Last year, Team Slovakia and a less than ideal tournament at the World Junior Championships. With just one win, the young and unproven squad will try to prove themselves in the 2022 World Juniors. There’s an indication the team will improve. Three 2022 NHL Draft-eligible players played in last year’s tournament as 16-year-olds and have shown development in their professional leagues. That group led Slovakia to a second-place finish at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
But, the Slovakian team will face tough competition. USA, Russia, and Sweden will all have more proven rosters filled with skaters already drafted into the NHL. Slovakia’s team, headed by not highly-touted prospects and 2022 draft-eligibles, has lots to prove this winter.
Latkoczy Returns in Starter’s Crease
Simon Latkoczy (Madison Capitals), Rastislav Elias (Green Bay Gamblers), Tomas Bolo (St. Cloud Norsemen)
In last year’s tournament, Simon Latkoczy was a massive bright spot and gave his all to keep his team in every game. In three games last year, he outperformed Samuel Hlavaj and put up a .922 save percentage (SV%).
This season, Latkoczy has started for the 13-11-2 Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League (USHL) and put up an .892 SV% through 17 games. The 19-year-old comfortably be the starter for the Slovaks and hopes to recreate his great performance from last year.
Backing him up is draft-eligible Ratislav Elias. As the backup for the USHL’s 11-13-1 Green Bay Gamblers, he’s sported an .849 SV%. However, he was a massive part of Slovakia’s success in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and posted a .934 SV% during the tournament.
As the third goalie, Tomas Bolo will provide depth and gain experience from the tournament. As the starter for the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League, he’s had a team-best .904 SV%. At 19 years old, this will be his first appearance at the World Junior Championships.
Nemec Headlines a Returning Defense Group
Denis Bakala (HC Presov), Simon Becar (HK Dukla Trencin), Samuel Knazko (TPS U20), Jozef Villiam Kmec (Prince George Cougars), Simon Nemec (HK Nitra), Rayen Petrovicky (TUTO Hockey U20), Marko Stacha (HK Dukla Trencin), Maxim Strbak (Jokerit U20)
At 16 years old, Simon Nemec scored the most points of any Slovak player in last year’s tournament. This year, he enters as a top draft-eligible prospect looking to solidify himself as a top-five pick on the international stage. He’s already ranked as the second-best prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft by THW’s Peter Baracchini.
In the Slovakian professional league, the 17-year-old has 13 assists through 22 games. He even represented Slovakia in three games at the Olympic Qualifiers where he tallied an assist.
After him, the Slovak blue line takes a step down. There’s only one drafted defenseman on the team’s defense group; last year’s captain Samuel Knazko. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2020 third-rounder was loaned from the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Seattle Thunderbirds back to Finland this year. At 19 years old, he’s been scoring about a point per game in the Finnish U-20 league, but also slotted into the Olympic Qualifying games for Slovakia.
Simon Becar also returns to the Slovak blue line after being held scoreless at last year’s tournament. At 18, he started in U18-AAA hockey to begin the 2021-22 season. Now, he’s slotted into 10 USHL games with the Chicago Steel, but again been held scoreless. The left-handed blueliner will be leaned on for his experience this season. Also returning from last year’s roster are Rayen Petrovicky and Marko Stacha.
One of two 16-year-olds on the roster, Maxim Strbak will be fascinating to watch at this year’s tournament. The 2005-born, 6-foot-2, right-handed defenseman already plays at the Finnish U-20 level, where he has six points in 22 games for Jokerit’s junior team.
Lastly, I want to highlight Prince George Cougar’s defenseman Jozef Villiam Kmec. The WHL blueliner has two goals and 13 points through 25 games and will look to gain attention in his draft-eligible season.
Two Draft-Eligibles Headline Forward Group
Martin Chromiak (Kingston Frontenacs), Jakub Demek (Edmonto Oil Kings), Dalibor Dvorsky (AIK), Roman Faith (Bratislava Capitals), Maros Jedlicka (HKM Zvolen), Matej Kaslik (Chicoutimi Sagueneens), Samuel Krajc (HK Dukla Trencin), Jan Lasak (Janesville Jets), Filip Mesar (HK Poprad ), Oleksij Myklukha (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies), Servac Petrovsky (Owen Sound Attack), Juraj Slafkovsky (TPS), Pavol Stetka (HC Dynamo Pardubice U20), Adam Sykora (HK Nitra)
A duo of future first-round picks make the Slovaks a lethal and unpredictable group. Juraj Slafkovsky, who also represented his country at the Olympic Qualifiers, has easily outperformed the junior Finnish ranks. In the SM-Liiga, Finland’s professional league, he has a goal and four points in 20 games as a 17-year-old.
The other, Filip Mesar, will also be looking to increase his draft stock this tournament after both he and Slafkovsky were held pointless last year. Mesar, in the top Slovakian league, has five goals and nine points through 20 games, rotating between a center and winger.
In his second tournament, Martin Chromiak will be relied upon heavily for offense. After just one goal in last year’s tournament, he seems to be hitting his stride. The Los Angeles Kings‘ 2020 fifth-rounder has 13 goals and 32 points in 23 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games.
The team’s only other drafted player, Jakub Demek, should also impress. The Vegas Golden Knights’ 2021 fourth-round pick has 13 goals and 35 points in 28 games in the WHL. Hopefully, the 6-foot-4 winger can bring that offensive firepower to a Slovakian team that needs it.
The 16-year-old Dalibor Dvorsky should be an intriguing part of Slovakia’s roster. After already performing above a point-per-game pace in Sweden’s U20 league, he’s played Allsvenskan hockey this year. In Sweden’s second professional division he has just a goal through 10 games, but surely possesses the offensive skillset to be impressive at this year’s tournament.
Alternate captain Roman Faith will be important in his second tournament. Last year, he had a goal and assist for two points, which was unfortunately tied for the team’s third-leading scorer. When in the top Slovakian league this season, he has a goal and three points in eight games.
Last year’s top-scoring forward, Michal Mrazik, will hopefully improve on his three points in five games. He’s tallied a goal and three points in eight Slovakian league games so far this year.
Servac Petrovsky, also eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft, has seen reasonable production in the OHL. After outperforming the Slovakian junior leagues last season, he’s moved to the Owen Sound Attack where he’s notched eight goals and 20 points in 25 games this season. He was a point-per-game player at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup earlier this year as well.
Already 18 years old, Pavol Stetka will be one of the oldest draft-eligible forwards. The 6-foot-6 center has 10 goals and 25 points in 23 games in the Slovakian junior league.
Which Slovak are you most excited to see in this year’s World Junior Championship? Let me know in the comment section below!
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Josh Frojelin is a young writer from the Bay Area. Josh grew up as a Sharks fan, being introduced to hockey by his father. He is now attached to his phone, waiting to hear the latest in hockey news. In addition to writing, Josh loves theatre, and his corgi Rocky.