Dvorsky, Sale look to lead their countries into contention at World Juniors
Much of the discussion surrounding this year’s World Juniors has encircled Canada, Team USA, Sweden, and Finland, deservedly so.
But Czechia and Slovakia are looking to take that next step and challenge the perennial powerhouses of the junior ranks, too.
In August, Czechia took a step towards medal contention, advancing to the bronze medal game of the 2022 IIF World Junior Championship. The Czechs upset the Americans in the quarterfinals but would fall to Sweden in their third-place match.
Czechia heads into this instalment of the World Juniors with a strong roster led by David Jiricek, the No. 6 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and FCHockey’s eighth-ranked prospect for the 2023 NHL Entry draft in Eduard Sale.
Sale starred for Czechia last year at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and World Under-18 Champi0nship as one of the most impressive players in both tournaments, scoring six points (four goals, four assists) and nine points (one goal, eight assists), respectively. Heading into his first World Juniors tournament, Sale will be the youngest player for the Czechs but will be expected to be amongst their top performers.
“I expect him to build a top-line duo with 2022 first-round pick Jiri Kulich of the Buffalo Sabres, just like they did at the last year’s Under-18s,” said Miroslav Simurka, chief European scout for FCHockey.
Sale hasn’t produced as well as expected this season playing with HC Kometa Brno, totalling only six points (three goals, three assists) in 26 games — but he could gain some confidence with a strong performance at the WJC.
“Sale slowed down in his production lately, and I thought he was not as good in my last viewing of him,” Simurka said. “He is still one of the most talented draft-eligible prospects, and I am sure he will drive the play at the junior level.”
Slovakia will be one of the youngest teams this year, with multiple draft-eligible players expected to play a role, none more than Dalibor Dvorsky. Dvorsky, No. 4 in FCHockey’s preliminary rankings for the 2023 draft, will need to be one of Slovakia’s driving forces if they are to be among the medal contenders.
In 2021, Dvorsky burst onto the scene during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, finishing as the tournament’s second-leading scorer with 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in five games, only one point behind leader Matvei Michkov. Dvorsky was also member of Slovakia’s entry in the rescheduled World Juniors in August, where he compiled a much more modest two points (one goal, one assist) as Slovakia failed to advance past the preliminary round.
“Dvorsky has an elite offensive toolbox. He could maneuver almost every aspect in the offensive game and is a player to rely on scoring points,” FCHockey regional scout Fredrik Haak said. “He has the hockey IQ, vision and always sees openings in a man advantage. His wrist shot is at a high level and giving him time and space around the circles is something opponents do not want to do.”
Complementing Dvorsky will be the second overall pick from last year’s draft, Simon Nemac (New Jersey Devils), 26th overall pick Filip Mesar (Montreal Canadiens), as well as 6-foot-4 center Samuel Horzek (2023 NHL Draft).
Horzek has been flying up the draft rankings since his season began with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. He has 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 31 games this season, with the size and skill that every NHL GM covets.
As Horzek hopes to break into the first round, Dvorsky is set on becoming another top-five selection for the Slovaks.
“He has acclimated well to Hockeyallsvenskan this year and has earned his time on the powerplay after being out of the roster at the start of the season. He worked his way into the lineup and is now stationed in the senior squad,” Haak said. “He still needs to contribute more at even strength, but with his skills and deadly wrist shot, he has made a good opening this year at the senior level.”