A look at the Czech Under-16 team

By Robert Neuhauser
The Under-16 team is the youngest junior national team in international junior competition.
Every year players who after some years turn into NHL players – some into stars, some into
solid players, some into role players, begin there their international career. The season
in which they play for the 9th grade teams or some even for the midget teams, is highly
important for them. During this season the players who are eligible to play for the
youngest junior nats are under the watchful eye from the coaches of the future Under-16
team. The 9th grade teams stats, good words from their respective coaches and of course
showings at the selection tournaments decide about who will wear the jersey of his native
country the following season. The top players from 8 regions in the Czech Republic build
those regional teams and the teams meet each other at the selection tournaments. Either
in March or in April then there is the most important tournament, the coaches have already
a vision of the future of the Under-16 in head but there is the right place to make an impact
and be selected to the bunch of 45 lucky players who then build the preliminary Under-16 team roster.
In June the players meet again to practice together for the first time and to build the
correct team mix. Underage players also participate, the top players eligible to play for
the 8th grade have a chance to make a team, too, if they prove that they’re better than the
one year older player. Usually two or three underagers appear on the Under-16 team. Let’s
have a look who are the core players of this season’s Under-16 team. Be sure that some of
them will hear their name selected at the NHL Entry Draft!

Goaltenders

Marek Schwarz
The Sparta Praha midgets starter plays his second season for the Under-16 team. The Mlada
Boleslav native played two games last season in the annual three-game series against
Switzerland and posted not very good numbers with a save percentage of .8308 and a goals
against average of 5.5 but this is also due to nervousness and poor play of the defense.
Marek Schwarz is a quick, agile goalie with very solid size and net coverage. Marek likes to
challenge the shooter and plays his angles well. He has a very good control of the rebounds
which is highly important and his glove hand is fast.
On the downside he can sometimes be
beaten by quite easy shots if he doesn’t see the puck all the time and his stickhandling
isn’t very developed so far. But those problems aren’t so big for Marek to prevent him from
being a very
good goaltending prospect. It is still way too early to tell but Marek looks to be the
starter for the Under-16 team with a good chance to be drafted.

Petr Bezunk
The Slavia Praha midgets goalie had a great 2000-2001 season in which he backstopped the
Slavia Praha 9th grade team to the Czech championship title and was voted the top goalie
of the championship tournament. He isn’t the clear starter in Slavia and also in the Under-16
team Petr looks more like a backup goaltender.
Bezunk plays a mix of stand-up and butterfly
style which is very effective. He has a very good control of all first shots and can also
turn the rebounds away but in this part he isn’t as good as Schwarz. Petr posesses great
reflexes and plays with poise and confidence. He can also handle the pressure quite well.
Petr can be beaten if there is a huge mess in front of him and he doesn’t like lots of
rebounds. Still, Petr is a highly skilled goalie with a bright future. Right now Schwarz
takes advantage of his bigger portion of playing time in the midget Extraleague but it’s
up to Petr Bezunk to challenge for the spot. He has the tools.

Defensemen

Lubomir Stach
The Vsetin midgets third-year vet played six games for the Under-16 team already last season
so he has more experience with the international competition than most of the players.
His only problem is that he is undersized and probably won’t ever develop into a hard-
hitting blueliner. On the other side Lubomir will likely turn into a puck moving rearguard
with a big portion of skill. He has lots of offensive flair and he is also able to lead the rush.
Lubomir is a very good, fast skater with top-notch stickhandling skills. He posesses a very
good vision and hockey sense and his passing skills are the best on his offensive upside.
Lubomir passes very well, accurate and is able to quarterback the powerplay. His shooting
skills aren’t as good as his passing, Lubomir’s shots often miss the net but he’ll improve.
Stach uses his speed for a very solid two-way play, he doesn’t make many mistakes defensively
and after that he is able to grab the puck, deke one or two opponents and make a pass which
can lead to a turnover. A very good prospect for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Adam Lukacovic
Adam moved to Praha this summer to play for the Sparta Praha midget team as a midget
Extraleague sophomore, he spent the previous season with the Zlin midgets as an underage but
was playing regularly on the second line.
Lukacovic is a player with a big heart and
leadership skills, he and Jakub Sindel captained the Under-16 team at two tournaments, Sindel
at the first one in August, Lukacovic at the one two weeks ago. Adam posesses almost everything
what a defenseman needs. He isn’t very big but not afraid of the rough play and he can also
drop the gloves if needed. Adam plays defensively very well and his great vision is his
biggest asset. He keeps the play in front of him and he doesn’t let the opposing players
to bother the goalie. He also won’t hurt you offensively in no way. Adam is a quick skater
with very good passing and shooting skills and as Stach, he is also a great powerplay
quarterback. I see him as the top 1986 born Czech defenseman now and a lock to be selected
by a NHL team in 2004.

