Czech WJC preview

By Robert Neuhauser

The beginning of the new century meant the days of glory for the Czech team at the Under-20 WJC. In 2000 and 2001 the young Czechs managed to claim back-to-back gold medals with a strong generation of players born from 1980 to 1982. Lots of those who hoisted the golden plate over their head are NHL regulars at this time, including Rostislav Klesla, Milan Kraft, Josef Vasicek and Radim Vrbata. But the home 2002 WJC in the Czech Republic caused a sudden end to these days as glory was replaced by worry when the Czechs struggled to a poor seventh place finish. Last year’s WJC in Canada, hosted by Halifax and Sydney, didn’t return the Czech Under-20 team to the winning route. The squad coached by Jaroslav Holik, father of New York Rangers’ forward Bobby Holik, wasn’t on the verge on being relegated, but the medals were hanging too high for the team which rode average goaltending and less than stellar defensive corps to record a sixth place finish. This was the immediate reason for head coach Jaroslav Holik to not have his contract extended by the Czech Ice Hockey Federation and be replaced with Alois Hadamczik, the current head coach of the Sparta Praha senior team.

Despite having to overcome the loss of San Jose Sharks’ forward Milan Michalek and New Jersey Devils prospect Petr Vrana due to injuries, this year the medal hopes are brighter. The squad is build mostly from 1984 born players, a lot of whom experienced the bronze medals from the 2002 Under-18 WJC, which capped off a seven-year medal drought from this age category. The 1984 birthyear is said to be one of the strongest in Czech history, so now comes the last chance to prove it against top-flight international competition. The core of 1984 borns is replenished with a presence of younger talent, where 1985 born gem Rostislav Olesz and a quartet of 1986 born players Marek Schwarz, Ladislav Smid, Jakub Sindel and Karel Hromas lead the way.

The strengths of the Czech team are almost equally divided between the three positions, with forward and goal having a slight edge over the defensive corps. In goal Marek Schwarz and Lukas Mensator will share the workload, while at defense Michal Barinka and Martin Vagner will be counted on as blueline anchors. At forward is the biggest star of the Czech squad, Detroit Red Wings’ Jiri Hudler, which means that for the first time since 2001 the Czech team will have a NHL player on the Under-20 WJC team. He will be surrounded by a strong core of players with a solid NHL futures, like Petr Kanko, Kamil Kreps or Jakub Koreis.

In two exhibiton games before the start of the 2004 Under-20 WJC, the Czech team recorded one loss and one huge win. Last week they suffered a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Zlin senior team, which competes in the Czech Extraleague. The team was without some players including Jiri Hudler, who arrived in time for the second outing, a 11-1 drubbing of the Under-20 team of Austria.

Goaltenders

Marek Schwarz
Position: Goaltender
Team: HC Sparta Praha (loaned to HC Lasselsberger Plzen this season)
Birthdate: April 1st, 1986
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 173 lbs.
Catches: R
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

The starter job is his to lose for Schwartz, arguably the most talented netminder to come out from the Czech Republic in the last decade. He gained a wealth of experience in the Czech senior Extraleague this season and this factor helped him to leapfrog Lukas Mensator for the starter position. Schwarz backstopped the Czech Under-18 team at the 2003 Under-18 WJC in Russia as an underager and was key in the Czech bronze-medal success at the 2003 Under-18 World Junior Cup. At 6’0”, 173 lbs. he already posesses decent size, covers the net quite well and has considerable smarts. He plays a butterfly style which is very effective and is tough to beat down low.
Schwarz is a resilient goalie with exceptional quickness and reflexes. He uses his pads
extremely well and has a quick glove hand. He also likes to challenge the shooter and plays
the angles well. He plays with poise and confidence and doesn’t let in many bad goals.

On the mental side he seems to be tough, but still sometimes tends to lose focus for a while.
His drawbacks are average skating and he has to further develop his stickhandling. Schwarz’s
play with the puck isn’t very good, but he is aware of it and working on this skill.

Lukas Mensator
Position: Goaltender
Team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Born: August 18th, 1984
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 160 lbs.
Catches: L
NHL draft: Vancouver Canucks, 3rd round, 83rd overall in 2002

Returning back for his second Under-20 WJC term, diminutive Lukas Mensator handles the starter duties in his Ottawa 67’s team. Clearly the best 1984 born Czech goaltender, Lukas Mensator stood between the pipes for the Czechs when they won the bronze medal at the 2002 Under-18 WJC, with Mensator earning top goaltender honors. At the 2003 Under-20 WJC he served as a backup to the one year older but not as proven goalie Martin Falter and thanks to Marek Schwarz’s rapid progress, Mensator is expected to be the backup once again.

