By Dan Stewart

DraftPro evaluators were excited to see the World U17 Hockey Challenge back on the schedule this season after a two-year absence on the hockey calendar due to the pandemic. This U17 event has traditionally been the best place to see all the worlds future talent compete head to head and get a baseline idea of the next couple of NHL drafts potential and depth.

Our Director of Scouting Jared Brown, Head Scout Matt Hnatiuk, and regional evaluators Joely Stockl, Tyler Karoway and Matthew Tucker all took in the games and made evaluations on the next wave of talent that will be in the spotlight for the 2024 and 2025 NHL Drafts.

In the first part of this seven-part series we highlight the seventh place Czechia squad that unfortunately were heavily overmatched with a minus-15 goal differential and no wins at this event.

#2 G, Jakub Milota, Czechia U17, 5’11”, 148, L, DOB 04.14.2006

“Milota had his work cut out for him, and frankly was the reason why Czechia didn’t get overly embarrassed. Lost track of how many breakaways or odd-man rush chances he saved. His competitiveness to keep battling incredible to watch. He plays a hybrid style, competes hard to make every save, and displayed solid positioning in his crease. Has good speed in the crease and able to stick with opponents on those breakaway chances. Stayed aggressive with his positioning and didn’t back up into his net. Nice quick reflexes. His athleticism and quickness in the crease are good. He did struggle with identifying high-danger cross-ice plays showing a need for him to read those plays better and be more explosive when moving laterally. Good positioning when on his posts, but a few times could’ve been exposed to wrap arounds. Consistently swallowed up shots into his chest and stomach. His rebound control on low shots was shaky. He’s not a big goalie but he combats that with good aggressiveness, quickness, and great battle level.” – JB

#5 D, Adam Jiricek, Czechia U17, 6’0”, 143, R, DOB 06.28.06

“Jiricek is a lot like his older brother David Jiricek, a fluid puck moving defenseman who is a force in his own zone. Jiricek doesn’t miss many passes, every breakout pass is sent with immense accuracy and power. When the team is working the transition game, Jiricek is the guy you want on the ice to settle things down and make reliable plays with the puck. He isn’t afraid to attempt difficult passes through opposing players either, there were many times in this game where he would pass through players skates in transition. When he has space on the breakout, he likes to make plays through the middle of the ice. In the offensive zone, he plays a quarterback role and makes the complex passes. He has smart decision making when he has the option to shoot from the point, he doesn’t shoot very often, but when he does he ensures his shot is a bullet. There was one play where he was able to analyze a clear lane as he received the puck, and decided to one time it towards the net. In the defensive zone, Jiricek is a solid body. He has the ability to keep players stationary in front of the net. Despite Jiricek’s smaller weight, he plays a big game and he is able to dominate against bigger players. He is difficult to go up against along the boards and he will pin players relentlessly. He isn’t afraid to jump out to block shots, but he ensures that he doesn’t allow himself to get out of position. Jiricek plays solid rush defense and rarely allows players to skate past him. He defends with an active stick. He’s a fluid skater, can get up the ice quickly when needed, but he never seems to overskate the play. There are a lot of early comparisons to David, his brother, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.” – JS

#3 D, David Svozil, Czechia U17, 6’1”, 168, L, DOB 03.07.2006

“Svozil stood out as Czechia’s most consistent skater. He’s a composed all-situations type of defender who can skate and move the puck up ice. There were many good things in his game, but nothing truly amazing. Great job moving the puck and initiating the breakout. Uses his feet to skate out from deep in his end while scanning over his passing options before making a dish. Excellent awareness and poise when in control of the puck. Skates with his head up constantly. A very smooth puck handler without being highly skilled. His outlet passing was met with good accuracy and consistency. Crisp passing and patience. Only time he struggled was when he was on his off-side where he elected to play the puck off the glass, resulting in a loss of possession usually. Quarterbacked one of Czechia’s PP units where he showcased good composure handling the puck in tight up high at the blueline, including walking around the PK forward to get a more dangerous chance in the middle of the ice. Outside of that, he rarely shot, and when he did, they weren’t all that powerful. Defensively he uses his range to play his man tightly and does a good job getting his stick in passing lanes. Svozil is a fluid skater who can coast around the ice with his effortless mobility. Skates with a good stride and skating technique. There’s a lot of fluidity to Svozil’s game which shows great maturity in his play. Looks to be a promising young two-way defenseman.” – JB

