Having home-ice advantage can provide a huge boost for any hockey team. When you’re entering an international competition in front of your cheering family and friends, it gives you that much of an extra drive to win. For Team Czech Republic, they will have that advantage at the 2020 World Junior Championships.
The tournament is being held in Ostrava and Třinec, Czech Republic, and the home team will be looking to impress their fans throughout the event. Previous host teams have won numerous times in the past, with Finland the most recent to do so back in 2016. The Czechs will look to replicate the Finnish performance here.
It will be tough for the squad though. The Czech team hasn’t medalled in the event since 2005 when they won bronze, after winning the tournament a few years prior in back-to-back years (2000 and 2001). They finished in seventh place in the 2019 World Junior Championship, a spot they’ll try to improve on this time around.
Team Czech Republic has a lot riding on this event. They will need to beat Team Germany or risk being relegated for the first time – ever. They are one of just six countries to have never been relegated, a fact they’ll be working hard to keep true in 2020.
The Czech Republic has a returning fixture in net with Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Lukáš Dostál. The 2018 85th-overall selection was remarkable in the tournament last season, with a 1.25 goals against average (GAA) and a .957 save percentage (SV%) through four games. If the Czech team stands any chance, they’ll need Dostál to repeat last year’s performance.
Behind Dostál, it could get interesting even though Los Angeles Kings prospect Lukáš Pařík is the likely backup. He’s started the 2019-20 season well in his first in North America, playing for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He was also a top-three player on the team last year in the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championships.
Pařík could be facing some pressure from two 2020 NHL Draft prospects in Jan Bednář and Nick Malík. Bednář performed well at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup – at least better than his statistics represent. He had a 4.47 GAA and a .828 SV% in the event, playing the most games of any goaltender (tied with Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov).
The year prior, it was Malík in net for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, holding a 3.85 GAA and a .875 SV%. Between the two draft-eligible goaltenders, I’d give the edge to Malík at this point. He’s looked better in club play this year, and his stats show it. He’s played less in the top Czech league compared to Bednář but has outperformed him in the Czech2.
Daniel Dvořák has also been invited to the Czech camp but I’d have him fifth in line at this point.
The Czech Republic defence will be interesting. There’s a very good chance that they have one returning player who just happens to be the lone defensive NHL prospect right now – Martin Hugo Haš.
Hugo Haš was drafted in 2019 by the Washington Capitals, 153rd overall in the fifth round. He also has a good chance to be the captain of the squad, with some pressure from one of the forwards – we’ll get to him. The defender has an extensive history on the Czech national team, just last year wearing the “A” in the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship where he collected a goal and an assist through five games. Hugo Haš should be the one lock on this defensive unit.
While there aren’t any other NHL-affiliated prospects with a shot at this team, there are a number of players who could very soon be NHL prospects. That group is led by Šimon Kubíček, ranked 108th in THW’s own Larry Fisher’s 2020 Draft rankings. The WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds’ defender shared an “A” with Hugo Haš at the U18’s last year and should be a fixture on this lineup as well.
Kubicek will be joined by fellow 2020 draft-eligibles Karel Klikorka and Radek Kučeřík. An intriguing player to keep an eye on is 2021 NHL Draft prospect Stanislav Svozil, one of the Czech Republic’s most promising young players. It’s very likely that you’ll start hearing this name mentioned a lot leading up to the 2021 NHL Draft as he has the potential to be a first-round pick.
Other defensemen that could make this squad are Tomaš Dajčár, František Klejna, Miroslav Kukla, Ivan Lytvynov, Jan Mičák, Jan Štibingr, and Libor Zábranský.
In the 2019 World Junior Championships, the Czech Republic finished second-last in goals for, just ahead of the now-relegated Team Denmark. If they stand any chance at all, they’ll need to get some more offense from their team. Luckily for them, they’ll have a few players who could provide that offensive punch.
The forward group will be led by Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Jan Jeník. As I mentioned, there’s one forward who could take the captaincy from Hugo Haš, and Jeník is it. He’s been on absolute fire in the OHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, including a 25-game point streak to start the season in which he collected 54 points. If the team has a hope of bringing up its goal-scoring, expect Jeník to be in on it.
Jeník will be joined by a number of NHL-affiliated prospects up front. This includes Edmonton Oilers’ Matěj Blümel, Boston Bruins’ Jakub Lauko, Buffalo Sabres’ Matěj Pekař, Vancouver Canucks’ Karel Plášek, and Chicago Blackhawks’ Michal Teplý. I’d expect all of these players to make the squad.
The Czech forward group will be interesting to keep track of who they bring that’s eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. There’s a number of draft-eligible prospects that have been invited to camp. This is highlighted by Jan Myšák, who I have ranked 14th in my November draft rankings. Myšák is a solid offensive threat that could provide some depth scoring for the Czech group. Another one to keep an eye on is Jaromír Pytlík. My 36th-ranked player could easily end up a first-round pick in 2020 and a solid World Juniors performance could push him into that category.
Some other 2020 NHL Draft prospects to watch are Adam Raška (53rd) and Michal Gut (56th). There’s one draft-eligible player that was left off the Czech camp roster that was surprising. Pavel Novak, my 64th-ranked prospect, is currently playing with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets where he’s over a point-per-game. He also played well in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, collecting three points in four games. His omission is strange, to say the least.
Other forwards that could make the roster are Petr Čajka, Filip Koffer, Martin Lang, Radek Mužík, Ondřej Pavel, Jonáš Peterek, František Řehák, Zdeněk Sedlák, Vojtěch Střondala, Otakar Šik, Jan Šir, and David Vitouch.
The Bottom Line
Team Czech Republic enters this tournament with their streak of never relegating on the line. As mentioned, they’ll need to beat Germany in order to hold their current position. With their home crowd watching intently, the pressure will be on this young group.
The team will be relying heavily on the leadership of the returning players, Dostál, Hugo Haš, and Jeník. There is some depth to this team’s forward corps and in the net, but the defence looks to be a weak spot this year. However, looking to the future, this team has a lot to like. Assuming all of the 2020 NHL Draft-eligible players return, and defender Stanislav Svozil continues to take massive steps forward, the 2021 World Junior Championships could see this team be a legitimate threat.
For now, these Czech players just need to make sure they hold their own in a stacked Group B that includes Canada, Germany, Russia and the United States. While 2020 likely won’t be the Czech Republic’s year, things are looking up for the future.
Here is THW’s prediction as to who makes the final 23-man roster for the Czech Republic:
Goaltenders: Lukáš Dostál, Nick Malík, Lukáš Pařík
Defence: Tomaš Dajčár, Martin Hugo Haš, Karel Klikorka, Simon Kubicek, Radek Kučeřík, Stanislav Svozil, Libor Zábranský
Forwards: Matej Blümel, Petr Čajka, Michal Gut, Jan Jeník, Martin Lang, Jakub Lauko, Jan Myšák, Matěj Pekař, Jonáš Peterek, Jaromír Pytlík, Karel Plášek, Adam Raška, Michal Teplý
All the 2020 World Junior Championship Team Information:
*Links to come throughout December
All Your THW 2020 World Junior Championship Coverage
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.