Smallish, resilient Mensator plays a great butterfly style and likes to aggresively challenge the shooter. He has cat-like reflexes and is a very strong skater, moving in the crease smoothly and composed. Mensator possesses a fast glove hand and uses his pads extremely well. His whole life he had to battle his severe size deficiency. His terrific quickness and agility has made his size a minor issue. Net coverage won’t ever be counted to Mensator’s strength, but he makes up for it with his instincts. He also made remarkable strides in his stickhandling, so that he isn’t a liability with the puck any more. Only huge traffic in front of him and more rebounds cause him trouble.

Defensemen

Ondrej Nemec
Position: Defenseman
Team: HC Vsetin
Born: April, 18th, 1984
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 192 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: Pittsburgh Penguins, 2nd round, 35th overall in 2002

Coming off a sub-par season in the Czech senior Extraleague, Ondrej Nemec was eager to prove that last season was only a matter of the ‘sophomore jinx’ for the talented Vsetin blueliner. However, he wasn’t able to shake off his sometimes questionable performances from the last turn and still more is expected from him. After being one of the last cuts from the last year’s WJC team, Nemec wants to say goodbye to his junior career with an above-average showing. He lifted his play well enough in the last exhibition tournaments to grab a spot on the WJC team and the enigmatic blueliner can show that the Pens didn’t make a mistake when picking him in the early second round.

Ondrej Nemec doesn’t possess a giant frame but has a very smart head on his shoulders. He distributes and rushes the pucks well, but has to learn a better timing of when to join the rush and when to stay back and focus on defense. Nemec is capable of unleashing a heavy shot
from the point, which is quite accurate. Nemec is a tenacious warrior and makes up for his
lack of size with his strong intensity. His weakness is his average skating, for a middle-sized
defenseman he could use better wheels. Mobility costs him more efforts when he has to handle the defensive zone coverage duties.

Michal Barinka
Position: Defenseman
Team: Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Birthdate: June 12th, 1984
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 220 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Chicago Blackhawks, 2nd round, 59th overall in 2003

After a mishap with his draft-eligibility papers not being delivered in time for Michal Barinka to
become eligible for the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, he had to postpone the beginning of his North American career for one year. He signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks soon after the draft and when his camp performance showed that he wouldn’t benefit from a CHL term, Barinka joined the Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Norfolk. A mainstay on the blueline of the Czech national junior teams, Barinka pulled off an impressive showing at the 2002 Under-18 WJC with seven points and served as a captain of the Czech Under-20 team at the summer Four Nations Tournament.

More of a defensive-minded defenseman at the senior level, Michal Barinka possesses great size and he doesn’t refuse to use it. Having grown to his giant frame, he can throw hard hits and be a force along the boards. He is also a feared crease-clearer and isn’t afraid of the rough stuff. He can use his good reach very well, but his positioning can still be upgraded, even if it isn’t bad. Barinka possesses a hard slap shot with average accuracy. His solid vision and hockey sense allows him to make solid passes, which are accurate.
His drawback is his average skating and agility, but Barinka is working on these things.
With a more fluid stride he could skate more effortlessly and handle the game situations
better. A likely alternate captain of the Czech 2004 Under-20 WJC team.

Ladislav Smid
Position: Defenseman
Team: HC Bili Tygri Liberec
Birthdate: February 1st, 1986
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 180 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

A blue-chipper for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Ladislav Smid broke full-time into the Czech senior Extraleague this season, earning valuable playing time on the first defensive unit of the team. The son of a former longtime Elite League player, he has progressed steadily to earn an invitation to the 2003 Under-18 WJC as an underager and collecting two medals from two appearances at the Under-18 World Junior Cup. Stored at his home are the silver medal from 2002 and bronze medal from 2003. This fall Smid cracked the roster of the Under-20 team for the Four Nations Tournament and impressed the coaching staff well enough to make the trip to Finland.

