One of the best under-18 tournaments in the world ended on Saturday, and now we recap what happened. This is a recapitulation of performances of the teams from Czech Republic and Slovakia in that tournament.
Czech Republic started the tournament with a 4-3 shootout win against Switzerland. In this game, all the best players performed to the best of their abilities. Everett Silvertips prospect Michal Gut led them to win. He had an assist and the winning goal in the shootout. He had a great tournament but I will get to that later in the article. Unfortunately, as the tournament went on and the quality of opposition rose, most of the team didn’t perform to the best of their abilities. That is a shame because they had some pretty good players on the team who could’ve performed better.
In games against Canada and Finland, they looked a lot out of place in the defensive zone. Defensive pairings were chaotic in breaking up chances. Positioning and getting pucks out of the defensive zone were also a struggle against those teams. Those mistakes were causing a lot of turnovers which led to goals for Finland and Canada. As for positives; I definitely see performances of their forward core as something that has been very good, especially in key moments during the tournament. They ended up being fifth which is good. But as said, there were many holes in their game which should be fixed during the year.
Who stood out? Forwards Michal Gut, Jan Myšák and Pavel Novák stood out to me during this tournament. I will get to each of them separately. Let’s start with the brightest spot of the Czech roster and that was Gut.
Michal Gut was the best player on the Czech roster. He is a relatively unknown 16-year-old forward prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. He has showed great combination of speed, skill and scoring. His goal-scoring ability was shown in important moments of the game. He is very versatile and has quite good defensive impact when he is on the ice. That is very important in this age group as players want to stand out in games against tougher opponents. He also showcased nice playmaking abilities in couple of nice chances. But those didn’t result in many goals scored so he ended the tournament with one assist. He is a speedy player. But during this tournament he not only used his speed, but he used it to gain advantages in every situation. He played top-line minutes, killed penalties, and played power play minutes throughout the tournament. He has showed a great combination of effective offensive drive and silky smooth hands. He has incredible speed as well. He will show these qualities in Everett Silvertips in WHL in this upcoming season as he is moving overseas.
Pavel Novák, who was Gut’s linemate throughout the tournament, was certainly a bright spot as well but not as impactful as Gut. He showed ability to score goals and to drive play. He is a very fast player and a great skater. He stood out by finding empty spots to use his shot and score goals or create chances for himself or his teammates. He had some nice plays setting up his teammates but he is mainly a sniper. The 17-year-old forward prospect who is eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft played top-six minutes for the Czechs.
And now little bit about Jan Myšák. He was the player from the Czech squad I was looking for the most to see how his season will start and he did not disappoint. But he wasn’t as dominant as I hoped he would be. He was still one of the best Czech players during the tournament after all! This skilled centerman is being considered as a top-15/top-20 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. During this tournament, he was in secondary role and looked like he didn’t deserve more to be honest. He showed flashes of great two-way understanding of the game. He scored a goal on the penalty kill after a beautiful read of the play. Myšák, shown in the clip below, showed his great explosiveness and speed which are two of his main attributes. He didn’t dominate but showed flashes and that’s important for the start of the year. He will play in Litvinov and likely in a middle-six role in the Czech Extraliga!
But the defense of the Czech team just wasn’t that good. They were under a lot of pressure most of the tournament. This resulted in bunch of significant defensive mistakes. Those led to some ugly goals as I mentioned in the beginning of this article. All in all, it was a good performance by the Czechs. Some players had definitely improved their stock. Some others, who should’ve improved their stock, did not. But this was only one tournament and there will be more output of work throughout the season.
Slovakia had a very good tournament despite finishing seventh. Their two-way game was something that surprised a lot of people, me included. They were strong competitors to all the teams, even Russia who won it all.
They went to overtime with both Sweden and Russia. And lost by one goal against USA in their first game of the tournament. Both goalies were very solid throughout the tournament. The defense was stable and very mobile. Forward core was excellent as well. Yet, there were some stretches during the group stage where it seemed they couldn’t score even into the open net. They finished seventh with a 7-5 win over Switzerland in the final game.
