This year’s team representing Czechia at the World Junior Championship (WJC) should find themselves in the middle of the pack in their pool behind Canada and Finland. They will be fast and fun to watch, but it would be surprising to see them advance far enough into the tournament to play for a medal. They are solid but don’t have the depth of skill at every position compared to the top teams in each pool.
However, they have some players that will make their mark on the tournament and should be noticeable in each game they play. I will highlight the three players I think will help the Czechs the most in their quest for a place on the podium… their first since 2005.
Jan Mysak – 2020, 48th Overall (Montreal Canadiens)
Jan Mysak is a 6-foot, left-handed center who can also play on the wing and is someone fans will see in a Montreal Canadiens uniform sooner than later. He was selected in the second round, and many in Montreal felt they got a steal of a pick. He is a formidable forechecker who can anticipate the play and attack in a north-south direction very effectively, and with this being his third time at the WJCs, he should be at the top of all scoring stats for the Czechs.
Mysak had an impressive season with the high-powered Hamilton Bulldogs in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), as they made it all the way to the Memorial Cup Final before losing to the host Saint John Sea Dogs. His point totals weren’t out of this world but were extremely impressive considering he was a third-line center behind Mason McTavish and Logan Morrison for large parts of the season. Despite this limited role and little top power-play time, he still grabbed 34 goals and 64 points in 61 games. A hard-working forward who likes to drive play, Czechia will look to him to play a massive role in this tournament.
David Jiricek – 2022, 6th Overall (Columbus Blue Jackets)
A 6-foot-3, 190-pound, right-handed defenseman, Czechia will rely heavily on David Jiricek as their No. 1 defenseman. After missing the Under-18 World Championships, he’ll come into this tournament ready to make a splash on the international stage. He’s a smooth skater who has the ability to transition from offense to defense seamlessly and whose large frame poses problems for attacking opponents with his physicality and long reach.
With Pizen this season, Jiricek, the youngest player on the team, demonstrated his willingness to play the body, get his nose dirty, and take advantage of his size, as he led the team in penalties. But he still contributed offensively with five goals and six assists in 29 games. In last year’s WJC, he scored a goal and added an assist in five games as a 17-year-old.
With his size, great skating, and physical play, Jiricek is a hard-to-play against blueliner who will make life difficult for even the best players at this tournament. If you’re someone that loves watching shutdown defensemen stifle forwards, you should be watching every Czechia game just for Jiricek. Blue Jackets fans will surely be keeping an eye on him, as he is a big part of their future, and a superb showing in Edmonton would reinforce why he was such a good pick at sixth overall.
Jiri Kulich – 2022, 28th Overall (Buffalo Sabres)
Jiri Kulich has already dominated one international tournament this year and will be hoping to make it two in Edmonton. After leading the Under-18 World Championship with nine goals in six games, he cemented himself as a first-round pick, eventually going at No. 28 to the Buffalo Sabres. He plays a mature, 200-foot game, but it’s his goalscoring that sets him apart. He has an excellent shot that can beat goalies from range, but his best attribute is his hockey IQ, as he excels at finding open space and being positionally aware.
It’s unlikely Kulich leads this tournament in goals, as he did at the Under-18s, but he could still put together an impressive showing, especially for an 18-year-old. He should get a lot of opportunities on this Czechia team, including some time on the top power-play unit, which should help his production. An excellent tournament from him would be a game changer for Czechia, as they look a little light at forward heading into the tournament. He could easily score close to, or at a point-per-game pace in Edmonton, and I’d expect quite a few goals from the young center.
Team Czechia should have a solid World Junior Championship. Not one where they will earn a medal, but if these three individuals are able to play at the top of their game, they may upset a team or two along the way.
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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.