WJC PLAYERS TO WATCH: Czechs boast a lethal offense, talented snipers
It’s been a long, long wait for the Czech Republic.
Going on 14 years in fact.
That’s how long it’s been since the Czech Republic has come away from the IIHF World Junior Championship with hardware, earning a bronze medal in 2005.
There’s reason for at least cautious optimism in 2019.
Martin Necas, C/RW, Charlotte (AHL)
Necas, selected with the No. 12 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, will return after leading the Czech Republic with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in last year’s tournament. The total tied him for the tournament lead with Casey Mittelstadt of Team USA.
Naturally, there is a lot of pressure for Necas to repeat the performance, and more. He’s a year older, a year more experienced, and the 19-year-old, who has played seven games with the Hurricanes this season, is more seasoned. He has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 26 games with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
Perhaps more impressively, and adding to the anticipation was his performance at the 2018 IIHF World Championships where, skating against elite-level competition, Necas netted five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games.
What to watch for: He’s an electric skater and particularly dangerous on the half wall on the power play. He owns a quick, accurate shot, too.
Martin Necas. Photo: Dan Hickling / Hickling Images
Filip Zadina, LW/RW, Grand Rapids (AHL)
Aiding Necas in his bid to help the Czechs to a medal performance is his linemate from last year’s tournament in Zadina. Together, Zadina and Necas formed the tournament’s most formidable duo last year, and will reunite to replicate the performance. Zadina, selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft by the Detroit Red Wings, was second in team scoring with eight points (seven goals, one assist) last year.
Like Necas, he too has pro experience in North America, too. Zadina, rookie of the year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season with the Halifax Mooseheads, has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 26 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL.
It also doesn’t hurt that Zadina, with Necas, helped the Czech Republic to gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in 2017.
What to watch for: He’s an all-round elite player with little weakness in his game. His feet are always moving, making him a threat to score on any shift.
Martin Kaut, RW, Colorado (AHL)
Kaut, a fellow Hlinka gold winner, is perhaps not as heralded as his two teammates but also brings pro experience to the Czechs.
The 19-year-old, selected in the first round (No. 16) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2018, is in his rookie season with the Colorado Eagles of the AHL, and has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 26 games.
He also brings World Juniors experience to the group, having recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games for his country at last year’s tournament — the fourth time he’s represented the Czech Republic in major international action.
What to watch for: He’s got the ability to play a strong game in all areas of the ice. There’s a nice blend of high hockey IQ and a strong work ethic.
Martin Kaut. Photo: Dan Hickling / Hickling Images
Jakub Skarek, G, Pelicans (Liiga)
Skarek, the goalie who backed stopped the Czech Republic to first place in the under-18 Hlinka tournament two years ago, will have an opportunity to rebound from a subpar showing at the World Juniors last year.
The third round pick (No. 72) of the New York Islanders posted a 5.19 goals against average and .848 save percentage in five games, after a solid-but-unspectacular showing in three games at the tournament in 2017.
Skarek has plenty of momentum rolling into this year’s affair. His .921 save percentage is third best in Liiga, and his 2.02 goals against average ranks fourth.
What to watch for: He’s active and fearless in the net, and with good size, reflex and flexibility is willing to challenge shooters.
Jakub Skarek. Photo: Dan Hickling / Hickling Images
Jakub Galvas, D, HC Olomouc (Czech)
Galvas, another returning member of last year’s edition, will play a bit role in sparking the offense from the back end. Galvas, 19, will also double as the Czechs’ top blueliner in the tournament.
He’s got plenty of international experience to draw on, having skated in the World Under-17 Challenge, World Under-18s, Ivan Hlinka Memorial, and now his second World Juniors.
Galvas, a fifth round pick (No. 150) of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, is also in his third season in the Czech league and has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 26 games for HC Olomouc, after netting 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 42 games last season.
What to watch for: He’ll play in all situations for the Czechs, and has a mature approach to his game. He won’t be shy to finish his checks, either.
Jakub Galvas. Photo: Dan Hickling / Hickling Images