Last year was a taste. Could we see something even more dramatic from the Czechs in Vancouver? The semifinalists in Buffalo got clobbered by both Canada and the U.S. in the medal round, but they showed a lot of spark early in the tournament thanks to a deadly top line of Martin Necas (Carolina), Filip Zadina (Detroit) and Martin Kaut (Colorado).
Well, guess what? All three are eligible to return, as is speedy banger Jakub Lauko (Boston), who has been performing well with his new team, the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Ostap Safin (Edmonton) brings his big body back to the forward corps, too. The high-end potential of the top line and the depth behind it will give the team a chance to win on any night.
On defense, the Czechs have similar experience, albeit not as elite as the first-rounders up front. Jakub Galvas (Chicago), Filip Kral (Toronto) and Radim Salda (Tampa Bay) all return from last year’s squad, and while none have the individual potency of last year’s linchpin, Libor Hajek, they can work as a collective to keep the puck moving in the right direction. This could be a weak spot for the Czechs, but they do have depth.
In net, Jakub Skarek (New York Islanders) returns for his third WJC, having played minor roles in the previous two. That experience will be crucial for Skarek, who has been stellar in his first season with the Lahti Pelicans of Finland’s top league.
Should Skarek falter, the Czechs also have another drafted NHL goalie prospect in Lukas Dostal (Anaheim). He doesn’t have Skarek’s size, but Dostal has played well internationally and helped the national team take silver at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Don’t be surprised if the Czechs end up using both keepers at some point.
The Hockey News' Gold Odds: 7/1