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WJC 2013: Sedlak steps into captaincy for Czechs

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Lukas Sedlak has managed to fly under the radar ever since he was drafted by the Blue Jackets.

He was a sixth-round pick of Columbus (No. 158 overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minn., and as it so often turns out for a late-round pick, you don't really hear much from them until they've reached the professional ranks. But Sedlak didn't sulk -- he improved steadily every year.

Now as a 19-year-old in a pivotal year of World Junior tournament eligibility, Sedlak has earned the trust of the Czech Republic national junior team's coaching and management staff, and was named the team's captain shortly before the tournament began.

In 2011, he captained the Czech Republic junior team at the U18 World Junior Championship, tallying three goals in five tournament games in the midst of a stellar campaign with Ceske's U20 team back home. But it wasn't a rosy finish for the Czechs at that tournament, finishing in eighth place and looking overmatched on most nights.

But it was that following summer when the "under the radar" aspect of his game seemed to relent, if only a little bit. Sedlak was picked up by Chicoutimi (QMJHL) in the first round of the 2011 CHL Import Draft -- the annual draft that distributes European players to Canadian junior teams (Oscar Dansk was assigned to Erie this same way) -- and decided it was time to test his game against the best junior players in North America.

A few weeks prior to being drafted by Chicoutimi, Sedlak was selected on a bigger stage: the NHL Draft at Xcel Energy Center, where the Blue Jackets thought enough of his solid, two-way game and hockey instincts to select him in the sixth round.

Here is a prospect scouting report on Sedlak, courtesy of Hockey's Future:

"Sedlak is a good two-way forward who will improve his offensive game in Chicoutimi. He will be great in the face-off circle and on the penalty kill, but isn’t going to win any scoring titles. He’ll probably spend most of his career underappreciated on the third line."

What has not gone underappreciated, however, is Sedlak's keen attention to detail and strong play at center ice. He was a valuable part of a Chicoutimi team that had QMJHL championship aspirations last spring despite struggling offensively in the Presidents' Cup playoffs (five goals, three assists in 18 games), and is going to be used in a variety of situations for the Czech team during this World Junior.

In the Czechs' opening loss to Sweden, Sedlak played a steady game overall but the team fell behind in a 4-0 hole that was too much to overcome. Sedlak scored the team's only goal (albeit in the dying seconds of regulation) and was strong in the faceoff circle.

It's unfortunate that the Czechs don't play more televised World Junior games in the U.S., because I've always found Sedlak to be an intriguing prospect with a lot of upside, and one who thinks the game very well. The Czechs should be considered a darkhorse to medal at the tournament but never counted out; they are solid defensively and usually have strong goaltending.

This is also a crucial time Sedlak's career: he turns 20 years old in February and will have a decision to make along with the Blue Jackets next season. Will be he ready to play in the American Hockey League, or is another year in Chicoutimi the best option?

Those are decisions down the road, and for the time being, I'm interested to watch him lead his national team on junior hockey's biggest stage.

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