Ladislav already posesses a nice frame, at 6’2”, 180 lbs. He is a lanky defenseman, he still has to bulk up not to be called skinny. One of his biggest assets is his very smooth puckhandling and an ability to handle huge traffic well. He is a terrific stickhandler and is very adept at making accurate outlet passes with precise timing. His solid slap shots contribute to his offensive flair, Smid only needs to release it more frequently. On the defensive aspect of his game Smid is positionally sound and stays with his man. He isn’t a hard hitter, he relies more on his superb vision and reading of plays, which enables him to foresee what will happen and take control of the defensive zone without the need of overwhelming aggressiveness. He won’t back down from the physical play, though. His skating is still a weaker point of Smid. It is decent for a big man like him, but could definitely use some polishing. Ladislav also needs to learn how to keep his game more simple and not to overhandle the puck, thus bringing himself into trouble sometimes. It is obvious that more maturity will make from this multi-talented rearguard a hot candidate to play as a top four defenseman in the NHL.

Ctirad Ovcacik
Position: Defenseman
Team: HC Bili Tygri Liberec (loaned to Beroun (Div I) this season)
Birthdate: October 10th, 1984
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 183 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: undrafted

With Ladislav Smid taking the Liberec depth chart by storm, little room was left for the swift rearguard Ctirad Ovcacik on the senior team. He doesn’t have much to prove on the junior level and no good would come from being benched in the senior Extraleague, so a Div I league stint was the best solution for him and the Liberec brass. The Beroun team welcomed the newcomer, giving him solid playing time and boosting his confidence for the international battles.

A fluid skater, Ovcacik is quite soft by North American standards and doesn’t play a rough style, he relies more on his finesse and above-average smarts. An offensive defenseman, Ovcacik likes to join the rush and he distributes the pucks effectively. He takes advantage of his solid vision and is useful on powerplay units. He possesses average shooting skills and could work on the accuracy of his shots. On the defensive side of his game Ovcacik has to further improve his positioning and work around the walls more. He doesn’t have much of a mean streak. He doesn’t clear the crease very effectively. Bulking up will be essential for him. He is going to have a solid career in Europe but his NHL chances aren’t very likely.

Jiri Hunkes
Position: Defenseman
Team: HC Ocelari Trinec
Born: July 31st, 1984
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 175 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: undrafted

A senior Extraleague regular from the beginning of this season, Jiri Hunkes couldn’t avoid the doghouse. He saw his icetime dip and eventually make him a healthy scratch for most of the games of the previous month. Jiri Hunkes served as a fringe player for the Czech Under-16 and Under-17 teams before breaking out at the Under-18 level. He survived the cuts at the 2002 Czech Under-18 WJC team camp and the following bronze medal was his biggest achievement on the international stage.

Jiri Hunkes takes advantage of his swift skating skills. A middle-sized defenseman, he displays above-average speed and agility. He could only use more balance in his play. Hunkes possesses a solid offensive flair and doesn’t hesitate to join the rush. He boasts an adequate vision, which enables him to make solid plays with the puck. Hunkes isn’t a liability when it comes to holding his position, but he still could upgrade on his positioning. He should further develop his shooting skills, as he doesn’t fire the puck very often. His shots are quite accurate, but not very hard. At 6’0”, 175 lbs. Hunkes doesn’t have a big frame and relies more on his smarts than on aggressiveness. He doesn’t play a tough style and relies on his finesse more than on toughness. Behemoth forwards can cause him trouble as he doesn’t have the strength to outmuscle them now.

Tomas Linhart
Position: Defenseman
Team: HC Pojistovna Pardubice
Born: February 16th, 1984
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 210 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Montreal Canadiens, 2nd round, 45th overall in 2002

A questionable second-rounder of the Montreal Canadiens from 2002, Tomas Linhart returned to his parent Pardubice team after an one-year OHL stint with the Mississauga IceDogs and London Knights. Pushed around a little bit this season, he already played at three different levels in 2003-2004, dressing out for junior Extraleague, senior Extraleague and Div I league games because of his loan to the Hradec Kralove team of the Czech Div I league.

Tomas Linhart battled a shoulder surgery during the beginning of the last season and this season he is fully healthy and eager to save his downgrading stock in the Habs organization. Linhart is strong on the defensive side of his game and is able
to gain respect from the opponents with his imposing frame. He also isn’t afraid of throwing his body around and sweeping the opponents from the crease. He is an adequate skater for a man of his size, but needs to show more agility and bigger bursts of speed. Linhart
launches missiles from the blueline, which could only be more accurate. He has an excellent reach but could use smoother puckhandling and upgrade his decisions with the puck. A rugged
defenseman, Linhart is a bit rough around the edges and needs to put his game together if he wants to think of a NHL career. The 2004 WJC will give him a chance of showing if he is capable of surviving against the best forwards from his age level.

