In front of their home crowd, the pressure will be on for the host team Czech Republic. The squad has the threat of being relegated for the first time ever in the event, something they will be doing everything they can to avoid. At least they’ll have their family and friends there to cheer them on, hopefully easing some of that pressure.
That being said, it’s going to be tough for the Czech team. They haven’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). To make matters worse for the team, they are in Group B which includes Canada, Russia, the United States, and Germany.
Ahead of another exciting World Juniors tournament, The Hockey Writers takes a look at the host country’s roster. Interestingly, the Czech squad only has 21 players on their roster – leaving room to add two more as the tournament gets underway.
Lukáš Dostál, Nick Malík, Lukáš Pařík
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 year, with a 1.25 goals against average (GAA) and a .957 save percentage (SV%) through four games. He’s also coming into the tournament on fire in the Liiga, repping a 1.92 GAA and a .932 SV%. With Dostál between the pipes, goaltending should be one of the Czech’s biggest strengths.
Los Angeles Kings prospect Lukáš Pařík will side in behind backup. He’s started the 2019-20 season well in his first in North America, playing for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. Through 13 games, he has a 2.59 GAA and a .914 SV%. He was also a top-three player on the team last year in the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championships, repping a .924 SV%.
The third spot will be occupied by Nick Malik, a 2020 Draft-eligible netminder. He beat out another draft-eligible netminder in Jan Bednar to take that spot. He likely won’t see ice time, but it’s still promising for the young netminder to crack the roster.
Tomaš Dajčár, Martin Hugo Haš, Karel Klinkorka, Simon Kubicek, Radek Kučeřík, Libor Zábranský
Martin Hugo Haš is the team’s number one defender. The Washington Capitals, 153rd overall in the fifth round from 2019 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. He’s not the most offensive defender out there, but he will be a defensive fixture on this team.
Helping Hugo Haš in the top four is Karel Klinkorka, who’s playing professionally in the Czech league for BK Mlada Boleslav. He’s a very smart two-way defender that the team should be relying upon.
They’ll also put a lot of pressure on Simon Kubicek, Radek Kučeřík, Tomaš Dajčár, and Libor Zábranský. These four will round out the defensive corps for the host nation – and all be eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. (Dajčár and Zábranský are overagers).
Zábranský will be carrying the most weight, as he will be wearing a “C” for the tournament. He was also the captain of the U18 national team at the 2018 World U18 Championships and the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He’s looked solid in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors and could prove his worth for NHL teams in the upcoming draft.
Kubicek and Kučeřík look to make up a line together, and despite their young ages, don’t sleep on them. Both are currently playing in the WHL, with the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Saskatoon Blades, respectfully. Both are very similar in that they can perform in any zone at any spot in the lineup.
Finally, Dajčár will be slotted in on the bottom pairing, bringing some physicality. The HC Stadion Litomerice player will be playing a limited role throughout the tournament.
Matej Blümel, Petr Čajka, Jan Jeník, Jakub Lauko, Jan Myšák, Ondrej Pavel, Matěj Pekař, Jaromír Pytlík, Adam Raška, Otakar Sik, Jan Sir, Michal Teplý
As I mentioned in the Czech Republic preview, 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.
That will be led by Hamilton Bulldogs’ star and Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Jan Jeník. He’s racked up 22 goals, 34 assists and 56 points playing on a line with American Arthur Kaliyev, including a 26-game point streak. He’s fourth in OHL scoring heading into the break, and the Czech team will be hoping that he can bring that offense to the World Juniors. He’s been given an “A” for the tournament.
The other alternate captain is Petr Čajka, an undrafted prospect currently playing in the U20-Elit Czech league. Likely a depth player for the group, he brings experience from the 2018 World U18 Championship and the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Helping Jeník with the offense will be Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Matej Blümel, Buffalo Sabres’ Matěj Pekař, and Chicago Blackhawks Michal Telpý. Pekař and Telpý look to be lined up with Jeník on the top line and should be the group’s most offensive lineup.
Another NHL prospect in Jakub Lauko should be contributing in a big ways as well, now that he’s healthy from a concussion earlier in the season. He’s a physical player who can contribute offensively and should do just that in this event.
Two 2020 NHL Draft-eligible players will also be bringing some offense, in Jan Myšák and Jaromír Pytlík. Myšák is a top-15 talent in this excellent class, currently playing with HC Litvinov in the Czech league. Don’t be surprised to see him as one of the biggest offensive threats on this team. Pytlík is likely to be a high second-rounder, he is a two-way player that should prove in this tournament that he can do it all.
Another draft-eligible player on the forward group to watch is Adam Raška. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, he’s a player not afraid to get right in the mix of things and get under his opponent’s skin.
The Bottom Line
It’s a long shot for the Czechs to medal in this tournament. Other teams are absolutely stacked, and the odds are against them. However, you can never count a team out – they could surprise in this tournament. If the goaltending is excellent and the forwards can find a way to score more goals than they did last year, this is a team that could shock many opponents.
More likely, they’ll be fighting for their spot in the top division of the under-20s. As the last-place team in the tournament gets relegated, the Czech team will be fighting to make sure that it’s not them.
What’s interesting about the group, is the small size. At just 21 players, there’s room for two more on the squad. If they do add those two players, names to watch are Karel Plasek, Vojtech Strondala, Jan Mlcak, and Ivan Lytvynov.
All the 2020 World Junior Championship Team Information:
*Links to come throughout December