Looking for their first medal since 2006 and their first medal game appearance since 2018, Czechia will be hoping for a strong appearance at this year’s World Junior Championships. A mainstay in this tournament, they’ll be looking to threaten the big names this year, hoping to pull off an upset or two.
The Czech team lacks the star power seen on the top teams, but they often bring an experienced and tough-to-play against group to these tournaments. This lineup lacks a little bit of firepower up front, except for a few players, but it has a very good defensive group and solid goaltending. They will have to rely on a sound system and outworking their opponents to win games, especially against the big five teams.
While it won’t be a cakewalk, they should feel confident about getting out of their group and into the knockout rounds. On paper, they’re likely the third-best team behind Canada and Finland. Germany and Austria will bring strong teams, but the Czech’s should be the best of the rest in this group. It will be what they do after the group stage that matters.
Forwards: Mysak & Novak Headline Forward Group
The Czech’s will be relying heavily on their dynamic duo of Jan Mysak and Pavel Novak for most of their offense in this tournament. The two forwards are currently putting together strong seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Mysak, a second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, spent last season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Laval Rocket, posting two points in 22 games. With 22 points through 29 games, he’s in a three-way tie for the points lead on the Hamilton Bulldogs. A fantastic 200-foot player, he’s also a very capable goal scorer who excels on the forecheck and prefers to play a north-south brand of hockey. By far the team’s most prolific shooter, he’ll be leaned on heavily for goals. As the captain of last year’s team, I would expect him to wear the C again this year.
His partner in crime, Novak, is a well-rounded offensive weapon who can fill any role depending on what his team needs. A fifth-round pick by the Minnesota Wild, he’s got 25 points in 20 games for the Kelowna Rockets. He’ll be the premier playmaker on this team, his fantastic vision and stickhandling make him a dangerous player with the puck. A player who loves the puck on his stick, much of the Czech’s offense will go through him.
A player who has the potential to play a significant role on this team is also Michal Gut, the 19-year-old currently playing for the Everett Silvertips, where he currently has 27 points in 20 games, has the tools to be a standout player in this tournament. A great puck protector down low, he likes to play the game below the circles and can punish teams with his solid vision and passing. He should be relied upon to anchor their second line and provide the secondary scoring for this team.
I think this team lacks some offensive talent outside of these three but has a handful of players who play a smart, hard-working game. With these three not being the biggest players, I wouldn’t be surprised if they try and fill out their top-six with a bit more size. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Tomas Chlubna given an elevated role despite being less skilled than some others.
Several players on this team have experience playing professional hockey in their home country, like Lukas Stehlik, Jakub Konecny, and Josef Kolacek. As I said, this team might lack some top-end skill, but the value of bringing several players with pro experience shouldn’t be undervalued. These players are used to playing hockey against grown men and can often have a physical edge over more skilled junior players. This forward group will be somewhat top-heavy and will rely on a few players for offense, but they can certainly hurt teams if they can buy into a strong system.
Defence: Jiricek Set to Shine
The best part of this Czech team is their blueline, and that especially rings true when discussing David Jiricek. The 18-year-old defenseman is eligible for the 2022 NHL draft and is expected to be a top-15 pick, with some rankings even placing him in the top-five. A true modern-day defenseman, he has the skating, puck skills, size, and hockey IQ to be one of the tournament’s best defensemen. Playing hockey in the Czech Extraliga, he can sometimes struggle physically against older players. Still, up against his peers in this tournament, he should be physically imposing, as he prefers to play a mean, hard-checking game. This will be his second World Junior Championship appearance, and he’ll be asked to eat up huge minutes while playing in all situations.
The quality on defense doesn’t stop after Jiricek either, with Stanislav Svozil, Michael Krutil, and Jakub Sedivy all solid options on the blueline. This team has a mobile and difficult to play against back-end that should compete against even the best nations. This group is the highlight of this team, and any success that comes for this Czech team will ride on how well they play.
Goaltending: Malik & Bednar Give Them Options
In net, the Czech’s have two great options with Jan Bednar and Nick Malik. Malik is having an outstanding season in the Finish Liiga, currently holding a league-leading .925 save percentage. He was the starter in last year’s tournament, so many people will likely have him penciled in as the starter. Considering his stellar play in Finland, it’s hard to dispute that. Interestingly, he is also the son of former NHL defensemen Marek Malik, who famously scored a between-the-legs goal in a shootout while a member of the New York Rangers.
While I think it’s Malik’s net to lose, Bednar will be ready and waiting to take the job if Malik struggles. An athletically gifted goalie, he has quite a bit of flair, and flashy saves are a common occurrence with him in net. He has an explosive push while in the butterfly and can cover ground quickly to make highlight-reel saves. He battles in the net and never gives up on a puck. If he gets into games, he’s sure to make a spectacular save or two.
Solid Goaltending & Defense Can Carry This Team Deep
This team certainly has the tools to make a deep run in this tournament. With a solid blue line and two good options in net, anything is possible for this Czech team. I think special teams will play a huge role in this tournament for them, as I question how much offense they’ll be able to generate 5v5. If they can stay disciplined, avoid penalty troubles, and take advantage of their power play opportunities, they can certainly upset a few teams. They’ll need to play a structured, defensive system if they hope to go deep, as getting into shootouts with teams can only end badly for them. While there are question marks surrounding this team’s ability to score, I do think we could see them medal for the first time since 2005.
THW Projected Team Czech Republic Roster
Goaltenders — Jan Bednar, Nick Malik, Jakub Malek
Defencemen — David Jiricek, Michael Krutil, David Moravec, Matej Pinkas, Jakub Moravec, Jakub Sedivy, Stanislav Svozil
Forwards — Thomas Chlubna, Michal Gut, Ivan Ivan, Josef Kolacek, Jakub Konecny, Jakub Kos, Sebastian Malet, Jan Mysak, Pavel Novak, Lukas Pajer, Lukas Stehlik, Gabriel Szturc, Tomas Urban, Stanislav Vrhel
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My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.