Martin Vagner
Position: Defenseman
Team: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Born: March 16th, 1984
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 215 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Dallas Stars, 1st round, 26th overall in 2002

A third-year QMJHL player with the Gatineau Olympiques, Martin Vagner is fully accustomed to the North American style of play and ready to add some toughness to the Czech defensive corps. The former Pardubice defenseman didn’t experience the road to the bronze medals at the 2002 Under-18 WJC, yet still he is one of the best Czech 1984 born rearguards. The 2004 WJC is his last chance to contribute to international success at the junior level.

Martin Vagner can dominate the defensive zone with his intriguing size, skating skills and a great mobility. He has very good wheels for a big man and his effortless stride makes his skating smooth. A poised blueliner, Vagner doesn’t make many mistakes with the puck as he tries to keep his game off possible risks, joining the rush with precise timing. Vagner is positionally sound and displays solid creativity with the puck, showing signs of a puckrushing defenseman. He isn’t afraid of mixing it up and occasionally he even drops the gloves. Vagner only needs to display his mean streak every game and show up every night.
Another of his strengths is his booming slapper from the point, which is accurate and released quickly. Blessed with experience from the camp with the Dallas Stars, Vagner knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level and will take this experience with him to Finland. A lot will be asked from him and it’s up to him to cope with a big role on the defense.

Marek Chvatal
Position: Defenseman
Team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Birthdate: January 27th, 1984
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 182 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: New Jersey Devils, 3rd round, 84th overall in 2002

The Devils pick which looked like a reach last year appears to pay its dividends as Marek Chvatal has smoothly adjusted to the OHL style of play after leaving his parent Trinec team. Another member of the bronze-medal winning Czech 2002 Under-18 squad, Marek Chvatal displayed solid composure at the summer Four Nations Tournament of the Under-20 teams. Standing a bit in the shadows of his defensive partners Michal Barinka or Martin Vagner at the younger age categories, Marek Chvatal can turn out to be a pleasant surprise if he clicks well within the team chemistry. However, this shouldn’t be a problem for this calm, coachable blueliner.

A good skater with above-average lateral movement and balance, Marek support the offense a lot and capitalizes on his strong instincts. He has a good vision and hockey sense but needs to work on his decision making and trying not to wander from his defensive responsibilities. Up front Marek Chvatal is very good, with highly accurate passes, only his shot needs to be a bit more harder and accurate. Marek isn’t a devastating hitter, more of a positional player and he could show more of his nasty edge. He doesn’t suffer from odd positional breakdowns. Marek uses
his stick well against opposing forwards and he reads the plays quite well.
When he brings more toughness to his game and his decision making will be more mature,
then Chvatal can definitely succeed in pro hockey.

Forwards

Tomas Fleischmann
Position: Center/right wing
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Born: May 16th, 1984
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 184 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Detroit Red Wings, 2nd round, 63rd overall in 2002

After floating on the periphery of the national junior team in the Under-16 and Under-17 category, Tomas Fleischmann burst onto the international scene with an impressive campaign for the Czech Under-18 team, bringing home also a bronze medal from the 2002 Under-18 WJC. Picking him at the bottom of the second round of the 2002 draft now looks like another draft steal for the Detroit Red Wings scouting staff as Fleischmann pulled off a very good rookie campaign for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. This was followed with a stellar first half of this season, which saw him also lead the league in scoring. Clicking well with Edmonton Oilers’ draftee Kyle Brodziak, Fleischmann is climbing up the Red Wings depth chart and is supposed to form a strong duo with Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler at the 2004 WJC.

Tomas Fleischmann is an agile forward blessed with above-average quickness for a big man and solid speed. He is a crafty puckhandler who is able to execute in heavy traffic thanks to his soft hands. Fleischmann doesn’t back down from digging the pucks along the boards, but could use a bigger portion of aggressiveness when punishing the opposing players. More of a playmaker, he possesses a very good vision and hockey sense which enables him to use his creativity and make smart passes. Once on a scoring chance, Fleischmann fires the puck with an adequate accuracy, but needs a faster release on his slap shot. Even if he made strides in his defensive awareness during the last two seasons, he still needs to block the opposing passing lanes more effectively and be a bigger force in his own zone. Given his fast progress, he will have one of the bigger roles on the team.

