A look at the Czech Under-17 team

By Robert Neuhauser
The Czech Under-17 team has left a very solid impression at the previous World Hockey
Challenge in Manitoba. The players are in their second year of international competiton
and some of them have already played their first games in the Czech senior Extraleague.
It is obvious that just like every year, Czech hockey will have representation among the
top prospects for the respective draft, this time 2003 or 2004. The top Czech 1985 born players
have already made their presence felt, especially the “great line”, consisting of forwards
Vojtech Polak – Petr Vrana – Ivo Kratena. Those three keep terrorising the opposition and
draw some comparisons to the line Jaromir Jagr – Robert Reichel – Robert Holik twelve years ago.
So let’s have a look at the brightest 1985 born Czech players (I included also players
who play regularly for the Under-18, but due to their birthdate are still eligible to play
for the Under-17 team)!

Goalie

Jakub Cech – the Havirov goalie broke into the senior Extraleague this season and his start
made some people turn their heads. Cech plays with a suprising portion of maturity and poise
for a 16-year old goalie in the league, where most goalies are around thirty. He plays a mix
of butterfly and stand-up style which is highly effective. Cech has a very good control of
first shots and is also succesfull against rebounds. Uses his blocker and glove well and
is extremly tough to beat on the high side. He has a good size and covers the net and plays
the angles well. Cech plays with lots of confidence and can keep the team in the game with
key saves plus he doesn’t let a bad goal influence his performance. His drawback is his
stickhandling, where he has to do some practices, and can be beaten down low. There are very
good sign that Jakub Cech will develop into an excellent netminder.

Defensemen

Jiri Drtina – the Slavia Praha juniors standout is one of the purest 1985 born offensive
defensemen in the world. Drtina loves to join the rush, score and pass. Tremendously
talented, Drtina posesses enough hockey sense to know when to rush forward and when to stay
back. He is a very good skater who is also quite fast backwards and can handle his stick
like a finesse forward. Drtina likes to be the first man who leads the counterattack and
his outlet passes are of high accuracy. His shots are also very good and he can be used
as both pointman and quarterback on the powerplay. He excells on powerplay units, always
willing to shoot the puck and positiones himself also in the slot where he looks for rebounds
or deflections. Drtina needs to be paired with a stay-at-home defenseman because of his
great offensive flair. He needs to improve his play in the defensive zone and could add
some toughness to his style. Not overly big, but a rare knack for supporting the offense.

Lukas Pulpan – the smallish, feisty blueliner with a big heart. Pulpan is far from being
6’0” at least, but plays three inches taller. Always intense and determinated, Pulpan is
willing to get his nose dirty and despite his size, he can throw hard hits and fight along
the boards. The stocky Pulpan is a solid crease clearer and he also won’t hurt you
offensively. Albeit his shot is just average, he distributes smart, crisp passes to help
the offense a lot. Often used as a powerplay quarterback where his passing skills rule.
He has a quite hard shot, but must learn how to keep it low and tippable. His skating skills
are only average, that’s a thing for him to work on. Overall, he is a bright defensive
prospect, who brings a smart two-way game to the table. No wonder that he is a regular
already in the Under-18 team.

Lukas Bolf – a tough, reliable stay-at-home defenseman moved to the Sparta Praha juniors
prior to the 2001-2002 season from Karlovy Vary. Bolf has the needed size and skill to
be a dominating force on the back line. Lukas is a solid, but not a great skater with a
good stability. He doesn’t rush forwards, more he stays back and concentrates on his
defensive duties. Tries to keep the play simple and doesn’t make many mistakes. Lukas is
a tenacious defenseman who is willing to throw his body around and punish the opponents.
Also a determinated crease clearer who doesn’t allow any mess in front of his own goalie.
On the offensive side Lukas Bolf is a bit limited as he isn’t a huge factor in supporting
the offense. He has a huge slapshot, on the other side he doesn’t release it very often. His
passes are quite accurate and he has a strong outlet pass, but he doesn’t make any risky
plays. To sum up, a defensive fortress with a good reach and without glaring mistakes.

