Czech centre Jiri Kulich has played himself into being a first-round pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Kulich comes in at 6’0″-6’1″ and weighs somewhere in the realm of 172-178 pounds. He is a pure centre who is fast, strong, and aggressively creates turnovers in the neutral zone. Kulich’s top skill is his work on the power play with his quick release and accurate shot. His power play production was on full display at the U18 tournament, where he scored seven power play goals and took home the most valuable player award for the tournament.
After scoring nine goals in six games at the U18s and taking home MVP honours, Kulich is drawing a lot more eyes to his tape and we like what we are seeing from his play in the Czechia men’s league.
Kulich is a very engaged defender in his own zone. He is the first forward back on most of the transitions into the defensive zone and that is key as he is playing centre in the Czech top league. He is disruptive to the opposition’s offence in-zone and uses both his stick and body to pry the puck away in board battles.
He also does a good job blocking shots and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to take away a scoring chance. Kulich really shined offensively in the U18s but also showed that he is more than just a power play specialist.
His defence is definitely advanced for his age and we liked what we saw in his ability to be responsible in his own end.
It’s great to see that Kulich is an adequate defender because he is much more than just adequate when it comes to his play in the offensive zone.
The best part of Kulich’s game is his shot — more specifically, his quick release.
Kulich finds open ice in the offensive zone and quickly makes teams pay if they leave him open for just a split second.
He is an above-average puck carrier who doesn’t panic when the puck in on his stick and a defender is closing in on him. Kulich’s ability to find open space is great to see at five-on-five but goes to the next level when he is on the power play. This was showcased by his hat trick against the powerhouse Canadian team at the U18s. He scored all three of his goals on the power play, including the game-winning goal in overtime.
His quick release is massive to his success and will be valuable for him to become a scorer in the NHL. Kulich generates a lot of power behind his shots and has one of the strongest shots we see in the upcoming draft.
Our projection for Kulich is that he could become a third line centre in two-three years. This would be great for the Canucks’ system because he would slot in behind Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. Kulich will need to continue to grow his defensive game to become an NHL centreman. He’s off to a good start and certainly seems strong for his size. The interesting thing will be if Kulich can get his playing weight up 15-25 pounds by the time he is 21-22 years old. If Kulich can add some strength, he could end up being an excellent third-line centre for an NHL team if he hits his offensive potential while being an average defender.
He will surely find his way onto an NHL power play at some point in his NHL career and with Kulich’s playing situation in the Czechia league, you might see Kulich over in North America sooner rather than later. The AHL is an appealing league for Czechia league players. I’d expect to see Kulich in North America for the 2023-24 season.
We expect to see Kulich slot in somewhere between 20-35 in this summer’s draft.
He’s a centre, has a great shot, and looks strong defensively in a men’s league.
Kulich’s nine goals in six games at the U18s isn’t the reason why he is a first-round pick but it surely doesn’t hurt his case.
We like the idea of Kulich being an option if the Canucks were to trade down from 15 to 22-28. There are a lot of defencemen and wingers in that realm and Kulich is a rare centre around this part of the draft. His position of need raises his value but with the Canucks’ prospect pool in the position that it is, Kulich would have to clearly be the best player available for the Canucks to pass on a defenceman for the Czechia sniper.
He has decent size, plays bigger than he is, has a dynamite shot, and showed well on the biggest stage of his young hockey career.
There’s a lot to like about Kulich and he shows a lot of potential to be an offensively dangerous third-line centre when he makes it to the NHL.
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