#6 D, Jakub Fibigr, Czechia U17, 5’11”, 154, L, DOB 07.22.2006

“Fibigr’s skill and game may not flash, but he plays a solid two-way reliable game. Played a ton of minutes alongside Czechia’s star defenceman Jiricek as well as a mainstay on the PK. Defends with good aggressiveness and uses his body to initiate contact in the dirty areas. Solid at boxing out the net front and not playing “soft” in front of his net. Hustles and gaps up tightly on his man below the goal line. Defended the cycle well. His puck moving skills are an area he should work on. Struggled to consistently make tape-to-tape breakout passes to his forwards. He made simple plays under pressure such as throwing the puck off the glass to escape pressure. I’d like to see him be able to transport the puck cleaner on breakouts either by using his feet or hands. Good offensive instincts. Picks his spots when to jump up and join the rush. Great job getting open backside offering far puck support to get a one-timer chance off the rush. Possesses a strong slap shot from range. Offensively he’s not very creative or skilled, but he’s got good awareness to fill into open spaces to receive the puck and get himself into offensive opportunities. Fibigr needs to develop an area of his game in which he excels, but you appreciate his reliability.” – JB

# 16 RW, Lukas Kral, Czechia U17, 5’11”, 163, L, DOB 02.03.2006

“Kral is an electric right winger with great offensive upside to his game. Kral is able to lose himself from coverage. His hard work and size enables him to be a great net front presence for his team. Though his offensive game doesn’t end there. Kral is able to beat defenders to the outside with his long reach and long strides and drive the net for a scoring chance. He’s also great on the forecheck. He uses his physicality on the forecheck to regain possession for his team and he recognizes which open space to attack when his team regains possession of the puck. He’s never flat footed and is always looking to be either a passing or shooting option for his team in the open space he attacks. Defensively Kral is fine, he’s good at covering his point and is great at transitioning the play out of the defensive zone. I would like to see him be more physical and hungry as he is in the offensive zone but that will come with development. But what caught my eye as well is that Kral needs to work on his neutral zone game. He really needs to make easier plays in the neutral zone to prevent turnovers.” – MT

#20, LW, Ondrej Kos, Czechia U17, 6’1”, 148, L, DOB 03.07.2006

“Kos is a player that I wasn’t really watching too much, but he had a great performance. The first thing that stands out about Kos is his incredibly quick feet. He is able to skate up the ice at full speed with the puck and he makes it hard for the defenseman to catch him. Kos is able to attack the middle because of his speed and his strong puck control allows him to keep possession. He has great footwork and it adds an adaptive element to his game, as he is able to use his edges to get him in and out of position. When entering the zone without the puck, Kos crashes the net hard and fights to get his stick free. He is very good at getting body position in front of the net and in puck battles.” –  JS

#19 RW, Adam Jecho, Czechia U17, 6’3”, 187, R, DOB 03.24.2006

“Jecho is looks like a man amongst boys on the ice. He was finishing his checks and making sure that the opposing players felt them. His physicality is a big part of his game as he’s almost a head taller than most players his age and like an older brother he’s going to hit younger brother every chance he gets. Jecho’s forecheck is very hard and with his reach and size advantage he’s able to knock away the puck with good stickwork or with his body. His upper body is remarkably strong as he can knock pucks forward with one hand on the stick and still is able to fend off others with the other arm. With his bigger body he’s a great front presence, whether be in the offensive zone screening goalies or in his own zone clearly bodies out of his own netminder’s sight. Jecho was out of position at times as he was on top of other Czech players when trying to break out, but when he got the break out pass, he’d quickly move up, scan the area and pass off once he dragged the defender away. Jecho was hard to knock off the puck once he controlled it, with his reach and strength to shield the puck. Jecho having longer legs, was able to take longer strides and glide while skating and could keep up with competition, although I never saw him stop (on pucks), he’d just circle instead.” – TK

