While the Czechs have a decent forward group, the same can’t be said about their defensemen. In fact, this is likely the worst defensive group in the entire tournament.
The advanced stats don’t paint a pretty picture. Of the six Czech defensemen who’ve played in the NHL, only two have posted positive possession numbers relative to their teammates in their careers, and just three have posted positive scoring chance for percentages according to Corsica Hockey.
Put simply, this is a group that is likely to be overwhelmed in the group stage. Canada, the United States, and even Team Europe’s forwards will likely be too much to handle, given the Czechs’ collection of talent. Still, there are some intriguing pieces, and in a short tournament variance is certainly possible. But, given this defensive group, I wouldn’t bet on the Czech Republic doing much in the World Cup of Hockey.
Czech Republic Defensemen
Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers
Michal Kempny, Chicago Blackhawks
Roman Polak, Toronto Maple Leafs
Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning
Michal Jordan, Free Agent
Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes
Jakub Nakladal, Free Agent
Players to Watch
As Sharks fans are aware, Polak struggled tremendously in the Stanley Cup Final against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins. While there are a handful of speedsters in the group, particularly on Team Europe, Polak’s skillset is, at least on paper, a much better fit against the styles of the United States and Canada. But, given his performance in the final round of the postseason, I’d imagine opposing coaches will be targeting his pairing.
Sustr was the highest-scoring Czech defender last season, as he scored a career-high 21 points in 77 games. Standing at 6’7”, Sustr will stand out for his size, but he’s not a tremendously physical player, yet is positionally sound. He has strong potential, but as our friends at the Raw Charge wrote this offseason, he’s yet to maximize it:
Sustr will likely be relied upon to carry the offensive load on the blueline. If he can find some consistency in this short tournament, that will go a long way towards solving some of the Czechs’ defensive issues.
Like his teammate Vladimir Sobotka, Kempny is set to make the jump from Omsk in the KHL to the NHL’s central division, as he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in May. He scored 21 points in 59 games in the KHL last season, and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman spoke highly of his two-way skillset:
Kempny will certainly have an opportunity to stand out for the Czechs in this tournament, and his ability in both ends should serve as a steadying presence on their blueline.