2023 World Junior Preview: Slovakia

Pat Quinn

2022-12-24

 

 

We are approaching the most exciting time of the year for hockey fans as the World Junior Championships are right around the corner. Brace yourself for the ultimate best versus best U20 hockey tournament in the world, as memories will be made to last a lifetime. 

This tournament will showcase talent from ten different countries, giving viewers a real look into the crop of players who will highlight the 2023 NHL Draft while allowing previously drafted players from 2022 to cement themselves as blue chip prospects. If we are lucky enough, we will see young players emerge as legends for their respective country providing hockey fans with heritage moments. 

Central Europe is slowly progressing into a prospect heavy region but let us take a closer look into a country who took the 2022 NHL Draft by storm: Slovakia.

 

Team Slovakia

22 players will look to improve on their 9th place finish last year. Here is the preliminary roster heading into the pre-tournament schedule for Slovakia.

Slovakia will be heading into this tournament with redemption on their minds as they will try to improve on their near relegation (so to speak) finish in last year’s tournament. While looking back on the numbers, Slovakia finished 5th in scoring efficiency, 8th on the powerplay, 6th on the penalty kill and dead last in save percentage. It is not hard to see why the Slovaks considered last year’s tournament to be a let down, but do not sleep on this team; They are much more rounded this year.

The most exciting part of Slovakia’s roster construction in this tournament are the key additions from the 2022 draft class, who will help insulate some of the younger players such as Dalibor Dvorsky and Martin Misiak. Slovakia will lean heavily on Simon Nemec, Filip Mesar, Samuel Honzek and Adam Sykora in all zones to provide a much needed facelift to the young roster we saw last year in the tournament.

Let us take a closer look at some of the notable players on Team Slovakia

 

Between the pipes

Matej Marinov, Fargo Force (USHL) – 2023 Draft Eligible.

Being kind of a shot in the dark on who will be starting in goal for Slovakia, my best guess is that Marinov will be the starting goalie to start the tournament. The young Slovak is sporting a tidy 1.87 GAA and .928 SV% in 12 regular season games with the Fargo Force of the USHL. Last year, Marinov played with HK Nitra U20 and was loaned to HC Topolcany where he performed quite well. He’s riding a hot streak heading into the tournament with 6 wins in his last 7 games with Fargo.

 

Defense

Simon Nemec, Utica Comets (AHL) – New Jersey Devils

The second pick in the first round of the 2022 NHL draft is arguably Slovakia’s most important player, as he will be leaned on heavily in every situation you can think of in this tournament. Nemec is a dynamic skater who will be asked to carry the puck in transition as much as he can while being the quarterback on their hopefully much improved powerplay. Look for Nemec to be in the running for top-defenseman in the tournament. 

 

Maxim Strbak, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2023 Draft Eligible

Strbak returns for his second crack at the WJC where he will be asked to showcase his offensive toolkit. Strbak performed extremely well with Jokerit U20 in Finland last year and has cemented himself as a solid prospect this year in the USHL. He currently has 12 points in 21 games and will most likely slot in right-behind Nemec in the pecking order. It will be interesting to see if Strbak will be asked to play on his off-side, as both him and Nemec are right-handed defenseman. 

 

Forwards

Alex Ciernik, Sodertalje SK (ALLSVENSKAN) – 2023 Draft Eligible

Ciernik is an excellent skater  who can beat defenders with that explosive speed. He is not considered the most offensively potent player but can make plays happen at full speed which is a very translatable skill, not only in this tournament, but in the NHL as well. Ciernik is a little undersized at 5-10 and 170 pounds, but he plays a rough game as he does not shy away from corner battles and works his way to the front of the net. Every team needs a player like Ciernik.

 

Dalibor Dvorsky, AIK (ALLSVENSKAN) – 2023 Draft Eligible

Dvorsky is arguably the most exciting player to watch on this team as he possesses an offensive toolkit that can make any scout salivate over. Dvorsky is an elite playmaker who processes the game at a high level while possessing a sneaky shot to boot due to his pro-like release. Dvorsky is an extremely confident player with the puck and will surprise teams with accurate seam passes out of nowhere. He tends to be a little too fancy at times but in these kinds of tournaments, I want to see these types of players come out of their shells and show us everything they have to offer. Dvorsky will be a threat on the powerplay as well, usually setting up at the right faceoff circle. Show me what you got kid, the world is watching.

 

Samuel Honzek, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – 2023 Draft Eligible

Honzek has been very productive with the Vancouver Giants this season with 17 goals and 43 points in 31 games. He is a big body presence on this ice and uses his frame to protect the puck. He is a high-end puck handler and will complement any line well with his combination of size and tenacity. His best tools are his vision and passing ability but lacks foot speed to really break free from defenders. Look for Honzek to be used in a scheme that enhances his best qualities, creating space and time for his teammates while being above-average in his defensive awareness.

 

Filip Mesar, Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – Montreal Canadiens

Mesar has been a bright spot for the Kitchener Rangers this season, posting 10 goals and 22 points in 17 games. The first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens is known for his speed, hockey IQ and motor. Mesar will run through a wall on the forecheck and is one of the more versatile players in this tournament as he can be used both on the wing and at center. He has improved his ability to attack the inside of the ice this season and it has translated into more high-end scoring opportunities while opening up new lanes to explore in the offensive zone. Mesar can be used in any situation with full confidence and will continue to show people why the Canadiens got a steal in the late first round in last year’s draft.

 

Servac Petrovsky, Owen Sound Attack (OHL) – Minnesota Wild

In a short tournament like the World Junior Championship, every team is looking for a reliable forward who can play a consistent 200-foot game while chipping in offensively; Petrovsky is that guy for Team Slovakia. While lacking elite-level skill, he makes it up in droves by being consistently one of the smartest players on the ice. He is the type of player who is always scanning for information which allows him to find open ice, support his teammates and play a defensively responsible game. These are “glue” guys and a coach’s dream. Petrovsky will find dead ice to receive passes from his teammates and will be leaned on for defensive zone/penalty kill faceoffs.

 

Adam Sykora, HK Nitra (SVK) –  New York Rangers

An Artturi Lehkonen clone? I say yes. Sykora is one of the more complete defensive forwards in this tournament and excels as a forchecking, disrupting other team’s defensive zone schemes while having enough skill to finish scoring plays. He lacks high-end finishing ability but will drive the play on any line he is placed on. Much like Petrovsky, Sykora can be used in any situation which adds even more depth to a core of players looking to emerge in this year’s tournament. He was one of my personal favorites last year and he’s an easy guy to cheer for. High-end motor, high-end defensive game and the willingness to get into the dirty areas is what Sykora is all about.

 

Adam Zlnka, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – Arizona Coyotes

Zlnka had a rough season last year, only participating in 10 USHL games with Sioux Falls. He is coming off an ACL and meniscus injury which is the main reason why he fell to the Arizona Coyotes in the 7th round. Prior to his injury, Zlnka was making a name for himself on the international stage, posting point-per-game numbers at the U18 levels. With that being said, Zlnka is known for having a solid combination of quickness and shooting prowess, which bodes well for Team Slovakia who is looking to improve their scoring efficiency this tournament. Zlnka played on the silver medal Hlinka Cup winning Slovakian team in his draft year where he kept pace with fellow countrymen Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec. He is a wild card and I am all here for it. As one might say, “don’t sleepa on Adam Zlnka”.

 

-Sasha Lagarde

 

 

 

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