With Team Czech Republic’s most famous team member, Jaromir Jagr, officially out of the World Cup (his choice, certainly not that of Team Czech) and the Czech team’s fading prowess since its “GOLDen” years when they won six gold medals at the IIHF World Championship and the 1998 Olympics, it is unlikely that this team will provide the tournament breakout that they so strongly desire. The prediction of a mediocre finish for this team lies with their relatively lackluster lineup, paired with the rising strength and dominance their competition sees (Canada, Sweden, Russia, and USA).
Offensively, Team Czech’s arsenal includes several rising stars, including Radek Faksa (Dallas Stars), Tomas Hertl (San Jose Sharks) and Vladimir Sobotka (returning to St. Louis Blues from KHL for 2016-2017 season). Faksa is a smart player with a body that is built to fend off defenders. What Faksa lacks in speed he makes up for in passing and ability on the power play. While he sat out the first half of his rookie season due to a shoulder injury, he ultimately went on to score five goals in 45 regular season games, proving to be a quick study. Faksa would go on to score three goals (one GWG) and earning five points during playoffs.
Hertl began his NHL career in October 2013 and has been breaking records for the Sharks ever since. He is the youngest Sharks player to play in a season opener, to score two NHL goals in a single game and the youngest NHL player to record a four-goal game. And he accomplished these feats in a single October! Hertl joined the Sharks top line in 2015-2016 and scored an impressive 25 goals and 46 points in the regular season and 11 in the playoffs, scoring a goal in game one in all four series. Hertl, who is comfortable at both wing and center, could make a great line mate for seasoned veteran Jakub Voracek or other Czech veterans.
After three seasons with the St. Louis Blues versatile scorer Sobokta returned to the KHL after arbitration hearings did not deliver the payday he felt he deserved. Sobotka is a highly talented forward who can play all positions and is particularly adept at face-offs. His agent announced that he will return to the Blues organization following the WCH games. He will be an asset to the team’s offensive line and an excellent partner for veteran players. Team Czech Republic‘s forwards are below.
Unless the Czech team makes a break from tradition and takes a gamble with some of its up and coming players, this team will likely struggle at the 2016 WCH. Young goaltending star Petr Mrazek (Detroit Redwings) would be a great shakeup as the Czech team’s starting netminder. Mrazek, with four seasons and 94 games under his belt has achieved an impressive .920 save percentage and 2.29 GAA – putting him in the same class as Vezina winner Braden Holby. The drawback is that Mrazek is young and his ability to continue this streak is questionable. Therefore, Team Czech Republic may elect a more conservative route and start more seasoned goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets) or Michael Neuvirth (Philadelphia Flyers), both with longer NHL tenures but less success statistically.
Team Czech Republic’s blue line is truly where they may face its biggest challenge. While the lineup does include some veteran players, such as Radko Gudas (Philadelphia Flyers) who brings a strong presence and aggressive play style to the team, and Zbynek Michalek (Arizona Coyotes) will lend stability and tenure to the lineup. It also seems that there are many defenseman who are aging veterans approaching (or past) their prime, or like Michael Kempny, untried in a competitive NHL hockey tournament format. Kempny, who shows some promise of good things to come, joined the KHL in 2015-2016 after seven seasons in the ELH. During his tenure in the KHL he became the clubs top defenseman, scoring 21 points in 59 games. He signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks in May 2016. The Czech Republics full goaltending and blueline line ups are below.
By Stephanie Judge
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