Forwards

Vojtech Polak – the sniper of the “great line”. Vojtech started his international career
with an astonishing effort for the Under-16 team last season, scoring 8 goals in a game
against Slovakia! Since then Polak has established himself as one of the cornerstones
of the team. The flashy winger with great wheels is in his already second season in the
senior Extraleague for Karlovy Vary, even if he sees only very limited playing time. But
already scored his first goal among the “big guys”. Polak is an extremly talented
player with a terrific hockey sense and vision. Has a nose for the net and likes to have
the puck on his stick. Polak is a poised and confident player who stays calm in important
game situations. A very good skater and puckhandler, Polak can make many elusive moves
to fool the defense and score. A superb stickhandler has both his wrist and slap shot hard
and accurate plus can make nice passes. A blue-chipper who needs to work just on the play
off the puck and be more aware defensively.

Petr Vrana – not blessed with a respectfull size, but with hockey sense and smarts. Vrana
is a flashy offensive sparkplug, a great skater who can make fast turns. Has a solid burst
of speed and plays with lots of intensity and determination. Always willing to fight for
the puck, Vrana gives 100% every shift. Petr is a slick puckhandler with soft hands and
a terrific vision. He perfers passing to shooting and likes to combine with his teammates.
His passing skills are really top-notch and very useful on the powerplay. Petr’s wrist
shoot is quite solid, but needs to work on slapshots, which are soft and not accurate. Petr
is willing to take a hit to make a play, but doesn’t like the rough style very much. A
finesse center, Vrana has to further develop his defensive play and faceoff skills. Made
his senior Extraleague debut recently and is hoping to stick with the Havirov’s senior team
next season.

Ivo Kratena – Sparta Praha winger is the only of the “great line” without a game played in
the senior Extraleague. Kratena is a two-way forward with soft hands and a huge portion
of talent and skill. He is an above-average skater, but still needs improvement in this skill.
His stickhandling is of a tremendous quality and Kratena is a perfect set-up player. Once
on the puck, he looks for an open teammate as he has the necessary passing skills to do so.
Kratena doesn’t hesitate to shoot the puck, too, but his passing skills are better. Simply
a skilled player who likes to handle the puck and distribute it. He is also aware defensively
and is willing to help the defense on many occasions. Kratena tries to play an all-round game,
a bigger portion of toughness could be asked but it won’t prevent him from being a serious
prospect.

Rostislav Olesz – the Vitkovice forward is another rare gem of Czech hockey. Even if Olesz
is a late 1985-born, he is one of the better performers for the Under-18 team and plays his
second year in the senior Extraleague. This season he skated even on the second line of
Vitkovice and scored his first senior career goal. Olesz is a superb mix of size, excellent
skill and feistiness. He skates really well and is very stabile. Once on the puck, Olesz
explodes and shows his great creativity and skill. He can score and pass equally well and
his offensive arsenal is nearly perfect. His tremendous vision and talent enables him to
make excellent passes and his shots are very dangerous, too. Olesz likes to shoot and has all
the needed tools. As a bonus to this package here comes a lot of intensity and determination.
Rostislav fights for the pucks a lot and can deliver clean hits. He also helps the defense,
even if he could improve here and upgrade his defensive awareness. He has the skills to
challenge for the first overall pick in 2004, it remains to be seen if he can beat his
opponents, mainly Russian sniper Alexander Ovechkin, Finnish forward Lauri Toukonen and
Canadian defenseman Wes O’Neill.

Michal Borovansky – nearly the same type of player as Petr Vrana, Borovansky has tons of
skill, but lacks size. Blessed with a tremendous talent to foresee the plays, Michal can
control the play of the whole line with his smarts and vision. A very good skater with
a fast acceleration, able to reach top speed in a few strides. Borovansky is a slick
puckhandler who likes to have the puck on his tape and make plays. He is a smart passer
and has also a knack for finding the net. Michal is very agile and he fights for the pucks
a lot. He is very good in one-on-one situations and is able to handle traffic. On the other
side Borovansky isn’t very defensively and his slap shots could be also improved. He is
still quite raw, but after he puts the intangibles together, he can be a top prospect.

Lukas Kaspar – a player who made significant strides in his improvement from the last season.
Lukas is an agile, hardworking forward who has the raw skills of a top prospect, just needs
to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He is a solid skater with a nice fast acceleration
and stability. His stickhandling skills are just average, but Kaspar still improves there.
His shots and passes are both very good, especially his strong wrist shot. Lukas works hard
every shift and plays with a big heart. He grinds in the corners and frequently positiones
himself in front of the net. Lukas is willing to take a hit and also make a hit. He is very
tenacious and can play defensively, too. His goal is to be an all-round forward and he works
hard to fill this vision. Has a solid portion of natural talent, but could light the lamp
more often. A wildcard prospect who can turn out to be a very solid player.