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World Cup

Jagr could be wild card for Team Czech Republic

World Cup a chance for NHL great to boost international resume

by Michael Langr / Correspondent

The legendary international career of Jaromir Jagr, thought to have ended last year, may well have one final chapter this fall at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. 

The iconic Florida Panthers forward, who will turn 44 on Monday, announced his retirement from international play after the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague this past spring. 
But after another highly productive NHL season with the Panthers, there is a distinct possibility he could represent Team Czech Republic at the World Cup.

Jagr has stated repeatedly he wants to continue to play hockey after this season. What better way to prepare for the 2016-17 season than a best-on-best national team tournament featuring more than 125 of the top players from the NHL?

Jagr is also familiar with team management. Martin Rucinsky is the general manager, joining former NHL players Jaroslav Spacek, Vinny Prospal (assistants to coach Josef Jandac), Milan Hnilicka (assistant GM) and Jiri Fischer (scout). All played on the team that won the 2005 World Championship in Vienna. Prospal and Rucinsky were Jagr's linemates during that tournament. Spacek and Rucinsky were also part of the gold-medal winning Czech team at 1998 Nagano Olympics. 

Jagr has yet to comment on his future in regard to World Cup participation. 

Jagr will not be among the names on the 16-player roster to be announced March 2, but he could be a later addition to the team before rosters are finalized on June 1.

Video: FLA@BUF: Jagr joins scoring spree with goal No. 739

This is how the Team Czech Republic roster could look for the World Cup, which will be held Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016 in Toronto (alphabetically by position):


Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes, C -- Big and strong center (6-foot-6, 226 pounds) could play on any line for the national team. He's had a strong season in Arizona after returning from back surgery and could be one of the most important Czech forwards at the tournament.

Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames, C -- The 2015 Lady Byng Trophy winner had the best season of his NHL career last season (31 goals, 76 points), but he's struggled a bit to follow it up. He appears to be finding his way offensively and, despite a lack of international experience, should be a part of this roster. 

David Krejci, Boston Bruins, C -- The playmaking pivot has the ability to be an offensive catalyst. He came back from injuries in each of the past two seasons and seems to be fully healthy. Krejci, 29, is in his prime and without a doubt one of the top-three Czech forwards in the NHL during the past five years.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens, C -- Captain of the national team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Plekanec, 33, has always flourished on the international stage and should be one of Czech leaders again. He has been among the best Czech scorers this season and with his defensive abilities could perfectly fit on a line with two fellow Kladno natives, Jagr and Jakub Voracek.

Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks, LW -- A sophomore slump in the NHL hurt Hertl's stock. He had 15 goals and 25 points in a 37-game rookie season in 2013-14. Last season, he produced 13 goals and 31 points in 82 games. This season he has shown signs of his rookie production, especially when playing on the first line in San Jose. He can play center or wing, and could fit on any line.

Andrej Nestrasil, Carolina Hurricanes, LW -- Nestrasil is having his best season in the NHL, playing on a line with Jordan Staal and also seeing time on the power play with Eric Staal, Jordan's brother. His work ethic and burgeoning offensive skills should be enough to earn an invite. 

Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning, LW -- Palat, with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, played on arguably the best line in the NHL last season, but he's slowed down in 2015-16, limited by injuries and the Lightning's slow start. He still has a lot of speed, scoring touch and energy, which makes him a valuable asset and one of the most dangerous forwards of the Czech team. 

Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (Kontinental Hockey League), LW -- His scoring output has been lower than expected in Russia this season, but he is a versatile forward who can play all positions and contribute at each end of the rink. Sobotka, 28, is a hard-working skater with balance and toughness who can make plays and score.

Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames, RW -- A Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, Frolik seemed to prove he could be a top-six forward with back-to-back 42-point seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. The Flames gave him a five-year contract as a free agent in July, but he hasn't been as consistent in scoring as expected. Yet he is still a very good penalty killer and defensively responsible forward suited to lower-line duties on the national team.

Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers, RW -- The oldest player in the NHL could become the oldest player in the World Cup. If he is back with the national team, he would not only be an offensive threat, but would help by taking stress and attention off the other Czech stars.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, RW -- His second NHL season has been all over the place. He had a good start in Boston, was injured, sent to the American Hockey League and loaned to the Czech national team for World Junior duty before returning to the Bruins in January. Still a teenager, he would offer fresh blood to an older Czech team and would have some built-in chemistry with Krejci, his teammate in Boston.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers, RW -- Voracek struggled at the start of this season, but has been rejuvenated after a move to left wing. That could be an intriguing option for the Czech coaching staff as well, because it would allow Voracek to be placed with Plekanec and Jagr on the top line. The North American rink fits Voracek's straightforward style, big body (6-2, 214) and strength along the boards.

Radim Vrbata, Vancouver Canucks, RW - Vrbata, 34, scored 31 goals and an NHL career-high 63 points in Vancouver in 2014-15, but has struggled to produce offensively this season. But Vrbata still has a goal-scoring sense. His longtime friend and former Coyotes linemate Hanzal would be a good fit for him at the World Cup.


Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers -- The son of former Team Czechoslovakia tough guy Leo Gudas came back from a knee injury and continues to develop after a trade from Tampa Bay to Philadelphia last season. A physical presence will be needed on the NHL-size ice surface, and Gudas (6-0, 204) would bring a strong body and intimidating style. With Gudas and Roman Polak, the Czechs will have toughness on the blue line to match any team.

Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes -- Stable and dependable, Michalek, 33, is great at shot blocking and positioning, and should be one of the most important defensemen on the team. Michalek is an ideal stay-at-home partner for an offensive defenseman such as Marek Zidlicky.

Video: MTL@PHI: Gudas drives Smith-Pelly into net

Tomas Kundratek, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL) -- Kundratek didn't make it in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, but he is having probably the best season of his career, helping Slovan Bratislava reach the playoffs in the KHL. He has been very good at each end of the rink and after a trade from Dinamo Riga to Bratislava he had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 14 games in a pairing with Cam Barker, a former NHL player. Considering the lack of top Czech defensemen in the NHL, Kundratek, 26, could be a surprise on the World Cup roster.

Ondrej Nemec, Severstal Cherepovets (KHL) -- Nemec is another non-NHL defenseman on the projected roster. Nemec, 31, was a second-round pick (No. 35) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2002 NHL Draft, but never played in the NHL. Struggling a bit in the KHL, he still has a lot of international experience and, apart from Zidlicky, he's the only playmaking defenseman capable of competing in a best-on-best tournament.

Roman Polak, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Polak, 29, has provided protection for elite Czech players in past international tournaments, and his physical style and size (6-0, 237), will have a bigger impact on the smaller ice. With more than 500 NHL games, he's one of the most experienced Czech defensemen.

Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning -- His first full NHL season ended when the Lightning lost in the Stanley Cup Final. In his second full season, he became a stable part of the top-four defense rotation in Tampa Bay. A tall player (6-7, 220) with a long reach, Sustr, 25, is developing into an elite defender.

Marek Zidlicky, New York Islanders -- His role as a NHL player is diminishing and his future in the League as a free agent this summer is far from certain, but Zidlicky, who turned 39 this month, remains valuable to the Czech team. The Czechs simply don't have anyone better at supporting their transition game and managing power plays.


Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings -- Mrazek is having a breakout season, becoming the Red Wings' No. 1 goaltender and a Vezina Trophy candidate. He leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.94) and save percentage (.934). With Ondrej Pavelec injured for a majority of the season, it seems Mrazek, who turns 24 on Sunday, will take the top spot in goal for the Czechs.

Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers -- Neuvirth still hasn't reached his goal of becoming a long-term No. 1 goalie for an NHL team, but he has been great after signing a two-year contract with the Flyers this past summer. Neuvirth, 27, has been among the NHL leaders in save percentage for much of the season. His lack of international experience makes him a bit of a wild card. 

Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets -- After Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun left the stage, Pavelec became the undisputed No. 1 goalie for Czech international teams. He won a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championship and is, by far, the most experienced Czech NHL goalie. But this season has been a nightmare for him with his long-term knee injury. Even if he manages to come back in style, it seems Mrazek may have wrested away the No. 1 job at the World Cup.

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