Jakub Klepis
Position: Left wing
Team: HC Slavia Praha
Born: June 5th, 1984
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 188 lbs.
NHL draft: Ottawa Senators, 1st round, 16th overall in 2002 (later traded to the Buffalo Sabres)

The only prospect from this name to have his name involved in a trade even before he could step on the NHL ice, Jakub Klepis is also one of the most experienced players. After playing his draft-eligibility year for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, he said goodbye to the CHL and returned to his parent team Slavia Praha to compete in the senior Extraleague. His leaving for the WHL didn’t even cost him an appearance at the 2002 Under-18 WJC as his team was eliminated just in time for Klepis to become a member of the bronze-medal winnning squad. This season he is used primarily as a depth player for his Slavia Praha senior team, seeing limited action on the third or fourth line. Boasting enough experience from all international age levels, Klepis will be asked to step up and take a bigger role on the Czech 2004 WJC squad.

Persistent around the goal area, Klepis is an explosive skater who takes advantage of his bursts of speed and agility to slip through opposing defenses. He is blessed with very soft hands and excellent vision. More of a playmaker, Klepis is a dependable forward who capitalizes on his strong hockey sense to create smart, accurate passes. He handles the puck well and has an adequate nose for the net, even if his slap shot still could use some polishing. Klepis is a coveted penalty-killer who thrives on the special units. He isn’t a physical menace all the time, but shows a good portion of aggressiveness when it is asked from him. Klepis plays an intense game and is a determined player with an above-average work ethic.

Jiri Hudler
Position: Center
Team: Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
Birthdate: January 4th, 1984
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 170 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Detroit Red Wings, 2nd round, 58th overall in 2002

Jiri Hudler joins the tradition of Rostislav Klesla and Jakub Cutta as players who have played for the Czech team at the Under-20 WJC with numerous NHL games already under their belt. The Detroit Red Wings steal of the second round of the 2002 draft has scored his first NHL marker against the Buffalo Sabres recently and is clearly the most experienced player from this team. Having played both in the NHL and the Red Wings AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Hudler also skated in the Czech senior Extraleague and Russian Superleague. He returns for his third Under-20 WJC after appearing twice at the Under-18 WJC, capturing bronze in 2002. His prowess and respect among teammates makes him the most likely candidate for the captain position.

Jiri Hudler is a center who oozes talent. A player with amazing vision and hockey sense, he impresses as an excellent playmaker who seems to have eyes on the back of his head. With his great natural instincts he makes up for his size deficiency and a lack of a nasty edge. Hudler possesses very good stickhandling skills and is strong on the puck, where he can show his creativity. His finishing skills are also considerable as he boasts an above-average array of shots, including a fast wrister and an accurate slap shot. Hudler is a solid skater who is capable of fast turns and above-average acceleration, he only needs to develop more balance. A diminutive forward could use slightly better wheels, though. Even if he made progress in his defensive awareness, he needs to show up more in his own end and not leave the defensive work on the defensemen. Thanks to his pint-sized frame he won’t ever become a physical meance, but his skills more than make up for this drawback, which he proved as he cracked he star-ladden Detroit Red Wings squad as a 19-year-old.

Jakub Koreis
Position: Center
Team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
Born: June 26th, 1984
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 200 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Phoenix Coyotes, 1st round, 19th overall in 2002

Being frustrated with his situation on the Plzen senior team, Jakub Koreis decided to say the senior Extraleague goodbye and come over to North America to perform in the CHL. Originally an import pick of the Oshawa Generals, numerous trades caused him to begin his major junior career wearing the uniform of the Guelph Storm.
From the international contests in the past Koreis contributed to the bronze success at the 2002 Under-18 WJC in Slovakia despite battling an ankle injury which affected his game. He was also a member of last year’s Under-20 WJC squad.

The Guelph power-pivot saw his stock take a steady rise during the season.
Koreis posesses very good overall skill, even if his skating could still be improved. Koreis is well-balanced, but more faster first-step quickness would make him a bigger threat in the offensive zone. He is a good puckhandler who possesses also a fast release on his shots. Another of his strong assets is his strong hockey sense. Koreis gives
everything to the team’s success and uses his body very well when fighting for the puck or
covering the puck. Koreis is also quite solid in the faceoff circle. His huge frame contributes to his upside. With his combative play, great size and
overall skill, he is counted to take on a much bigger role on his second Under-20 WJC term. Last year he skated barely on the fourth line, this year it’s time to make use of his OHL experience and add more aggressiveness to the front lines.