#15, C Adam Benak, Czechia U17, 5’6″, 141, L, DOB 04.10.2006

“Benak is an incredibly quick, skilled, player in all aspects of his game. He is a very small player, but he is able to hold his own. He can catch defenders flat footed and burn past them with ease. (His is) able to manipulate some skilled defenseman. (He is) able to recognize a gap in the defense and find space between them. He attacks the middle of the ice with determination even though he has the speed to beat defenders off the wing. Playing with more patience would benefit Benak’s game as he tends to rush shots. He attempted quite a few sharp angle shots from deep in the corner, (and even successfully pulled off a “Michigan” style goal). On the backcheck, he doesn’t tend to use his speed as effectively. He doesn’t track the play very well defensively and he can get caught flat footed. Pucks can be passed through him without him being able to recognize the possibility of an interception. Benak’s offensive potential is through the roof, but because of his small frame and lack of defensive game, he doesn’t have the assets to be a 1st round pick at this time. He is an incredible offensive threat and he has the tools to be a lethal producer.” – JS

#17 LW, Adam Titlbach, Czechia U17, 5’7”, 141, L, DOB 02.15.2006

“Titlbach is an undersized skillful winger with good hands. His offensive hockey sense stands out in his ability to slow the play down to his favour when in control of the puck. Great change of speed off the rush to slow up and work a quick back-and-forth passing play. Good puck control and stickhandling through the neutral zone. Established controlled zone entries for his line. His skating lacks explosiveness carrying the puck, but he skates with solid stride technique. I expect his first 2-3 stride acceleration to get better as he physically matures and puts on more muscle to his lower body. Titlbach showed he could be both a passing and shooting threat. Showcased good patience and vision with the puck. Good accuracy on his passing and nifty backhand passes through his legs showing off creativity passing in tight. His wrist shot was his shot of choice. His shot wasn’t all that powerful but accurate and consistently got on net. Was good at shooting through traffic. I would’ve liked to see him be more hungry and competitive for the puck in battles. His motor could be better and something that should be stronger for a smaller forward.” – JB

#18 LW, Jiri Klima, Czechia U17, 5’9”, 165, L, DOB 03.17.2006

“Klima didn’t get involved on the scoresheet but his play without the puck, flashes of skill, and skating stood out. The biggest question mark I have for him is if he’s a two-way player or a skilled forward. Appears as if he can play both roles but he doesn’t excel in either area. Attacks the front of the net without the puck to cause havoc for the goalies’ eyes. Displayed good patience and controlled the tempo of the PP along the half-wall. Scans the ice looking for passing lanes in the offensive zone. Good stickhandler. Showcased a skilled 1v1 move off the rush to create his own scoring chance. This was where he displayed his quick hands and skill on the puck. An agile, quick, and smooth skater. He played with great pace all game long and used his quickness well away from the puck. Fluid edgework with quick pivots and turns. Solid puck battle engagement in the offensive zone, playing that “grinding” style of hockey. He’s average size and looked taller than what he was listed as for the tournament. He doesn’t play a heavy physical game. Klima fit in well playing alongside two of Czechia’s better forwards Jecho and Kos.” – JB

#22 C, Maximilian Curran, Czechia U17, 6’2”, 163, L, DOB 08.27.2006

“Curran had a good game and was relied upon a ton to take important offensive and defensive zone faceoffs. Flips his handedness when taking draws on his off side. He’s a big kid who’s got good speed and a solid 200ft game down the middle. Engaged in the defensive zone, applying strong pressure to his opponents along the boards. Doesn’t neglect his defensive duties and uses his long stick to disrupt puck carriers. Good hustle on the backcheck. Skates with long strong strides. It takes him a bit to get up to top speed, but once he gets going, he shows to have good puck carrying speed to transport pucks through the neutral zone and attack the zone with speed. He’ll want to improve his puck handling at full speed moving forward. Curran can make little small area plays with the puck which is needed against better competition. The combination of size, speed, and responsible two-way game is very intriguing to me. “ – JB