Czechia has churned out some incredible talent in recent years. David Pastrnak, Tomas Hertl, Ondrej Palat and so many more talented NHLers have come out of Czechia to have tons of success, not to mention some legends of the past. Those legends include Jaromir Jagr! It’s no surprise to see that there are several more Czech-born players in this draft class. That includes one of the top defensemen in the draft class, David Jiricek. Perhaps the best of the bunch, however, is Jiri Kulich.
Jiri Kulich Scouting Report
Kulich, born in Kadan, Czechia, on April 14th, 2004, is a center for HC Energie Karlovy Vary. The 6’0” and 172-pound center has had a successful season up at the top men’s league in his home country. Recording nine goals and five assists for 14 points in 49 games is only a part of his success story this year. His international success is impressive, wearing the “C” for Czechia at the U18 World Juniors. In that tournament, he recorded nine goals and two assists for 11 points in six games. In the shortened U20 World Juniors, Kulich had one assist in two games.
With his success internationally and in the top men’s league, Kulich has been ranked 14th by TSN’s Craig Button, 18th by Smaht Scouting, 22nd by FCHockey, 25th by Recruit Scouting, 30th by McKeen’s Hockey, 37th by Draft Prospects Hockey, 40th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, 52nd by Elite Prospects, and 62nd by The Puck Authority. This writer has Kulich ranked 16th on his unreleased rankings.
Jiri Kulich Deep Dive
This draft has so much talent. It has led to so many players being overrated or underrated. Kulich could be one of those players who gets passed over. In fact, he could haunt future GM’s who made the decision to pass on the Czech forward.
Jiri Kulich’s Skating
Kulich is one of the better skaters in this draft class. His top speed is solid. Kulich’s stride is so smooth and effortless, it looks like he is gliding across the surface. His stride mechanics are great as well, showing good ankle and knee flexion, as well as good, long strides. Kulich utilizes crossovers very effectively and generates really good speed and acceleration with them. He isn’t a burner by any means, but he can change speeds effortlessly. If a defender misjudges Kulich, he can catch them off guard with his acceleration and beat the defender to the outside.
One area Kulich could look to improve with his skating is his edge work. There are several occasions where Kulich will take long and winding turns that lead to him losing speed. Working on his balance and lower body strength as he gets older will go a long way to improve his overall body of work from a skating standpoint. More precisely, it’ll help him improve his ability to be even more dangerous off the rush. Overall, Kulich has the makings to be a future elite skater.
Jiri Kulich’s Offensive Abilities
Kulich is a strong offensive option, based on his counting stats. His goal-scoring at the international level certainly pops out as well when reading his stats. But his strength offensively actually presents itself in the smaller details of the game. He has a knack for finding open pockets of space in the offensive zone without the puck. While that means his teammates have to be the ones to generate chances with the puck, it’s clearly had its success to this point.
Looking at the numbers first, Kulich has a knack for getting pucks into high and medium danger. Of his 19 pass attempts across three tracked games, Kulich completed 16 of them (84.21% completion percentage). Of those passes, 21.05% were aimed at high and medium-danger, completing 25% of them. While he tends to look for teammates in those areas, he still directs a lot of his passes to low-danger, attempting to extend offensive zone time. He’s a smart player. But his accuracy when attacking those areas isn’t very good, and it’s due to the timing of his passes, which will be discussed a little later.
Jiri Kulich’s Shooting Ability
Looking at his shooting, in three tracked games, Kulich fired 12 shots, hitting the net on seven of them (58.33%). Of those shots, 25% came from high-danger and 41.67% came from medium-danger. He hit the net on 62.5% of them, a solid mark. Again, Kulich is fantastic at getting into open areas in the offensive zone to give teammates passing lanes.
His hockey IQ is tangible when seeing his play off the puck. While these advanced stats do bring some concern with overall efficiency, specifically with his passing metrics, it’s something that can improve with coaching. What can’t be coached is his innate ability to exploit defensive zone coverages and find open spaces in high-danger areas. With more maturity and experience, he will cash in on even more of the opportunities he creates for himself in those spots.
What Do These Numbers Tell Us About Jiri Kulich?
