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Team Czech Republic roster projection for World Cup

by Michael Langr

After winning gold at the 2010 IIHF World Championship and bronze the following two years, the Czech Republic hasn't been successful in any of the big international events since.

Heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, almost all of the leaders from the "Golden Generation" that won gold medals at the World Championship six times and at the 1998 Nagano Olympics between 1996 and 2010 are gone, and powerhouses Canada, the United States and Sweden have gotten stronger.

The most intriguing question for the Team Czech Republic roster for the World Cup involves forward Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 44 in February. He is heading into the final year of his contract with the Florida Panthers and he may not be playing in the NHL by the time the tournament starts in Toronto in September 2016.

But it's been that way a few times in recent years, and Jagr always came back and performed beyond expectations. At the 2015 World Championship in Prague he was voted tournament MVP when he had nine points in 10 games. Afterward he said his international career was over.

Because of that statement and his age, it seems more likely he won't be on the roster and Czech hockey has to start a new, post-Jagr era.

Forwards Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) and David Krejci (Boston Bruins) should become leaders of a team that has a lot of talent up front but lacks depth on defense. Unless goalies Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings) or Michal Neuvirth (Flyers) becomes a No. 1 in the NHL, Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets) likely will start for the Czechs.

Here is what Team Czech Republic's roster could look like for the tournament, which will be held Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016, in Toronto (alphabetically by position):


Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes, C -- Big and strong (6-foot-6, 226 pounds), he would be a perfect leader of the fourth line but could fit on one of the top two. The smaller ice surface should help him become one of the most important Czech forwards. The 28-year-old had 24 points in 37 games last season, which ended with back surgery.

Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames, C -- The Lady Byng Trophy winner had the best season of his NHL career last season (31 goals, 76 points). The 31-year-old was one of the best Czech players at the 2014 World Championship and should be a leader again.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins, C -- He could fit on a line with Voracek, who in some ways could remind him of former Bruins teammate Milan Lucic. Krejci, 29, is a creative forward with good vision and puck-handling. He missed 35 games last season but has 100 points in his past 127 NHL games.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens, C -- One of the best two-way centers in the NHL always has flourished with the Czech team and should be one of its leaders. The 32-year-old had 26 goals and 60 points last season after 43 points in 2013-14.

Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils, C -- The No. 6 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft might play in the League this season. If he succeeds, the 18-year-old could be invited to this team as the 13th forward.

Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks, LW -- Hertl's second NHL season fell short of expectations; he had 13 goals and 31 points in 82 games after he had 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games as a rookie. But the 21-year-old has a lot of talent, and unlike last summer prepared for this season in full health. He can play center or wing, and could fit on any line.

Tomas Hertl can play center or wing, and could fit on any line. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning, LW -- Palat played on arguably the best line in the NHL last season, but at the World Cup he won't have Tyler Johnson (United States) and Nikita Kucherov (Russia). With energy, speed and scoring touch, Palat, 24, will be one of the most dangerous Czech offensive weapons. He is plus-63 in his two full NHL seasons.

Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL), LW -- He can play all positions and contribute at each end of the rink. Sobotka, 28, is a hard-working skater with balance and toughness who makes plays and scores. If he remains in the Kontinental Hockey League, he might be the only non-NHL forward on the Team Czech Republic roster.

Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames, RW -- A Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, Frolik proved he could be a top-six forward in two 42-point seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. The Flames gave him a five-year contract as a free agent in July, which should lead to more ice time. The 27-year-old can be a penalty-killing specialist for the Czechs.

Dmitrij Jaskin, St. Louis Blues, RW -- This could be a breakthrough season for the 22-year old with Russian roots. The Czechs don't have many wings with his size (6-2, 196), strength along the boards and power in front of the goal.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, RW -- Another member of the young Czech generation found his way to the NHL last season and should get more ice time in 2015-16. At 19 he could bring freshness and speed, and might profit from his Bruins connection with Krejci.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers, RW -- Armed with a new contract, reported to be eight years and $66 million, Voracek should continue to improve and will be Team Czech Republic's offensive leader. The North American rink fits his straightforward style and strength along the boards. Czech coaches need to find the 26-year-old someone to replicate Flyers teammate Claude Giroux (Canada) at center.

Radim Vrbata, Vancouver Canucks, RW -- The 34-year-old found a new spark with Vancouver, and the result was 31 goals and an NHL career high 63 points playing with Daniel Sedin (Sweden) and Henrik Sedin (Sweden). The twins won't be there to help at the World Cup, but Vrbata has speed and can score. If Hanzal is used on one of the scoring lines, his longtime friend and former Arizona Coyotes linemate would be a good fit.


Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers -- A physical presence will be needed on the NHL-size ice surface, and Gudas (6-foot, 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. Gudas, 25, hasn't played an NHL game since Dec. 29, 2014, because of a knee injury.

Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes -- The stable and dependable 32-year-old is great at shot blocking and positioning, and should be one of the most important Team Czech Republic defensemen. Michalek (171 points in 711 NHL games) is an ideal stay-at-home partner for an offensive defenseman such as Marek Zidlicky.

Jakub Nakladal, Calgary Flames -- Nakladal showed at the 2015 World Championship he can be effective on the power play and can score from the blue line. Also of one of the best Czech-born checking defensemen. If the 27-year-old is successful in his first NHL season, he could be one of the most important pieces on this roster.

Ondrej Nemec, Severstal Cherepovets (KHL) -- Nemec is the only non-NHL defenseman on the projected roster. The 31-year-old 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. A second-round pick (No. 35 by the Pittsburgh Penguins) in the 2002 NHL Draft, he might lose his skating advantage on smaller ice but seems to be a good option.

Roman Polak, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Polak, 29, has provided protection for elite Czech players in past international tournaments, and at 6-foot and 236 pounds, his physical style will have a bigger impact on the smaller ice. With 480 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. A huge player (6-7, 220) with a long reach, the 24-year-old could grow into one of the best Czech defensemen.

Marek Zidlicky, free agent -- After a season spent with the Devils and Red Wings, Zidlicky hasn't signed with a new team. The Czechs need the 38-year-old because they don't have anyone better at supporting their transition game and managing power plays.

Petr Mrazek could emerge as the No. 1 goalie for Team Czech Republic. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)


Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings -- Mrazek played 29 NHL games last season and that workload should grow while sharing time with Jimmy Howard in 2015-16. The 23-year old could become Detroit's No. 1 goalie, which would be pleasant news for Czech coaches, who've had to rely mostly on Ondrej Pavelec in recent years.

Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers -- Neuvirth has been working on becoming a long-term No. 1 goalie for an NHL team. It hasn't happened yet but could in Philadelphia, where the 27-year-old signed a two-year contract in July. But Neuvirth has almost no international experience, so Team Czech Republic coaches likely will see him as their No. 3.

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. It remains to be seen whether the 28-year-old will get enough work in Winnipeg, where he will share ice time with emerging Michael Hutchinson.

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