The Washington Capitals are set to get a first-round draft pick once again, and they’ll select at No. 20 in the 2022 NHL Draft. There are plenty of strong players in this year’s class, and also several needs the team needs to address with regard to the future.
Looking at the current state of the Capitals, one name that stands out is Jiri Kulich.
Kulich is a left-handed center and ranked No. 13 among all international skaters, and he is likely to go later in the first round. He had a breakout year in 2021-22, garnering plenty of attention thanks to an outstanding performance in the U18 World Junior Championships.
The Czech forward is known for his impressive play and versatility. Where he makes the biggest impact, though, is in the slot. Wearing the “C” for Czechia’s U18 team, Kulich dished nine goals and two assists in 11 games, with seven of those coming off the man advantage. Then, in all U18 international games this season, he went on to tally 17 goals and five assists through 16 games. He also had a hat trick to help Czechia top Canada in overtime.
— Future Watch (@FutureWatch_TV) May 7, 2022
Beyond his U18 performance, Kulich also impressed while playing top-6 minutes at just 17 years old in the Czech Extraliga, the highest-level national league, this season. In 49 games with HC Energie Karlovy Vary, he put up nine goals five assists and just four PIM.
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Thanks to a high hockey IQ and good vision, the 18-year-old is able to create plenty of open ice and find perfect passing lanes, and he reads the ice incredibly well. He is also a strong puck-carrier who can start the breakout in the offensive zone. Not only that, but Kulich can also rip one-timers and capitalize on loose pucks in front thanks to a good release and creativity. He is a proven asset on special teams as well.
Jiří Kulich (#25 in white) is so much fun.
Generates quality lateral passing lanes in the neutral zone. He uses his reach to extend the puck far enough to avoid turning the puck over. Then cradles the puck around David Jiricek in the slot before scoring.#2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/LTO4Ga8XPV
— Josh Tessler 🇺🇦 (@JoshTessler_) December 22, 2021
At the other end of the ice, Kulich takes good care of the puck and is a strong skater. He has good positioning and is able to read his opponents well. While the 5-11, 179-pound forward could add more size and physicality, his drive will help him as he develops.
Overall, Kulich is a strong two-way center who has succeeded at the highest level and risen to the occasion. He has good vision and hockey sense, along with an excellent work ethic.
With Washington needing more depth down the middle and Nicklas Backstrom’s career likely winding down, Kulich would be a great asset to have in the system. He has a lot of upside and can be a Swiss-Army knife type of player.