It’s not often that a team relies on one player to carry them to contention. Even the Edmonton Oilers, who seem to rely solely on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for their offense, have a supporting cast capable of bringing them to the playoffs. But the smaller the cast, the tougher it gets.
Czechia might be in a similar spot in the upcoming Olympic Men’s Hockey Tournament, with a few former NHLers upfront, and not much else in terms of big-time hockey talent. But no player on any Olympic team will be relied on more heavily than David Krejčí.
Krejčí’s Impressive Junior Career
After putting up 60 points in 50 games in the Czech Under-20 league, Krejčí decided to move across the pond and play in Canada. He wasn’t a top prospect when he joined the Gatineau Olympiques in 2004, but he quickly became an important piece, putting up 63 points in 62 games in his first season in North America.
He followed that up with 81 points in 55 games and an impressive 32 points in 17 playoff games. Even though the Olympiques fell short in the semi-finals, Krejčí proved that he can step up in big games.
Krejčí’s Illustrious NHL Career
After he was drafted 63rd overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and promoted to the American Hockey League, Krejčí made it hard for the Boston Bruins to keep him in the minors. He recorded 74 points in 69 games for the Providence Bruins, and when his name was called to join Boston, he scored 73 points in his first full NHL season.
His smart, creative two-way play was a hit with fans, and he became a pillar of their top-six for more than a decade. He was a permanent fixture as the second-line centreman behind Patrice Bergeron and racked up assists on the power play. He ranks ninth in Bruins all-time scoring, with 730 points, and won a Stanley Cup with them in 2011.
Krejčí’s Return to Czechia
While he might have continued to be an effective NHLer for a couple more seasons, Krejčí decided to move back to his native Czechia this season to play for HC Olomouc. He’s turning in an impressive campaign with 36 points in 42 games, tied for 13th in league scoring.
Although he still has his scoring skates on, his team will sputter to the end of the season. HC Olomouc ranks 11th among the 15 teams and is in danger of relegation if they don’t pick things up. They will have to battle even harder without their star centerman.
Krejčí’s Role in Beijing
Krejčí will be Czechia’s best player at the 2022 Beijing WInter Olympics and will center the top line in their opener on Feb. 9 against Denmark. He will get the difficult defensive matchups all tournament and will likely be asked to carry a ton of weight defensively against the opposition’s top stars.
There are questions about how the near 36-year-old might handle such tough ice time. One positive sign is that he has been playing 22 minutes per game in Czechia this season. Although the level of competition in the Czech Extraliga isn’t the same as the Olympics, Krejčí likely won’t be asked to play more than he usually does.
Another positive sign is that his possession metrics have always been solid, including a career-best 61.4% Corsi for percentage in all situations in his last year with the Bruins – an indication that he wasn’t declining as sharply as some might have thought of the 35-year-old – and although he’s a skilled playmaker, he’s always been reliable defensively. This might be a by-product of learning a lot from Bergeron over the years, though the two rarely played together. His defensive skills are his own, and he was never shy to use his body.
Where Krejčí Falls Short
Although he didn’t play often on a line with Bergeron or Brad Marchand, Krejčí had many solid linemates who could put the puck in the net. From Milan Lucic to Jarome Iginla, it was like a revolving door on his wings, but he almost always had a winger who could score. It’s partly why he racked up 515 assists over his 15-year NHL career.
At the Olympics, it’s hard to see where the goals will come from on the Czech roster. While he is the best player on the team, he’s primarily a playmaker, and playmakers usually need a good trigger man on their wing. Some options include former NHLers Michael Frolík, Vladimír Sobotka, and Tomas Hyka, but none of them are especially known for their ability to score. For a player of Krejčí’s stature, he still can’t be asked to do it all; he might not be well-rounded enough to play 20-plus minutes a night, with big defensive responsibilities, and lead the team in scoring.
Krejčí’s Arrival in Beijing
With the entire country’s hopes riding on his shoulders, Krejčí tested positive for COVID-19 after he arrived in Beijing. This has apparently happened before, and Czech head coach Filip Pesan preached optimism that Krejčí will be ready for the first game. “We’re going to re-test him tonight and re-test him tomorrow morning, and I strongly believe that he’s going to join the practice tomorrow,” Pesan said.
If Krejčí is unable to join the team in time, it will be tough for Czechia to reach the medal round. If he’s ready in time, expect to see him on the ice most of the time and scoring if Czechia makes their way deep into the tournament.
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Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.