If there is a long shot to make a dent in this World Cup of Hockey tournament, it's the Czech Republic. But they have their coaching and management team in place and some quality forwards vying for spots on the roster who could make things interesting. The challenge for newly named general manager Martin Rucinsky is finding a defensive unit that can keep pace with the world's most dangerous forwards. Here's how I predict the Czech Republic's World Cup squad to look:
The Czechs have some interesting choices up front because they have too many centers and not enough left wingers, which means a couple of bodies will have to play out of position. Not a big deal, although I'm still wondering if they will make room for youngster David Pastrnak in place of Ales Hemsky, who's struggled again in Dallas. Andrej Nestrasil will also get a look, but the Czechs are going to have to get better than the top performances from all four lines if they're going to stay close which, frankly, we don't see happening.
The Czech coaching staff, which made a hash of things in Sochi at the 2014 Olympics, has some interesting additions. Longtime NHLer Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal, now coaching top-end youth hockey in the Tampa area, will join the Czechs as an assistant, as will longtime NHLer Jaroslav Spacek. Josef Jandac is the head coach, while former NHLer Rucinsky was recently named GM. Jiri Fischer, who is with the Detroit Red Wings as director of player development, is the head of scouting for the Czechs.
When your top-scoring defenseman is a 39-year-old with three goals and 14 points two-thirds of the way through the NHL season (as in Zidlicky), you know you've got a tall order ahead of you; and that's the reality for the Czechs. Their options on D are limited, and that's being kind. Jakub Kindl is pretty much a lock to make this team; he was waived by the Red Wings earlier this season. In all, Czech-born defensemen have scored just 11 total goals this season.
Maybe there are reinforcements coming from the Czech elite league, but no matter how you cut it, this group is going to be wildly overmatched pretty much every night it steps on the ice.
This is now a one-man race in terms of who will be "the man" for the Czechs, and the pressure is going to land squarely on the shoulders of Petr Mrazek. Seems like he'll be OK with that, as his stats quietly rank among the league leaders this season. Michal Neuvirth seems the obvious choice as backup if he can stay healthy, as Ondrej Pavelec's injury-plagued season in Winnipeg has dropped him out of the discussion, at least for the time being.