Team Czech Republic: Analyzing The Ultimate Underdog

While many aspects of the hockey world have been paused amid the current situation that’s taking control of the world as we know it, the question about what the future holds continues to draw closer and closer as this pandemic is dragged out. Everything to what the 2019-20 season means to the free agent class of the future, questions regarding what lies ahead for hockey never come to a halt.

With that being said, another aspect of the near future is the fact that the NHL still hasn’t clarified whether NHL players will be able to return to the Olympics. The 2022 Games only a couple years out, it’s more than fair to take the time to digest what could happen if NHL players are allowed to return to the international stage.

A country that greatly benefited from the absence of NHL players was the Czech Republic. An impressive fourth place finish for a nation not known for hockey was quite respectable. Barely losing to Canada in the bronze medal game really helped the Czechs establish their presence on the current hockey landscape; something that could give them a confidence boost heading into 2022.

Inspired by TSN analyst Craig Button who dove deep into predicting the rosters for Canada and the United States, I decided to take it a step further and incorporate different countries as they prepare for the possible return of NHL talent. In the sixth edition of my Olympic projections, I take a look at how the Czech Republic could fare against their opponents and how an NHL return could change their hockey culture.

LWCRW
Jakub VranaTomas HertlDavid Pastrnak
Dominik SimonDavid KrejiOndrej Kase
Filip ZadinaMartin NecasJakub Voracek
Dominik KubalikPavel ZachaOndrej Palat
David KämpfFilip Chytil
LDRDG
Michal KempnyFilip HronekDavid Rittich
Libor HajekRadko GudasPetr Mrazek
Jan RuttaRadim SimekPavel Francouz
Michal JordanLibor Zabransky

The Underrated Offense

There are a multitude of factors that could make or break the Czech offense. Don’t get me wrong, David Pastrnak, Tomas Hertl and the up and coming Jakub Vrana will without a doubt be the cornerstones of this offence. That was always a fact. However, it’s the surrounding pieces that will ultimately determine how many times the Czechs light the lamp.

Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press

For example, the Czechs have, by far, one the most inexperienced forward groups. With only Kreji, Palat, Voracek and Kubalik (who played in 2018 while he was with HC Ambrì-Piotta of the Swiss league) having Olympic experience, the development of their surrounding pieces will be a crucial factor in seeing if they can upset one of the favourites.

With players like Dominik Kubalik, Filip Zadina and Martin Necas showing tremendous signs of promise, they have yet to prove themselves at an NHL level. However, along with other potential top-six options, including Dominik Simon and Ondrej Kase, the Czechs could have quite the young and hungry offence by 2022. All five players are showing great signs of development and if everything goes according to plan, this offence could give other nation’s a run for their money.

Derik Hamilton/The Associated Press

Question marks aside, the Czech offence will greatly depend on its all-stars and veteran leadership. Alongside David Pastrnak and Tomas Hertl, David Kreji and Jakub Voracek will have important leadership roles to fulfill in order to compliment the development of the younger players who represent the future of Czech hockey.

A Thin Blueline

To be brutally honest, there aren’t too many options for the Czechs on defence. While Michal Kempny and Filip Hronek are proving to be solid NHL options, they are hardly a top pairing at the international level. A couple more years of consistent playing time could see the both of them quarterback the power play and penalty kill, but that remains to be seen. While they will undoubtedly be the Czechs go-to pairing, the defence overall isn’t very deep.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America

The second pairing projection brings with it a certain level of stability. While Radko Gudas is well past his prime, he can still be that steady, physical presence on the back end that the Czechs desperately need. Partner him with the promising Rangers’ prospect in Libor Hájek and that could be quite the combination. While Hájek only has thirty-three NHL games under his belt, he could become a great depth option for both New York and the Czech Republic over the next couple of seasons.

The third pairing is nothing spectacular and quite frankly, Libor Zabransky could have a shot at a roster spot by 2022. While Jan Rutta and Radim Simek are fine (and the only) NHL options, Zabransky has the potential of landing himself a roster spot. Currently undrafted, he put up an incredible seven points in nine games at the 2019-20 World Juniors and if he continues down that path, he could bring his high intensity mindset to the Olympics.

Internal Competition is Beneficial

The good news for the Czechs is that they have three, more than capable goalies to choose from. While I do think that David Rittich has the edge for the number one job, Mrazek and Francouz could definitely see some playing time depending on who’s hot.

Petr Mrazek has had experience splitting time; doing so in Carolina for a few stretches during the shortened season with James Reimer. While he can be inconsistent at times, he is a calming presence between the pipes which contrasts David Rittich’s intensity level. Overall, internal competition can be quite beneficial and it should motivate all three goalies to demonstrate what they’re capable of.

Harry How/Getty Images North America

Surprisingly, Pavel Francouz of the Colorado Avalanche is the only one with Olympic experience amongst the three goaltenders. Having been the primary starter on the team in 2018 (while playing with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL), Francouz already has some international experience which could give him an edge in the crease. While I do think he’s a bit of a long-shot to land the job, the competition for the number one job should be an interesting one to watch.

On the Bubble / Alternatives

Martin Kaut, Radek Faksa, Roman Polak, Martin Frk, Jan Jenik, Michael Frolik, Vladimir Sobotka, Andrej Sustr, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jan Kovar, Jiri Sekac, Lukas Radil, Jakub Zboril.

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