Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next week or so, we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Toronto and Montreal from December 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Today we preview the Czech Republic Team and take a look at the players to watch in this year’s tournament. Its been a while since the Czechs had success at the World Junior level, but recent medals at the Under 18 and the Ivan Hlinka tournaments, along with a high number of early NHL draft picks certainly indicate that this is a program on the rise. The Czechs will try to translate that under 18 success into some wins at the under 20 level, and it begins in this year’s tournament as they play in Toronto.
Note players must be born on January 1st, 1995 or later to be eligible for the tournament. 1994 birthdates are not eligible. Players are organized by position and then in alphabetical order.
This week I looked at the Russian Team and the Swedish Team. Prior to the selection camp rosters being released; I looked at Team Canada’s Forwards, Defence and Goalies; Team USA forwards, and Defense and Goalies . Click the links to check them out. Now without further ado, on to Team Russia.
Czech Republic World Junior Preview: Players to Watch
Vitek Vanecek: A 2nd round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2014, Vanecek has great reflexes. He has an excellent glove hand and a very good blocker that take away the top of the net. He also has quick legs to take away the bottom of the net. He needs to work on his fundamentals though as his rebound control could be a lot better and he needs a little work on his positioning and being square to the puck. One thing he does do extremely well is that he is very quick post-to-post.
Jan Kostalek: A fourth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2013 NHL Draft, Kostalek returns for another tournament and should lead the Czech defence. Kostalek is a strong skater and excellent two-way defender who plays in all situations for Rimouski in the QMJHL. He’s picked up his offensive game this year and his 20 points in 28 games is just seven points off a career high. While he doesn’t have a huge point shot, he does have great playmaking ability. Kostalek is poised with the puck on his stick and makes an excellent first pass to start the transition game in his own zone, and is a strong power play quarterback. He’s also a good defender who plays extremely well one-on-one and is willing to throw the big hit. His excellent mobility in all directions and quick stick make him very hard to beat off the rush. He is willing to work a physical game in front of the net and in the corners. Kostalek will be a huge minute eater on the Czech defence, expect to see him playing close to thirty minutes a game.
Dominik Masin: A second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2014 NHL Draft, Masin has good size and plays an excellent defensive game. It seemed like the Czech coaches had him on the ice for close to 30 minutes a game at the Under 18 last spring, and always against the other teams’ top offensive lines. He has great hockey IQ, and the ability to read the play. His positioning is excellent, and he breaks up plays with a good active stick. Masin maintains excellent gap control and is very hard to beat one-on-one. He is physical in the corners and in front of the net, and can use his size to throw big hits. Offensively, Masin’s game has come a long way. He seems to be better offensively at each subsequent tournament. Masin was once only a defensive defender, but now makes strong, heads up passes, both out of his own end to start the rush and in the offensive zone as well. He has become more poised and confident with the puck on his stick as well. If there is a criticism though, he could work on his slapshot, and add power.
Jakub Zboril: Eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, Zboril is part of one of the best Czech draft classes in years. Zboril was part of the silver medal winning squads at the 2013 U18 World Championship last spring, and the Ivan Hlinka this past summer. Drafted 5th overall in the CHL Import Draft, Zboril has put up 21 points in 30 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril is living up to the hype and looks like the total package on the blueline this season. He is an excellent powerplay quarterback, with strong poise with the puck and good vision and passing skill. He also has a rocket of a slap shot, and has already scored seven goals. Zboril has good skating skill and his excellent pivots, edgework, and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He’s also not afraid to be physical in the defensive end of the ice.
Vaclav Karabacek: A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Karabacek’s isn’t the fastest skater on the ice. His speed is merely average and he could use a better first step and acceleration. However he has good agility and edgework, and can be elusive in the offensive zone. He also is very strong on his skates and can fight through checks, use leverage to win board battles, take punishment in front of the net, and protect the puck very well due to a strong wide-base in his stance. Karabacek’s offensive game is based around tenacity. He digs pucks out of the corners for linemates, and is strong in the cycle down low. He makes short quick passes to teamates, and almost always takes the safe option over those that are riskier, but more creative. The stickhandling is decent, but is more about puck protection than creative moves to beat a defender. Without the puck, he has the ability to find open spaces on the ice. From there he is able to unleash a good one-timer, or a very powerful wrist shot, with an excellent release. The shot is the best part of his offensive game and he can play the role of sniper.
