Since winning Gold in 1998 when NHL players were first allowed to participate in the Olympics, the Czech Republic only has one other medal while failing to make it past the Quarter-Finals three times. Jaromir Jagr may no longer be the face of this team but they still have a top 5 player and Rocket Richard co-winner from this past season to make a splash come 2022. I present to you the projected Czech Republic roster:
1st Line: Pasta is a no brainer coming off a season where he shared the Rocket Richard trophy with Ovie. Vrana has really come on the scene these last two season in Washington posting 99 points in a little under two full seasons. Necas is one of the best young prospects and should be a bonafide NHLer come 2022.
2nd Line: A little bit of youth to compliment two NHL vets, Zadina has struggled a bit early on but a little bit of that is because of expectations. Hertl is a big part of the Sharks nucleus and is coming off back to back seasons of nearly Point per Game production (110 points in 125 games). Voracek is one of the two likely captains and leaders of this team, he is a very versatile player that will win at all costs.
3rd Line: Kubalik put himself into the Calder conversation this year with 30 goals and 46 points as a rookie in Chicago. Pavel Zacha, a former Devils first round pick is a highly skilled two-way player that is known more for his playmaking ability that should translate well to the Olympic ice. Ondrej Kase is another seventh round pick on this line, he won’t impress you with his stat lines just yet, but he has steadily improved over his career and was a highly sought after target this past Trade Deadline, costing the Bruins a first round pick (Anaheim did have to take on the David Backes contract).
4th Line: This line is sure to cause a bit of controversy, more so for who was left off but, Jenik is one of the top prospect in the league and he is coming off a season where he averaged two (yes 2) Points per Game in the OHL. Krejci is getting up there in age but he remains a very dependable two-way centerman than can help offset some of the inexperience from his wingers. Martin Frk has struggled early on when getting called up to the NHL, but over the last two season he has averaged a Point per Game in the AHL and I am betting on him finally breaking through and becoming a full time player.
13th: Chytil, a Rangers pick, is still finding himself in the NHL, but he played nine games in his draft year and became a full time starter the following season. Kaut is an Avalanche prospect with a similar development path, playing his nine games in the NHL before being sent down to the AHL for the remainder of the season. I believe that Kaut will join Chytil as a full time NHL player by 2022 and both will force their way onto this roster.
1st Pair: Kempny made a name for himself during the Capitals Stanley Cup run in 2018 after coming over from the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. He is a stay at home, responsible defenseman who should be the leader of this D-core. Hronek plays a similar game but has more offensive upside and the two should make a great tandem that will be asked to shut down the opposition’s top line.
2nd Pair: Wondering why the name Jakub Jerabek rings a bell? He had a brief stint in the NHL with the Habs in 2017-18 and while he didn’t pan out as hoped he did show some flashes but you could tell that his game just wasn’t built for the NHL. Compliment him with one of the toughest players in the NHL and they should balance each other out.
3rd Pair: What do you know, another Rangers defensive prospect; Libor Hajek is a defensive defenseman that leads by example and is starting to push his way into the NHL. His numbers won’t jump off the page at you, but he can fit a shutdown role and should be better prepared then most to jump back onto the bigger ice. Roman Polak should still be a valuable depth defenseman in a couple years, he is a solid shut down defenseman but he will not be returning to the NHL next season, electing to play pro in the Czech league.
7th: Simek was signed by the Sharks out of the Czech league and has been a regular in the NHL over the last two seasons. He has struggled with injuries, cutting a couple seasons short, but if he can stay healthy, we should start seeing a 200 foot game with the 20 point season up side.
Rittich and Mrazek are interchangeable depending who you talk to but Rittich has taken on more of the workload for his team than Mrazek. This may be the deciding factor if Mrazek cannot do the same, which is why I have Rittich slightly higher. The same can be said about Pavel Francouz who has made the most of his opportunities with the Avalanche but it remains to be seen if he will be the guy in Colorado.
Forward: Jaromir Jagr, Ondrej Palat, Radek Faksa, Dominik Simon, Filip Chlapik, Michael Frolik, Dmitrij Jaskin, Lukas Sedlak
Defense: Jan Rutta
Goaltender: Jakub Kovar, Daniel Vladar
Jagr will be turning 50 years old during the 2022 Olympics and has expressed a desire to play into the half century club, I would love for him to make this team but not even Mr. Hockey could do that in his 50s. If Jagr were to make this team it will be the best story line of the 2022 Olympics. Palat is by far the biggest snub on this list, I think he is a very good player but I think that some of the young talent mentioned above will force Palat off this roster. If I were a gambling man I would put money on Palat making this team because even the slightest hiccup or one injury to any of these guys and Palat is in.
Faksa and Simon can both compete for a 4th line role and Chlapik won’t be far enough along in his development to make this team. Frolik will have the opposite issue as he will be 33 in two years time, and his numbers have steadily declined since 2016-17. Jaskin and Sedlak are two players who failed to make it in North America but are having great seasons in the KHL and are both young enough to compete for this team.
On defense, Jan Rutta is the only other Czech born player in the NHL but he is more of a depth player that can be a fill in for this roster if there are any injuries. Kovar is a staple in the KHL, having participated in three straight KHL All Star games, he has a 2.17 GAA and .926 SV% over his 8 year career. He is the likely next man up if anything were to happen to the three on the roster, but he will have to compete with up and coming Daniel Vladar. A third round pick in 2015 by the Bruins, Vladar is coming off the best season of his career posting a 1.79 GAA and .936 SV% in Providence (Bruin’s AHL team). It will be tough to get playing time in the NHL with Rask and Halak ahead of him, but he is a player to keep an eye on.
Sitting in a group with Russia and Switzerland, the Czechs have a great opportunity to get into the Quarter Final round, and if the hockey gods are in their favour, maybe even pull an upset and win the division. I really hope Jagr is there to be apart of it, but with the talent in this roster, this team will be tough to play against.