For only the second time since joining the top pool of the World Junior tournament the country of Slovakia received a medal. They upset the Swedes in the bronze medal game to attain the 2nd bronze medal for the country and match the 1999 team for the highest finish in a World Juniors in the country’s history. While the 2015 year was a successful one for the Slovakians, that was last year and this is this year.
The World Junior tournament resembles many college sports in terms of the turnover the teams experience. Also similar to college sports the bigger teams and more traditional powers seem to have a smoother turnover as opposed to other teams. Traditional power teams like Canada, Russia, the United States and Sweden seem to just roll out strong rosters on a consistent basis, while other teams can struggle with continuity. Slovakia isn’t a traditional power and suffer from this problem. This team may have their hands full to medal in back to back years due to that turnover. Only 4 members from the previous years team will return and will be asked to shoulder the load to carry this team and help the inexperienced players adjust as quickly as they can. They also have no NHL players joining the roster and only a handful of CHL players which could hurt the talent of this team.
There are no returning starters in goal but the Slovakians do feature New York Rangers prospect Adam Huska and draft eligible David Hrenak. They are joined by undrafted Stanislav Skorvanek but it should be Huska asked to guide this team into the medal rounds. The strength of this team could be on the backend with the Christian Jaros returning from last years team and will be the captain. The Ottawa Senators draft pick will be joined by fellow returning player Erik Cernak who was drafted by the LA Kings and current Erie Otters Defenceman. Both players have great size at 6’4” and around 205 pounds and will have to be key factors if Slovakia is too end up in the Gold or Bronze medal game.
The rest of the D core will come from HK Oragne of the Slovakian league who are coached by the returning coach of Slovakia for the 5th straight year Ernest Bokros. The Forwards also having 2 returning players; Matus Sukell will wear an ‘A’ and be joined by Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Radovan Bondra from the previous years team. Along with them are draft eligible prospects Boris Sadecky and Filip Lestan. Many of the other forwards are undrafted players from UK Orange 20.
Here are the positives for Slovakia; they are in the weaker of the two divisions and should take advantage of the potentially lighter schedule. They avoid vaunted Canada, a good US team and Sweden in the preliminaries and won’t have to see any of those team unless they advance to the medal rounds. They also return two good defencemen and if they aren’t played as a pair they could eat a substantial amount of minutes for the backend and take pressure off the rest of the group. Lastly many of the players on this team come from the HK Orange 20 team so chemistry and adjustments to unfamiliar teammates shouldn’t affect this team like it could with other teams in a short term tournament format.
Slovakia can push for a medal but in order to get to a medal game they will have to eventually beat a strong team from the opposite division like Canada or the United States. Getting to the medal round should be a reasonable goal but getting to a medal game might be too tall a task for this group.