Ladislav Smid
The Liberec midgets defenseman has along with Lubomir Stach the biggest experience
with international play, just like Stach he played 6 games for the Under-16 team
last season in which he went scoreless with a -5 rating.
Ladislav shows signs of a reliable
stay-at-home defenseman who takes pride in his sound positional play. He has to further
develop his lateral movement, but else he is a solid skater with a good stability. Ladislav
is calm guy who can play under pressure well and isoften on the ice in important situations.
He isn’t very physical but he can only rarely be caught off position. Smid doesn’t support
offense very much, his offensive upside seems to be limited. But mistake-free defensemen
are a welcomed addition to every team.

Michal Gulasi
The Vitkovice midgets defenseman is a reliable player with some offensive talent. Michal
had also a succesfull previous season and at the championship tournament of the 9th grade
teams he claimed the best defenseman title.
Gulasi develops into a very good two-way
defenseman who takes the defensive duties first. He is a solid skater even if not perfect
and doesn’t shy away from the physical play. Michal has deceptive puckhandling skills
and is a good outlet passer but his shot has to be more hard and accurate. He joins the
rush after his defensive duties are done. Michal is still very raw and has to put the
intangibles together to become a serious prospect.

Michael Kolarz
The Vitkovice midgets underage is one of the 1987 born underagers on the team. In Vitkovice
he plays with Gulasi in one pair and the same is on the Under-16 team. Kolarz captained
the Vitkovice team which participated at an international pee-wee tournament
in Quebec City, last season he was also the captain of the 8th grade team
but he spent most of the season playing for the 9th grade team.
His draft year doesn’t come until 2005 so it is very early to tell what kind of player
he’ll become, but Michael develops into a rock-solid defensive defenseman with a decent
offensive upside. Michael concentrates on defense and doesn’t like risky plays. He prefers
to keep the play simply. He is a good skater with a nice hard shot that is tippable.
Michael has to further develop his passing in order to become a complete defenseman but
he is only 14 years old so let him improve.

Forwards

Jakub Sindel
Here comes the guy who will be named in many mock drafts coming 2004. Jakub Sindel, son of
Under-16 team coach Jaromir Sindel and the team’s captain along with Adam Lukacovic.
Jakub was the only 1986 born player to register a goal for the Under-16 team last season
and this season he started playing also for the Under-17 team. Jakub Sindel was instrumental
in both Slavia midgets and 9th grade team in their championship runs. In the midget
Extraleague finals he even scored the series-winning goal against Trinec midgets.
In his
play there are flashes of a young Ilya Kovalchuk. Sindel also shoots right and also
was born with a great goalscoring gift. Jakub is an excellent skater with fast acceleration
who uses his speed to slip behind the defense. He has great hands, hockey sense and vision
and knows many ways how to score a goal. Jakub likes to have the puck on his stick and
doesn’t hesitate to shoot, even if he prefers deking the goalie. There can be voices heard
that rave about his selfish play, that Jakub doesn’t like to pass but I think that he
isn’t more selfish than other snipers. Jakub doesn’t play defensively very well, but his
gaolscoring talent is enough for him to make him a 2004 top prospect.

Michal Birner
The Litomerice native plays on a line with Jakub Sindel in the Slavia Praha midgets
and also has a huge offensive talent. In his second season in the midget Extraleague, Birner
terrorizes the opposition with his elusive moves and smart plays.
In opposition to Sindel,
Michal Birner passes and scores equally well and he sets up lots of chances for Sindel.
Birner is a superb skater and stickhandler with an uncanny ability to pass the puck thru
holes not seen by the others or carry the puck and then shoot. Birner can also play in traffic
but he seems not to like tough physical play. He can be eliminated by punishing hits but
is a king in one-on-one situations. Birner doesn’t refuse to play defensively but like most
young offensive forwards he
has to work on this side of his play. Also a great 2004 prospect who is a perfect set-up
player.

