2021-22 Team: HC Energie Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic)
Date of Birth: April 14, 2004
Place of Birth: Kadan, Czechia
Ht: 6-foot Wt: 172 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 first-year eligible
There are not many high-end Czechia prospects in this draft, but Jiri Kulich is definitely one of them. In fact, the last time Czechia had a first-round pick was when the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche selected Filip Zadina and Martin Kaut 6th and 16th respectively in 2018. Even this year, the newly-named nation may not boast a first- round pick as Kulich is ranked all over the place from as high as 18th to as low as 41st. However, most of those other rankings were released before the 2022 Under-18 World Championship in Germany, a tournament in which he dominated.
Related: THW 2022 NHL Draft Guide
While the Czech Republic failed to earn a medal, Kulich did all he could to lead his team to greatness. Leading the way with nine goals and 11 points, he scored one more than American Rutger McGroarty and three more than 2023 generational superstar Connor Bedard. Some may point to seven of the goals being scored on the power play, but that just shows how lethal a shooter he will be with the man advantage when he makes it to the NHL one day. The minus-6 does not look too flattering either, but as we all know, that is a flawed stat when judging a player’s defensive play.
There’s no doubt that Kulich’s stock rose after the U18s. When you score nine goals in six games, you get noticed, even when seven of those are on the power play. In the game against Team Canada, a squad full of future first-round picks in 2022 and a couple of 2023 elite talents in Bedard and Adam Fantilli, he stood out as one of the best players on the ice. In a high-scoring affair that saw both teams score a combined 11 goals, he recorded a hat trick and four points overall, including the game-winner in overtime on, you guessed it, the power play. All three of his goals were scored in different ways as the first was a wrist shot, the second a one-timer and the third a snapshot off a missed shot by Tomas Hamara. He also showed great anticipation on Czechia’s fifth goal as he intercepted a pass by David Goyette and fed Eduard Sale to tie the game 5-5.
All in all, that game against Canada was Kulich’s best of the tournament, as he showed that he could hang with some of the best in his draft class. He also scored two goals against Team USA, two against Switzerland and two against Germany. Unfortunately, he could not cap off his brilliant performance with a medal as he went scoreless in the bronze medal game that saw his team fall 4-1 to Finland.
In addition to his accurate shot and one-timer on the power play, Kulich has soft hands and a tremendous work ethic along the boards where he is often seen fighting tenaciously for the puck. Scouts also love the speed and pace that he generates off the rush through his skating and the fact that he rarely gives up on a play. His ability to score in a variety of ways was also something Will pointed out in a recent Scouching Report, along with his well-rounded two-way game. The way he creates passing lanes while entering the zone and in the slot was something Josh Tessler over at Smaht Scouting loved about his game as well.
Motor, work ethic, or whatever you want to call it, Kulich has it in spades. Once he grows into his 6-foot frame and adds some muscle, he could become a dominant Swiss Army knife type of center in the NHL that is hard to defend against in every zone on the ice. Since he’s unpredictable in the way that he creates chances and scores goals, he could be a nightmare for opposing defences and goaltenders. His hockey IQ and anticipation both offensively and defensively should also serve him well in his pursuit of NHL employment, as teams are always looking for two-way centers who can make a difference in their bottom-six.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Jiri Kulich – NHL Draft Projection
Before his standout performance at the U18s, Kulich was ranked by some to go early in the second round. Now, that may change, as he showcased some first-round talent multiple times throughout that tournament. Not just against the lower-ranked teams either, but against high-powered squads like the Canadians and Americans too. As such, he could see a jump in many draft rankings before the 2022 Draft gets underway in July. I know in my next edition, he will be most likely in the lower 20s. With his skill set, work ethic and potential to be a solid top-nine center, I could see an NHL team like the Arizona Coyotes (who have a couple of late first-round picks) take a flyer on him.
“In the slot is where Jiří Kulich truly shines. He constantly thrives at netting open ice in the slot and keying up passing lanes for his forwards along the boards. Sometimes when entering into the offensive zone, if he is the F1 / the forward entering into the zone with possession of the puck, he looks to pass the puck initially to someone else via a well-timed drop pass and then shift around or the boards to the slot to establish passing lanes. ” – Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting
Kulich’s puck protection abilities have also stood out. He is not the most precise handler in the draft; the puck has a tendency to escape him when he tries to dangle through neutral zone defences at full speed. Learning to work both his feet and hands at the same time and independently will be a development goal for him. That said, if he gets a step on a defender – good luck catching him. Not only is he faster than most, but his combination of coordination, strength, and balance allows him to absorb and escape defenders pressuring his back ”- David St-Louis, QMJHL Scout – EP Rinkside (from ‘U18s Notebook: The rising stock of Jiří Kulich ‘, EP Rinkside4/25/22).
“He [Kulich] always plays with a ton of energy and he has a strong motor offensively. He was extremely noticeable with his reads away from the puck, as he was always a factor on the forecheck and made smart plays in the neutral and defensive zone. ” – Peter Baracchini, The Hockey Writers
“… He’s [Kulich] sturdy. I was impressed by his positioning off the puck (always in the right spots within the structure / flow of play). He did a good job taking pucks off the wall to the inside. And then he pounded one-timer after one-timer into the net on a Czech power play that looked unstoppable until the bronze medal game. Love his drive. Good skater. Quick release. Hard shot. Some creativity in possession. Soft hands. Broke a couple ankles. Great feel around the net ”- Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (from ‘Wheeler: U18 World Championship notebook, quotes, and tournament all-star and MVP ballot’, The AthleticNHL5/2/22).
- Work ethic
- Hard one-timer on the powerplay
- Good at protecting the puck
- Two-way game
- Good anticipation in both the offensive and defensive zone
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Needs to build up his strength
- His hands need to catch up to his feet
- Consistency in his overall game
If he hits his ceiling, Kulich could become a good two-way second-line center like Bo Horvat. However, that’s at his highest potential. Even if he does not get there, his hockey IQ, work ethic and ability to create opportunities for himself in every zone on the ice should make him a very good third-line pivot in the NHL one day. As we all know, you need those types of players to win Stanley Cups. Just look at the impact Yanni Gourde and David Bolland had on their respective victory championship runs in 2020, 2021 and 2010, 2013 respectively.
Risk – 3/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 7/10, Defense – 7/10
Awards / Achievements
Kulich won a plethora of awards at the 2022 U18s as he walked away with Tournament MVP and Top-Three Player on Team Czechia honors. He was also named to the All-Star team alongside Logan Cooley, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Lane Hutson, Hugo Havelid and teammate Tomas Hamara. However, the biggest one he wanted to win slipped through his fingers, as Finland took the bronze medal and Czechia finished off the podium in fourth place. Even though he was held off the scoresheet, he did all he could in the bronze medal game with a team-leading seven shots on goal, while no other forward could generate more than three.
On the league side, Kulich scored the most points by a junior in the Czech Extraliga, finishing with nine goals and 14 points in 49 games with HC Energie Karlovy Vary.
Jiri Kulich Statistics
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube and is the co-host of The Hockey Writers Podcast & Western Centric Podcast.