Overall, the biggest issues with Kulich’s offensive zone play are involvement and timing. His work is done without the puck and a bit of a reliance on his teammates to feed him when he finds space. When he does have the puck, he shows strong puck handling and an ability to generate space for himself. However, he tends to miss opportunities by mistiming passes to teammates. He can either wait too long to pull the trigger on a pass that gets broken up, or he rushes passes and can’t get the pass to connect with a teammate.
One of his stronger traits is his motor. He loves getting involved along the boards for puck battles and he does a really good job of getting possession back in those situations. His forechecking isn’t aggressive, but he times his stick checking well and does an excellent job anticipating the timing of passes to disrupt them. His backchecking also causes his opponents issues and allows him to reset the transition to regain entry into the offensive zone.
Jiri Kulich’s Transitional Abilities
When it comes to transitioning the puck up ice, Kulich is solid. He isn’t elite, and there are things he must improve, but he usually doesn’t hurt his team in this area with costly mistakes. When it comes to exiting the defensive zone, Kulich was involved directly in 30 exit attempts, clearing the puck with possession on 56.67%. That includes 36.67% of them that he carried out himself. His overall efficiency (56.67%) is above the average of 54.34%, while his individual exits were also slightly above the average of 32%.
When it comes to entering the offensive zone, Kulich was involved directly in 32 entry attempts. Of those attempts, he gained the offensive zone on 59.38% of them. That’s below the average of 62%. Meanwhile, he carried the puck into the offensive zone on 43.75% of the total attempts, which was just a hair below the average of 45%.
Diving Deeper Into Jiri Kulich’s Transitional Numbers
Kulich is fairly average, in this class, by the numbers in the transitional game. He’s also playing at a higher level than most of the players who are considered in the averages, as he is playing against men. However, there are weaknesses in his transitional game that caused the numbers to be lower than they could have been.
Kulich’s ability to find open pockets of space in the offensive zone is also seen in the neutral zone. He’s so slippery off the puck, and it leads to him constantly being open for a pass up ice. However, he doesn’t always get those passes, which is frustrating to watch. That’s not on him by any means.
But what is something that is equally as frustrating is what he does when he faces pressure. The minute he feels pressure, he carries the puck with one hand on his stick, pushes the puck in front of him, and lifts his stick off the ice, leaving the puck vulnerable. Many times, the puck gets knocked away from him. Or the opposing defender steps into him and easily separates him from the puck. He needs to hold onto the puck and use his strong puck skills to gain the zone. Or, at the very least, chip it further ahead to generate a race for the puck.
Defensive Zone Play
In the defensive zone, Jiri Kulich really impressed. While there are some issues with consistency and shift-to-shift effort, when he is engaged, he is excellent. Kulich has an excellent stick, able to block passing lanes and force a myriad of turnovers that set up the transitional game. He isn’t afraid to block shots or play physically along the boards or in front of the net.
Additionally, Kulich reads and anticipates his opponents at a ridiculously high level. He keeps his head on a swivel, constantly reading the ice and checking to see if anyone is left uncovered. On several shifts, he covered up a missed assignment by a teammate down low and took away several high-danger chances. Even when he didn’t look engaged, he still used his stick and anticipation at such a high level.
Jiri Kulich’s Potential
Jiri Kulich is such an interesting prospect. His hockey IQ is absolutely fantastic, and he already reads and anticipates the play so well against men. His confidence and motor to play against men physically in the dirty areas both offensively and defensively show a player who won’t be scared to make the transition to professional hockey in North America. However, his low involvement, timing, and occasional decision-making issues cause some pause. His reliance on his teammates also raises some concerns. Particularly in how he can do on his own at the NHL level. While he is still several years away from being a mainstay at the NHL level, if that chance comes, he’s going to be intriguing to watch.
Kulich has the makings of a player who may be extremely underrated for a very long time. It’ll take time before people finally begin to take notice. Watching him and seeing how he barely gets involved but, at the end of the game, has a lot of touches makes this writer think of a Valeri Nichushkin type. A player who does all the little details in all three zones and doesn’t get recognition until he takes that next step. He could be a second-line pivot, who likely will be loved by whoever takes that chance on him.