By Devin Little – The Hockey Writers
Despite having home-ice advantage during last year’s World Junior tournament, the Czech Republic’s team fell short against superior competition. This year, expectations are low, but that doesn’t mean that you should write-off this team before the tournament begins. After all, there is still a solid collection of talent here.
There should be a good number of returning players, as well as some high-potential additions that should excite hockey fans from Edmonton to Prague. Lumped in with Group B along with Russia and the United States, among others, this tournament should provide the stage for some of these up and comers to truly make a name for themselves.
Team Czech Republic’s medal drought goes all the way back to 2005 where they won the bronze medal. Despite that lack of success, plenty of talent has worn the red, white and blue for the Czech Republic, including David Pastrnak (BOS), Petr Mrazek (CAR), and Filip Hronek (DET). Who will be the next star player to announce themselves on the World Junior stage?
Last year’s team was anchored by Lukas Dostal in goal, but the former third-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks fizzled out with a sub-par .878 save-percentage (SV%) in three games. Now that he has exceeded the age-threshold, a new face, or faces, will tend the nets for Team Czech Republic. The first candidate to seize the job returns from last year’s team: Nick Malik.
Malik, who split time last season playing in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds as well as over in the Czech Republic, played in a single game during last year’s tournament and was lit up, resulting in a .864 SV%. To his credit, the 2021 draft-eligible goaltender has seen four games of action this season in the Czech Republic’s lower league and has a sparkling .921 SV% to show for it.
Another goalie that could steal the spotlight in Edmonton is would-be newcomer Jan Bednar. Selected 107th overall in the 2020 draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Bednar was the final goalie cut from the Czech’s U20 team last year. He is known as a boom or bust goalie that could steal a game in this tournament if he’s in his groove. A battle between Malik and Bednar should yield some interesting results once the tournament begins next month.
An interesting name to keep an eye on is Stanislav Svozil, whom some in the scouting community currently project as a first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Watch him do his thing on the ice for just a couple of minutes, and you’ll begin to see why.
2003-born defenseman Stanislav Svozil has been named the Rookie of the year in the #Extraliga.
Here are the highlights of his first season as a pro.#2021NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/2kFvr8fPWi
— Czech Prospects (@CZprospects) April 30, 2020
The young defender has good size at 6-foot-1 and 172 pounds, and his instincts around the ice are already sharp. Quite frankly, for a team that is lacking in star-power, Svozil has the opportunity to really stand out at this tournament, which would of course increase his draft stock. This is a kid that warrants a watchful eye once the tournament begins.
Returning defenders should include Martin Hugo Has, a Washington Capitals prospect, and Simon Kubicek, who had a solid three points through five games in last year’s tournament. Given that the latter went undrafted during the 2020 draft, he should have plenty of motivation to show up just like he did a year ago. Again, this group doesn’t have star-power, but it should have enough guys that can carry their weight.
The offensive side of the puck is where Team Czech Republic could (and should) find some success. They’ve got a number of talented players that should be on the roster, including one player that some had projected as a first-round pick in the 2020 draft: Jan Myšák.
Drafted 48th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, Myšák is a do-it-all forward that can play multiple positions up and down the lineup. In last year’s tournament, the versatile forward had two points in five games and finished with an even plus/minus rating despite being overmatched nearly every time he hit the ice. Another year older now, he should prove to be a catalyst for this year’s squad.
Other forwards to watch include fellow 2020-draftees Pavel Novák, selected 146th overall by the Minnesota Wild, and Jaromir Pytlik, selected 99th overall by the New Jersey Devils. Despite some flaws in his game – namely, his skating – Novák has a good shot and should be able to notch some points if given the proper linemates. Pytlik is cut from the same cloth as Myšák in that he’s a do-it-all forward, but with lower upside.
This a group that features some well-rounded players as well as some with intriguing potential. Svozil in particular could use this stage as a way to truly announce himself as a top prospect in next year’s draft. That being said, this is a group that lacks the sheer quantity of top-end talent that other
n nearly every World Junior tournament, there’s that one team that exceeds expectations and makes some serious noise. Team Czech Republic is certainly a candidate to do just that, though they are going to need a lot to go right in order to do so. Whether they medal or not, this is a group worth watching due to the talent of certain individuals that should be a lock to make this team.