Last year in Saskatchewan, the Czech Republic was given a decent shot at winning a medal at the World Junior Championships. They finished seventh, the result of which has placed them in a group this year with Canada, Russia, and Sweden. In a tournament where only three teams from each group advance to the quarter-finals, the Czech Republic will be in tough to do so.
When their preliminary 28-man roster was named on December 8th, it contained only five players who had been taken in the NHL Entry Draft. Since then, two have been declared ineligible to participate by the Czech Ice Hockey Association due to objections by HC Vitkovice Steel. The club claims that both players left to play in the CHL in 2009 without its permission and, as such, they retain their playing rights and the right to grant or refuse them permission to join any national team. The players being blocked are their top goaltender, Petr Mrazek (DET) and their top defenseman, Adam Polasek (VAN).
In addition, two of their top prospects who will be eligible for the 2011 Draft, defenseman David Musil and forward Dmitrij Jaskin, are both injured.
On December 24th, the final 23-man roster was announced. It includes only five returning players from last year’s team.
Last season, Petr Mrazek backed up Dominik Furch at the World Juniors. This season, the starting goaltender for the Ottawa 67’s was expected to be the team’s starting goaltender. However, he was ruled ineligible to play last week, leaving the Czechs with two goaltenders who started the season as backups.
Marek Mazanec and Filip Novotny both play in the Czech Extraliga, for Plzen 1929 and Sparta Praha, respectively. They were both on the original roster and are now expected to be the two that dress every game. Mazanec has has seen significantly more action in the Extraliga this season due to some poor early-season performances by Plzen’s starting goaltender, Petr Prikryl, and this may give him the edge. He has respectable statistics on the worst defensive team in the league.
Tadeas Galansky, who will turn 18 during the tournament, has played only 8 games for Saginaw of the OHL this season. He was added when Mrazek was taken off the roster, and is expected to be the third stringer.
Defense may be this Czech team’s biggest problem.
When the 28-man roster was named on December 15th, only one drafted defenseman appeared on it, but now he’s gone. Vancouver draft pick Adam Polasek plays for the PEI Rocket and is one of the players being prevented from participating by the Vitkovice club. Of the remaining group, 17-year-old David Musil of the Vancouver Giants is the highest-rated prospect and has been mentioned as a potential first round pick in 2011. Unfortunately, he suffered a deep bone bruise while blocking a shot. While he has not been officially cut from the roster as of December 21th, his participation seems highly doubtful.
So what’s left? It appears that the team will be led by a quartet of undrafted 19-year-olds.
There will be two returning defensemen from last year’s team: Jakub Jerabek and Oldrich Horak. Jerabek is a regular in the Extraliga for Plzen, while Horak plays one tier lower for VCES Hradec Kralove in the First League. Besides Jerabek, the only other Extraliga regular on the roster is Dalibor Reznicek of Zlin. Rounding out the top four is likely to be Adam Sedlak of the Ottawa 67’s. Without Polasek and Musil, these four will be expected to provide leadership on a defensive corp that lacks experience.
Beyond that, Petr Senkerik, Martin Matejicek, Martin Planek play in the Czech First League or sparingly in the Extraliga and Marek Hrabas is a 17-year-old WHL rookie.
The forward unit of this Czech team is probably the least of its worries.
The only notable absence from this team among forwards will be Dmitrij Jaskin of Slavia Praha, who suffered a knee injury in late November and will not return to action until January. At age 17, Jaskin was the leading junior-aged scorer in the Czech Extraliga at the time he was hurt and was the Czech team’s leading scorer at a European U20 tournament in November. It’s difficult to say whether this injury will hurt his chances of being taken in the first round of next year’s NHL draft.
The leaders are expecting to be returning 19-year-olds Andrej Nestrasil (DET) and Michal Hlinka. Nestrasil, a right winger who plays for PEI of the QMJHL, was a third-round pick by Detroit in 2009. As of the Christmas break, he the leading scorer on his team, despite missing several games since the start of the Czech team’s camp. Nestrasil has adapted well to North American-style hockey and he is expected to be a first-liner on this team. Hlinka, a left winger, also has experience in the QMJHL, but has returned home this season, splitting time between Vitkovice Steel of the Extraliga and Rebel Havlickuv Brod of the First League. His declining production over the past couple of years is a concern, but his North American and international hockey experience get him onto this Czech team that lacks depth.
The other draft picks on this team both play for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic and were both taken in 2010. Petr Straka was taken in the second round by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jakub Culek was taken by the Ottawa Senators in the fifth round. Both were rookies last season, with Straka winning the RDS Cup as the league’s rookie of the year. At 6’4 and 195 lbs, Culek is one of the more imposing forwards in this group. The pair are linemates and often used on the power-play in Rimouski, indicating they might get some ice time in that role in this tournament, either on the first or second unit.
With Jaskin out, Martin Frk becomes the young gun on this team that will attract the interest of scouts. Barely 17, he won’t be eligible for the draft until 2012. A rookie right winger for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Frk recorded 31 points in 34 games before the start of camp. Frk wasn’t added to the team’s preliminary roster until Jaskin went down, so it remains to be seen if he makes the final cut, and how much ice time the youngster will see in this tournament if he does. He wasn’t even on the radar at the start of the season, but his production early in the 2010-11 season made a lot of people take notice. It will be interesting to see how he handles himself against this type of competition at such a young age, and if his development continues, he could be one of the offensive leaders on this team next year.
Center ice seems to be a bit of a question mark on this Czech team, with very few natural centermen on the roster. Robin Soudek, Roman Horak (NYR), Ondrej Palat, and Antonin Honejsek are all wingers on their CHL clubs. The forward unit is rounded out by Petr Holik, Jakub Osrava, David Tuma, and Tomas Rachunek, who play in the Czech Republic.
This Czech team is not without talent, but its experience is questionable. The loss of some of their best players, especially in goal and on defense, will certainly test that depth. Playing in a group that includes Canada, Russia, and Sweden, making the quarter-finals would certainly be considered a huge success at this point.
Article was written by Derek O’Brien.