Petr Kanko
Position: Right wing
Team: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Born: February 7th, 1984
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 195 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Los Angeles Kings, 3rd round, 66th overall in 2002

The Los Angeles Kings appear to have struck gold with their third-rounder in 2002, landing the fiery competitor Petr Kanko from the Kitchener Rangers. One of the few Czech players to hoist the Memorial Cup in their career, Kanko was an integral part of the 2003 winning Rangers squad, even earning consideration as the playoff MVP. Already signed by the Kings to a contract, he was sent down for his third major junior campaign. His spirited but a bit undisciplined performance at the Four Nations Tournament forced head coach Hadamczik to criticize him for losing his temper, but his skill and intense leadership were too attractive to overlook him in the final selection. His unauthorized leaving for the OHL meant that the only major international tournament where he participated was the 2001 Under-18 WJC, where he performed as an underager.

The broad-shouldered Kanko takes advantage of his hair-raising speed and a strong skating ability. He is a stocky, slippery winger who is capable of making elusive moves on a coin. Kanko maneuvers well through traffic and possesses above-average stickhandling. He has a
strong nose for the net and his instincts have gained him a reputation of a sniper but he
is also a strong passer. His average defensive awareness and a diminutive frame are his biggest downsides. But he makes up for his size deficiency with his combative aggressive play. Kanko never backs down from the physical play and plays in the mold of a smallish power forward. He doesn’t tend to take shifts off and inspires with his intensity and determination. If he can control his hot temper, then he will be a valuable cog for the Czech team at the WJC.

Vojtech Polak
Position: Right wing
Team: HC Energie Karlovy Vary
Birthdate: June 27th, 1985
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 185 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: Dallas Stars, 2nd round, 36th overall in 2003

Vojtech Polak is one of the few players who played for the senior national team before they hit the ice at the Under-20 WJC. On the other side the shoulder injury which sidelined New Jersey Devils’ prospect Petr Vrana also meant some real bad news to Polak, his longtime linemate on the Czech junior national teams. Along with Ivo Kratena this trio regularly terrorized the opposition at the Under-16 and Under-17 level and showed a good chemistry together. Vojtech Polak is in his second full term in the Czech senior Extraleague and this season he was on the move for the first time, even if his loan to the Sparta Praha team took just one game. Last international season, Polak captained the Czech Under-18 team which took a dive to the sixth place overall at the Under-18 WJC in Russia, but has also a knack for winning from the previous tournaments, including back-to-back gold medals from the two Four Nations Tournaments of the Under-16 teams in which he took part in.

Polak is a talented forward with excellent play in the offensive zone. He has a nose for the net and thrives with the puck on his stick. He is a very solid skater with a nice burst of speed and solid balance. Vojtech is a smooth puckhandler who can make many elusive moves to fool the defense and score. A superb stickhandler, Polak’s wrist and slap shot are hard and accurate. He possesses solid passing skills. Among his drawbacks is his intensity without the puck and defensive awareness. Toughness is a thing to work on for him. Polak is more of a finesse player and rough play can cause him some problems. He doesn’t dish out hard hits and prefers the open ice more than battling heavy traffic.

Kamil Kreps
Position: Center
Team: Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Birthdate: November 18th, 1984
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 187 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: Florida Panthers, 2nd round, 38th overall in 2003

A clutch performer for the Czech junior national teams consisting of 1984 born players, Kamil Kreps is already in his third campaign with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. He said goodbye to his parent team Litvinov soon after he broke into the senior category for some exhibition outings. Despite the fact that he picked the North American route to the NHL, he was a strong asset of the Czech bronze-medal winning Under-18 WJC squad when the Battalion didn’t qualify for postseason competition and Kreps had the chance to join the team. A team player, Kreps’ contribution to the success isn’t visible at the first look sometimes, but he is a coachable forward who does the things which are asked from him with precision.

Kreps is an excellent skater for a player of his size. He has a nice burst of speed and is capable of fast turns. Kreps is a skilled forward who handles his stick well and is blessed with crafty puckhandling skills. He can play in traffic without glaring trouble and his strong vision and hockey sense allow him to pass the puck through holes unseen by others. Kreps is also developing a nose for the net. He has an above-average slap shot, but it still could be improved a bit. He could also use more aggressiveness, he isn’t fully using his frame to his advantage. He is making strides in his defensive awareness in order to be an all-round forward. Kreps still needs to bulk up more, but he is an effective player who does the little things well.

Roman Vondracek
Position: Right wing
Team: HC Sparta Praha
Birthdate: September 26th, 1984
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 175 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: undrafted

Going through motions this season, Roman Vondracek couldn’t build on his previous experience from one full senior Extraleague season and had to fight hard to retain his spot on the talent-laden team. A little inconsistent on the elite senior level, but a mainstay on the junior national teams, Vondracek will fit the role of the diminutive sparkplug at the 2004 WJC. His lack of size was the main factor of him being overlooked at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, even if Vondracek showcased his talents at many international events in the past, including the 2002 Under-18 WJC in Slovakia, where the Czechs finished at the third place. He brings with him also the experience from the previous 2003 Under-20 WJC in Canada.