Petr Pohl
The Koprivnice native plays his sophomore season for the Vitkovice midgets. Pohl is a
superb offensive forward who has further develop his defensive skills. He is a very good
skater able to reach top speed in a few strides and can make elusive moves. Petr excells
in one-on-one situations and he has soft hands and a smart head. Petr has the ability
to make unprecended plays and surprise the opposition with his moves. He seems to be
more of a sniper, he prefers to have the puck on his stick and then shoot it at the net
but is also a good passer. Though he develops into a goalscoring threat, Petr has to be
more calm in scoring situations, wait a second and not just fire the puck, but this will
come as he will become more experienced. His offensive side is great but Petr isn’t very
defensive, more often he circles behind the opposing defense waiting for a pass. But still a
serious 2004 prospect.

Jan Dusatko
The lanky Sparta Praha left winger plays his second season in the midget Extraleague.
Last season he went scoreless in three games with the Under-16 team.
Dusatko has a huge frame, at 15 he is already 6’2”, but he could be more
physical. Jan skates well for a big man and has a very good control of the puck plus he
is very stabile on his skates. He can cover the puck and this makes it extremly
difficult for the opposition to knock him off. Jan develops into a two-way forward, he can
play defensively well and he really helps the defensemen. On the offensive side Dusatko
has a quite hard accurate slap shot which isn’t telegraphed but he has to improve his
decision making in the offensive zone and the stickhandling skills. His great two-way play
makes him a regarded 2004 prospect, though.

Karel Hromas
Karel Hromas is like Dusatko in his second turn with the Sparta Praha midgets
The last season he was probably the Sparta’s top rookie and this year he handles an
increased role.
Karel Hromas plays with lots of heart, determination and intensity. He fights
for the pucks a lot and never gives up a play. He is a fast skater with a solid burst of
speed and great hands. Hromas has superb stickhandling skills and he knows how to play
in high traffic. A highly skilled offensive player has to be more defensive, even if
he doesn’t ignore the defensive play. That’s a thing he has to work on, else he is a bright
offensive prospect with leadership skills as a bonus. Hromas is a natural leader who plays
like he had drunk ten cups of coffee before the game. Another serious 2004 prospect.

Vaclav Meidl
Vaclav was loaned to the Trinec midgets this season from the Zlin midget team. The tallest
player on the team, Vaclav plays a great blend of grit, toughness and offensive ability.
He nears 6’3” at 15 years old and skates really well for this size. Vaclav will be a player whose
star will rise soon. He is big, smart and skilled. Vaclav is very good on both sides of
the ice, he can help the defense and then lead the rush with the puck on his stick. He owns perfect
hockey smarts, vision and sense. Vaclav can foresee plays and he knows how to beat the
defense. Vaclav looks like a bit less skilled version of Vladislav Evseev now, Vaclav is
still very raw and sometimes makes mistakes caused by bad decisions. With his size he
can fight for the pucks and look for rebounds in front of the opposing net. He only needs
to mature and add more toughness to become a top prospect.

Pavel Rusek
Pavel moved from Olomouc to Havirov during the offseason in order to have a chance to play
for a team which participates in the senior Extraleague. The versatile forward is now a
member of the Havirov midgets.
Pavel can play center as well as wing and on the wing he seems
better to me. Pavel is a solid skater but he has to work on this skill and his problem is
that he is skinny now. The undersized Pavel can easily be knocked off the puck. On the
other side he has a great hockey sense and playmaking skills. He is a very good puckhandler
and has a vison which enables him to make surprising passes. Pavel tends to pass more than
shoot even if his wrist shot is quite good. His passes are smart and accurate but it is
uncertain if Pavel’s smallish stature won’t be a problem for him in his career.

So this was a look at the top players of the new Czech Under-16 team. There is still a long way
to go for those players but let’s hope that at the end there will be a bright NHL career
waiting for them!