Ondrej Kase: A seventh round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Kase played at the World Juniors last year. He is a great skater with very good top end speed, but it is his first step and acceleration that set him apart. He shows an ability to quickly change gears that makes him deadly off the rush as he can drop his shoulder and blow by a defender or pull up quickly to create space. He has great agility and edgework and can cut quickly to slice through the defence and get to the net. However, Kase could stand to improve his balance and strength on the puck. Kase is a natural playmaker, who has outstanding vision and the ability to feather passes through tight openings. He handles the puck very well and can make slick moves to avoid defenders. He is willing to take the puck to the net and to fight in the corners, but again this is an area where added weight and more muscle will make him more successful. He also could improve on his decision making as he has a tendency to hold onto the puck a little bit too long looking for the perfect play and eventually skates himself out of room. His shot is accurate but could use some more velocity, which should come with more strength. Kase’s defensive game is decent as his positioning and anticipation are good and create turnovers. He works hard on the back check and brings good back-pressure to help defenders against the rush.
Dominik Kubalik: A 7th round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, Kubalik has good size and plays a grinding role. He gets in hard on the forecheck, with good speed and forces defenders to make a play or get hit. He plays solid defensively, with good anticipation, a willingness to block shots, and strong positioning. He’s not a fancy player out there, and don’t expect a ton of offence in this tournament, but he will be an important part of the Czech’s bottom lines, and penalty kill.
David Pastrnak: The Bruins first round pick, 25th overall in the NHL Draft, Pastrnak surprised many as he made the Bruins out of camp. He played in 5 games and even got his first NHL point, but the team has released him to play in the tournament. Pastrnak is an extremely good skater, with good speed and an excellent first step and acceleration. He also has great edgework and agility helping him to elude defenders off the rush. He can dart into the smallest of openings and create a scoring chance. Pastrnak also has very good balance which helps him in protecting the puck, winning board battles and fighting through checks. Pastrnak is very creative, he has excellent stickhandling, very quick hands, and a wide array of moves. He is able to use his skating and quick hands to be a nightmare for defenders off the rush. If they back off too much to respect his speed, he can unleash a powerful and accurate wrist shot which features a very quick release. While he profiles as more of a sniper than a playmaker, Pastrnak is a good passer and has good vision to find open linemates.
Jakub Vrana: The 13th overall pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2014 NHL Draft, Vrana is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed, but its his elite acceleration and change of pace ability allows him to beat defenders one on one. He also has outstanding agility, edgework and lateral movement and this makes him very elusive off the rush. Vrana is a natural centre but can also play on the wing. His stickhandling is excellent, he has a wide variety of moves and is very good at protecting the puck. Vrana has very good vision and the passing skills to be a creative playmaker. His wrist shot is very strong and accurate, and he has the type of lightning-quick release that often fools goaltenders. Vrana really needs to add physical strength though. He can be manhandled in corners and in front of the net at his current size in the SHL. Its not for lack of effort though, Vrana isn’t afraid to go to those dirty areas, and he isn’t intimidated, its merely a factor of adding muscle and he should do better in this junior tournament against players his own age than he does against men. He does have good hockey sense.
Pavel Zacha: One of the top prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft, Zacha was the first overall pick of the Sarnia Sting in the CHL Import Draft. So far he has 19 points in 21 games in his rookie season in the OHL. Zacha has been a star at the international level playing in the Under 18s two years in a row, as well in the Ivan Hlinka. He also played at the 2014 World Juniors. Zacha has the skills to be a power forward at the NHL level. He is a good skater with a powerful stride that can help him to drive the net and has the soft hands to finish in close. His wrist shot has great power and a hair trigger release. His vision and passing skill is also decent, but Zacha is very much a shoot first kind of player.
Check back tomorrow as we continue to go through the players to watch at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships.
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