Vondracek boasts a strong attitude and an above-average work ethic, but can get into serious trouble when the game is more physical. Because of his size deficiency he isn’t a factor physically and bigger and meaner opponents can knock him off the puck. He tries to make up for this drawback with his intensity and determination, Vondracek always plays with lots of heart and isn’t shifts off. He is a good skater, possesses a smooth stride and accelerates well. He plays a mature game for a player of his age. Vondracek has soft hands which handle the puck smoothly. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot the puck and possesses solid shooting skills. Defensive play still can’t be counted as one of his strengths, even if he made decent progress in this aspect during this season.

Jakub Sindel
Position: Center/right wing
Team: HC Sparta Praha
Birthdate: January 24th, 1986
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 168 lbs.
Shoots: R
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

One of the players the NHL scouts will be watching very closely is the son of the Czech Under-18 team head coach Jaromir Sindel, Jakub. After playing almost his entire Czech career in the Slavia Praha team Jakub Sindel decided to switch to Sparta Praha, the archrival from the Czech capital at mid-season of 2002-2003. The gifted forward played also his senior Extraleague debut for Sparta Praha and thanks to his nifty offensive play he managed to stick with the senior team for most of this season, being sent down to the junior team only on occasions. In November he entered the Extraleague record books as he became the youngest player to ever record a hat trick at the Czech elite senior level. Sindel knows well what it takes to be an underaged player, he already took part in the 2003 Under-18 WJC as an underager just like the 2002 World Junior Cup, where the Czech squad captured silver medals. Sindel’s collection of international honors concludes with the bronze medal from the 2003 World Junior Cup, where he served as the team captain.

An excellent skater with a smooth stride, Sindel utilizes his speed to slip through defenses. He also possesses above-average agility and a quick first step. He is a crafty stickhandler, who handles the puck well with his soft hands and capitalizes on his very good offensive instincts. Blessed with a knack for scoring goals, Sindel thrives in one-on-one situations and is a valuable powerplay threat. He has a very good vision and hockey sense to go along with solid passing skills. Sindel is a coachable player with a solid leadership ability. He prefers to lead by example rather than raise his voice in the dressing room. He is working on improving the defensive aspect of his game, but is no defensive forward. Another drawback for Jakub is his skinny frame, he has to bulk up if he wants to survive against meaner opposition. Sindel was invited to the 2004 WJC to learn the ropes of this event, but can surprise with some sprited offensive showings.

Lukas Kaspar
Position: Left wing
Team: HC Chemopetrol Litvinov
Birthdate: Septmeber 23rd, 1985
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

How trades can influence the play of a young prospect is visible in Lukas Kaspar’s case, who fought all season long for more playing time on the Litvinov senior team before the arrival of two veteran forwards Roman Kadera and Michal Hreus diminished his chances to equal zero and sent him back to the junior team. Kaspar cracked the Litvinov seniors lineup as early as last season and this season he served as a role player, toiling on the third line with eventual callups to one of the two elite units. With Kaspar ripping apart the junior Extraleague contributes to the fact that he deserves to play senior, but he has something to prove on the international stage. His uninspired performance at the 2003 Under-18 WJC penciled him as one of the main factors for the Czech disaster and now has Kaspar to bounce back and show that he is able to play up to par at a major international event again after a good showing for the second-placed Czech 2002 World Junior Cup team.

At 6’2”, 190 lbs. Kaspar already possesses a huge frame, which he knows how to use for
his advantage. He just needs to bulk up and gain more strength. He is a solid skater for
a player of his size with a decent burst of speed. He handles the puck extremly well with
his soft hands and is blessed with a great nose for the net. He knows many ways how to
score a goal and uses both of his wrist and slap shots with ease and accuracy. A talented
sniper, Kaspar also deliveres crisp passes, but once on a scoring chance he prefers shooting
to passing. He isn’t afraid of the rough stuff and fights along the boards and in front
of the net a lot. The things to work on for him are his agility and defensive awareness,
even if he made remarkable strides in his defensive play during the last months.