For Slovakia I have chosen four standout players. Those four include three forwards Matej Kašlík, Oleksii Myklukha and Martin Chromiak. And the fourth is very young 15-year-old defenseman Šimon Nemec.
But first, a little bit about couple of guys who were solid but not quite standouts. First, defenseman and captain of Slovakia, Samuel Kňažko. He showed great improvement in past couple of months since the U18 World Championship. During that tournament, he did a lot of mistakes and he wasn’t good at all. He had solid tournament this time. He was playing first pairing minutes, including time on the penalty kill and on power plays. He was a solid presence in the defensive zone.
The second one was second line right winger Jakub Kolenič. He showed great playmaking abilities and technicality in difficult situations. Kolenič led the team in assists with four. He was one of the best Slovak players throughout the tournament but he wasn’t that much of a standout in my eyes.
Let’s go to mentioned standouts! I will start with my favorite player of this tournament. Oleksii Myklukha was the top line center and is a very good 2021 NHL Draft prospect. He was exceptional during this tournament showcasing excellent two-way abilities, vision and creativity. He is smallish (5-10, 154) but he was strong on the puck in his own zone and dangerous in the offensive zone as well. Great transitional plays made his presence known for people who were watching. He always read the play well and either created a scoring chance or scored. He is very nice player to watch in his own zone as well. He showed us exactly how centers or forwards in general should play in the defensive zone. And that is exceptional for player this young. He was very effective in every aspect of the game. They are in for a treat in Rouyn-Noranda in QMJHL where he is going to play the 2019-2020 campaign.
Next standout was right-handed left winger Martin Chromiak. Many people considered him to be the best player for Slovakia during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The 16-year-old 2020 NHL Draft prospect showed very good offensive skills and speed. He also showcased both goal-scoring and playmaking ability. He was a perfect fit with Myklukha on the top line, being the physical presence as well as an offensive threat. What he showed throughout the tournament again and again was ability to find spots, and he used them for his quick shot. His understanding of the offensive zone and where his linemates are and would be is amazing. On the clip below is a little example of his speed and skill on a breakaway goal. He will be staying in Slovakia for the 2019-2020 season and will hopefully play on Dukla Trenčín’s roster in Tipsport Liga.
Last forward on my standout list is Slovakia’s second line left winger Matej Kašlík. He is very fast and a good skater who created a lot of his chances with proper usage of his speed on breakaways. The Malmö Redhawks prospect has shown in the past that he likes to use his speed. But even I was really surprised about how fast he was during this tournament. He led the Slovak team with three goals in four games and had four points in total. On top of his speed, he has shown beautiful puck skills and determination. Below is a clip of his first goal of the tournament against USA on a breakaway which shows all of those things. Also note that player I mentioned before, Jakub Kolenič, was the one who created the zone exiting pass to Kašlík.
The last player I will talk about in detail is the youngest member of the squad and that is Šimon Nemec. He played top-four minutes for Slovakia throughout the tournament. And he also played on the penalty kill and was very good for his age. There were some mistakes, but other than that he was hanging in there with guys two years older than him. He is a smooth two-way defenseman who understands all three zones in a great way. Especially his zone exits were nice to watch. He had puck on his stick at all time. And when he decided to pass it to his forwards or defensive partner, it was with precision and accuracy. He did an amazing job in defensive zone for his age. Having great positioning and defensive awareness did most of his work – it’s seen in this example below. There is a lot of time to grow for this kid, for sure. But the 2022 NHL Draft crop of Slovak players is starting to look very promising!
All in all, a great tournament for this young group of players. There were some mistakes from defenders that resulted in goals against but overall a very good performance! It will be interesting to see where this team goes during this year!
Thanks for reading my recap of Czech Republic and Slovakia at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the tournament.
Samuel Tirpák (@SammyT_51)