The Czech Republic’s 2014 Olympic men’s hockey roster, which the program released on Monday, features 17 current NHL players and eight overseas pucksters. Many of the latter have built a global familiarity with their own previous stints in North America.
Winners of gold in 1998 and bronze in 2006, the Czechs hope to carry on a pattern of medaling once every two Olympic tournaments. They can go about that by properly coalescing their allotment of longtime veterans, certified big-game performers and hungry, skillful newbies.
Here is a breakdown of the country’s 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies and how the coaching staff may distribute them in an effort to whip up a winning formula.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com and are through games of Sunday, January 5.
Forwards: Roman Cervenka, Patrik Elias, Michael Frolik, Martin Hanzal, Ales Hemsky, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Milan Michalek, Petr Nedved, Jiri Novotny, Ondrej Palat, Tomas Plekanec, Vladimir Sobotka and Jakub Voracek.
Defensemen: Michal Barinka, Radko Gudas, Tomas Kaberle, Lukas Krajicek, Zbynek Michalek, Michal Rozsival, Ladislav Smid and Marek Zidlicky.
Goaltenders: Jakub Kovar, Ondrej Pavelec and Alexander Salak.
Milan Michalek, Left Wing: The Hockey News leads off its fundamental assessment of Michalek by highlighting the fact that he “Owns excellent skating speed, size and strength.” Furthermore, the lowlights THN lists should not be a problem in a short-term tournament played on a wider ice surface. In turn, the Czechs can and should seek to get the most out of this pure package of firepower.
David Krejci, Center: The Czechs will doubtlessly be keen on reaping rewards from the 27-year-old pivot’s penchant for performing in big games.
Jakub Voracek, Right Wing: Voracek is a sizeable specimen of energy who fuels the Philadelphia Flyers offense. Add the fact that both he and Michalek are ordinarily right wings despite carrying a left-handed twig, which means there should be plenty of room for creativity and flexibility on this first line.
Ondrej Palat, Left Wing: The Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-line left wing has been building momentum for himself in his first full NHL season. While not the most seasoned among major leaguers, he has logged ample big-game experience with journeys to each of the AHL’s last two Calder Cup Finals.
Roman Cervenka, Center: Returning to the KHL after essentially a half-season in Calgary and turning in the results that he has will make Cervenka hard for other top-six center candidates to supplant.
Jiri Novotny, Right Wing: With the surplus of centers, Novotny and his club can take advantage of his positional versatility and right-hand shot by plugging him onto an according top-six wing. There, he can link up with Cervenka, his current KHL connection.
Vladimir Sobotka, Left Wing: With the aforementioned overload at center and a shortage of natural left wings, the left-handed shooting Sobotka has a natural place filling a virtual vacancy on the depth chart. To amplify his suitability as a third-liner, The Hockey News makes note of the fact that “gritty defense is the name of his game.”
Martin Hanzal, Center: The wider ice surface ought to lesson any worries of Hanzal, who has incurred multiple NHL suspensions for illicit hits along the boards, stepping out of line. The 6’6”, 236-pounder should fit right in as the Czechs’ checking-line center.
Jaromir Jagr, Right Wing: The only holdover from the 1998 gold medalist squad will compete in his fifth and final (presumably) Olympic tournament. His compete level keeps hiding his age on this continent, although concerns over conservation of energy may confine him to depth minutes as opposed to the first-line allotment he gets in New Jersey.
Patrik Elias, Left Wing: Elias’ offensive staying power and irresistible veteran presence mean the Czechs must suit him up for each game. However, as with Jagr, his advanced age at 37 (going on 38) means they should preserve him as best they can while cultivating the most from his qualities.
Tomas Plekanec, Center: His scouting report from The Hockey News highlights the fact that Plekanec “Is polished in the defensive zone and at the faceoff circle.” The latter attribute will make him a particularly appealing candidate for regular shifts.
Michael Frolik, Right Wing: Frolik is another left-hander patrolling the right wing and might be the go-to candidate to move up the depth chart if the need arises.
Ales Hemsky, Right Wing: Right wing depth docks Hemsky to a reserve projection here. His laundry list of past injuries could also be a cause for concern.
Petr Nedved, Center: The 42-year-old veteran of 24 NHL or overseas seasons equals yet another dose of veteran presence and yet another spare part in the center slot.
Michal Barinka: Per Elite Prospects, the 29-year-old Barinka checks in at an imposing 6’3” and 225 pounds. EP profiler Matias Strozyk calls him “stay-at-home defender” who is also “A good skater for a player of his size.” Add the fact that his past six-plus years in Europe lend him a familiarity advantage with the international ice surface and style.
Marek Zidlicky: The program’s most established NHL minute-muncher, Zidlicky figures to constitute the more offensive-oriented half of the top twosome. As a bonus, particularly on the offensive front, he carries a right-handed twig whereas Barinka is a left-handed shot.
Radko Gudas: Gudas has garnered praise from Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper for his physicality and stamina. He has eclipsed 21 minutes in a game more often than not, especially since the start of December. In an Olympic tournament on an Olympic sheet, those qualities can go a long way toward hindering and neutralizing the middle tier of the opposing depth chart.
Tomas Kaberle: A Kaberle-Gudas pairing would complete a 50-50 split of a left shot and a right shot as well as a blueliner with a little offensive quality with one who excels in his day job. With 16 assists and 19 points through 33 games with HC Kladno in his native country, Kaberle is showing he can still cultivate something with his puck-moving specialty.
Ladislav Smid: Since going from the Oilers to the Flames, or from one anguished Alberta team to another, the gritty and spirited Smid has taken on an elevated role. That may not translate to top-tier positioning in this realm, but it should parlay him into a fixed, active spot on the Olympic roster.
Zbynek Michalek: After a mid-November injury, Michalek returned to the ice Friday for a brief, light workout. Therefore, he essentially has a full month to replenish his form and prepare to give the Czechs a dose of defensive depth. THN gives him the exact same label as Smid in “Solid shutdown defenseman” and also offers a nod to his “big shot” from the point.
Lukas Krajicek: As a third-year competitor in the KHL, the 30-year-old Krajicek will not be a bad resort if and when a stand-in or shake-up is needed.
Michal Rozsival: Being the seventh defense man on the Blackhawks, one of the deepest contenders in the NHL, Rozsival figures to have a similar slot on his country’s Olympic team.
Alexander Salak, Starter: Just last month, Salak took leave from his sparkling season with SKA St. Petersburg to backstop the Czechs to victory at the First Channel Cup as part of the Euro Hockey Tour. Both his KHL campaign and that tournament mean he is already well-versed in the Olympic host environs.
Ondrej Pavelec, Backup: Easily his country’s most battle-tested backstop on this side of the ocean, having logged 33 starts with the Winnipeg Jets this season alone. At 6’3” and 220 pounds, he also takes up much more of the net than his colleagues, per the listings on tsn.ca.
Jakub Kovar, Third String: Like Salak, Kovar is posting good numbers through 33 games in the KHL this season. He also has seven solid appearances with the national team under his belt this year.