a big boost for the team. Pastrnak picked up an injury earlier in the season and he may be loaned to team Czech Republic for the WJC to gain game practice. Pastrnak represented Czech Republic at the latest two WJCs, posting good stats in both cases.
The missing piece:
As said earlier, the Czechs have to deal with main injury problems. Jakub Vrana will have to sit out the tournament and this can be a big blow to the Czechs, who, however, may have some other players able to step up and get his role.
The bottom line:
This team Czech Republic is very good, although may lack some depth to be considered a contender. A medal rush isn’t an unrealistic forecast, albeit a bit generous. That being said, the team would have been much better with a healthy lineup.