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World Junior Preview - Czech Team

NHL: NHL Draft
Going from AHL to a Junior tourney is not easy!
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to my annual Czech World Junior preview. Other than comparing a few of our prospects to Oilers like Hemsky, JP and Barrie this content is not about the Oilers.

2 Ondrej’s got cut this morning (Chabada and Becher) and our roster is almost complete. One guy still missing is David Jiricek who played in the AHL last night and now has 20pts in 19 games as a Dman in his D+1 year. That is outstanding! Not many teenagers due well in the AHL. He is set to arrive before the Canada match on boxing day.

The big difference between this team and previous teams is the D. Quite honestly it is very comparable to the Big 5 (4 are at the tourney). Jiricek would make any of the teams including Canada. I think Svozil would too. He was tied for the WHL Dmen lead in points when he left. He’s comparable to Tyson Barrie in my eyes. Huge offensive upside but prone to some brain gaffes. Jiricek is a first rounder and Hamara, Spacek and Alscher all went in the first 100 of the last draft. Tichachek is a very good Dman but small and went undrafted. Moravec is playing near his club team and the Czechs tend to love him. I was disappointed he went undrafted but a strong showing may get him drafted as an overager.

The goalies are about equal. All of them undrafted. All of them good. This is a strange Juniors because there is not a Walstedt/Knight/Askarov type of goalie. No one really has an outstanding goalie.

It’s a weaker group of forwards. It would not surprise me if a Dman led us in scoring. Guys to look for are Jiri Kulich who, I think, will be very high on ‘redraft’ lists in a few years. He’s had a sensational start to his AHL campaign and may even see the NHL in his draft + 1. Gabriel Szturc who is doing very well in the WHL with 37 points in 26 games. He also went undrafted and I think might get picked in his second time around (also small). Lots of good players to help the offence be balanced but, outside of Kulich, no gamebreaker. Brabenec, Rysavy, Kos and Sapovaliv are all drafted and excellent players that will help fill in the teams forward group. Sapovaliv reminds me a LOT of Jesse Pulijaarvi. He’s big, fast, has all the tools but his finishing can be frustrating.


This brings me to Eduard Sale! This kid is unbelievable and outscored Connor Bedard at the U18 last year. He was one of the youngest guys in the tourney. He’s consistently ranked in the 5 to 10 range for this years draft. He reminds me a bit of Ales Hemsky in that he has sublime vision and goes to the dirty areas. Unfortunately, he is playing for my hometown team Kometa Brno. Kometa Brno is a gongshow this season. It’s amazing that he is playing pro hockey as a 17 year old but he projects to be a very good Top 6 player with PP upside. So Kometa has him playing on the 4th line with no PP time and about 10 minutes a night. He is drafted by Barrie in the OHL and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed in Canada after the tourney and joined them. I’d be in shock if he didn’t make a big dent in the OHL if he does that.

The Czechs are on a very nice run of final 4 appearances. I’m not sure if we are improving or if this is because of a Big 5 team not playing? They won the quarter at the Men’s Worlds, U18, Hlinka and this summers WJHC. It has to be a decade since that happened.

The good news from this summer is that they are bringing back roughly 80% of that roster that made the final 4. Big loss is Jan Mysak who was a very rare Czech to make the Tournament All Star Team (Zadina was the last one). I wonder if Sale, Brabenec and a very in form Kulich/Jiricek/Svozil can offset that loss? This group knows each other. The coach is good. They beat the US in a sensational game in summer to advance to final 4. Put another way this is the best team we can field. No injuries, no guys in the NHL.

The bad news is that they finished 4th but only won 2 games. They beat Slovakia in a heated 5-4 match match with Szturc playing the hero in the final minute. Then they beat the US in a huge upset. They lost their other 5 games. So a 2 and 5 record got them 4th place. They also got beat by Latvia 5-2 for Latvia’s first win every at the WJHC. We are also relying on a lot of 17 and 18 year olds as our core forwards and D.


The goal is to always win the quarter and make the Semi’s. Our pool has Canada, Sweden, Germany and Austria. On paper we should finish 3rd in this group which lines us up with, most likely, Finland or an American team looking for revenge. If we want to avoid that then we need to beat Sweden in the round robin. If we can pull that off and not lose to Germany and Austria then we’d get a much more favorable quarter final. If not, we need to pull off a huge upset in the quarters again. No crossover against Canada which is key.

As far as the tourney itself. This is Canada’s to lose. Fantili, Wright and Bedard is an absolutely ridiculous group of forwards. Canada’s only enemy will be complacency. I expect them to roll through the group with ease and demolish their opponent in the quarters. The Semi’s may be their first difficult match and that can be tough if you are playing a battle hardened team.

Is this the team that breaks our 17 year old medal draught? Last time we won a medal we beat Phil Kessel for Bronze.