Rostislav Olesz
Position: Center/left wing
Team: HC Vitkovice
Birthdate: October 10th, 1985
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 198 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

Blessed with an experience from the senior national team and two full senior Extraleague campaigns, 2004 top prospect Rostislav Olesz will be asked to emerge as one of the team’s leaders after being the last cut at the previous year’s WJC selection camp. Olesz is one of the core players of his Vitkovice senior team, with his smart two-way showings. Only more productivity was expected from him as he still ranks in the bottom half of the team scoring chart. An injury forced him to be scratched from the bronze-medal winning 2002 Czech Under-18 team, so besides two gold medals from two Four Nations Tournaments of the Under-16 teams and a silver medal from the 2002 World Junior Cup, Olesz is still awaiting his major international success.

A player without any glaring weakness, Olesz is a character guy who gives everything to the team’s success. He is well-balanced and always showing a nasty edge in his play. Olesz plays a combative style and is a good hitter. He is a valuable asset to both powerplay and penalty killing units. A solid skater with a decent agility, Olesz has a sharp hockey sense and vision. Also very good in the faceoff circle, he is a smart passer and a lethal finisher. He possesses a good variety of shots, he could only fire the puck more often. Olesz impresses with his strong defensive awareness, he limits the opposing players’ options effectively. A mature player, he doesn’t tend to take an odd shift off and even if he probably won’t challenge the consensus first overall pick in 2004, Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin, he is a name to remember for the top 5.

Karel Hromas
Position: Left wing
Team: HC Sparta Praha
Birthdate: January 27th, 1986
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 195 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: 2004 eligible

Coached by the Under-20 team head coach Alois Hadamczik in his Sparta Praha senior team, Karel Hromas broke into the senior Extraleague as early as two months ago. With the injury bug hitting Sparta, it was time to promote the most talented juniors to the senior team and Hromas made the most from his invitation. A gritty, belligerent warrior, he sees playing time on the third or fourth line of the team. But he is already proven in many international battles as he was a core player for all the junior national teams consisting of 1986 borns and even made the trip to Russia for the 2003 Under-18 WJC as an underager.

Hromas’ combative play is one the coaches like. He brings an aggressive style to the table, shutting down the offensive weapons of the opposition regularly with his defensive awareness and sticking his nose into tight corner battles. Hromas isn’t afraid to hit and perform in heavy traffic. He emerges as a solid physical presence, utilizing on his impressive 6’2″, 189 lbs. frame. Blessed with a tremendous quickness for a big man, he has a good stride and balance. His agility has still some way to go, but his skating is good. He uses his long reach effectively and is a smart passer. Hromas has a decent vision and hockey sense to go along with a never-give-up attitude. He is always involved in the games, playing them with lots of heart and intensity. On the downside he still needs to further improve his puckhandling skills, he doesn’t have the best hands and his variety of shots is also only average. He could work on the accuracy and hardness of both his wrist and slap shots. Hromas will be asked to fill the duties of the role player at the 2004 WJC, but bright things are ahead of him in the future.

Radim Hruska
Position: right wing
Team: HC Vsetin
Birthdate: October, 12th, 1984
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 180 lbs.
Shoots: L
NHL draft: undrafted

Opted out of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in order to have a better chance to be picked in 2004, Radim Hruska is going to play
at his first major international tournament since appearing at the 2002 Viking Cup with the Czech Under-18 team. Hruska was
a fringe player for the Czech Under-16 and Under-17 teams, but last season he was impressive at the Under-19 level and also
cracked the Vsetin’s senior team roster, being used mostly on the fourth line. This season he focused on playing in the
senior Extraleague full time, but was only particularly succesfull as he saw more playing time only with the junior team.
He had brief callups to the senior team, but still has to establish himself as an Extraleague regular. The Under-20 WJC
means the last chance to prove himself against top junior international competition and boost his stock.
A finesse forward, Radim Hruska relies more on his skill than on toughness or hard hitting. At 6’2”, 180 lbs. he is still
quite skinny and has to fill out his skinny frame more before he can think of a career in North America. He doesn’t play
an overly tough style and would have to get used to this first. Radim has sharp instincts and is particularly lethal around
the goal area using his nifty moves and persistence. He has a great wrist shot, which is very accurate and with a fast
release. He scores most of his goals using the wrister, his slap shot is quite average and could see improvement in hardness
and accuracy. Radim has a very good vision and is a smart passer who is a boost on the special teams. He has a talent to
make a surprising pass and create a scoring chance by doing so. A versatile player, Radim can take care of his own end
too as he is defensively responsible. Upgrading his skating will be necessary for Radim Hruska who has some reserves in
speed and agility.