Photo Credit: Aleš Bedlík
Scouting Report written by Josh Tessler
Jiří Kulich is a 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospect, who hails from Kadan, Czechia. He played youth hockey for the local club in Kadan, SK Kadan. Kadan is located right near the Germany border and the nearest major German town is Chemnitz, which is about an hour drive from Kadan. Kadan is located in the Chomutov District. After playing for SK Kadan, Kulich ended up moving over to the capital of the district, Chomutov and played for U16, U17 and U20 hockey for Pirati Chomutov.
Last season, he was loaned out to his current club, HC Energie Karlovy Vary and suited up in eight games for them. It was his first stint in the Czechia Extraliga. This season, he is back with Karlovy Vary, but he is playing full-time in the Extraliga.
On the international stage, he has suited up for Czechia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and is on the Czechia team at the 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton, Alberta and Red Deer, Alberta.
D.O.B – April 14, 2004
Nationality – Czech Republic
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left
Kulich’s Style Of Play
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. While he loves to look for ways, he can still rely on his stick-handling to move the puck himself to the slot. There are plenty of instances in which he managed to stick-handle around traffic in the zone with ease and then cut to the net. Check out this clip from the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament.
It’s not a one-off situation. Check out this clip in which Kulich managed to navigate the puck around fellow 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospect, David Jiříček, net open ice in the high slot and then shoots at the precise moment when he has established enough separation.
When he doesn’t have possession of the puck and is on the hunt for open ice in the slot, you will see him observe the attackers and their movements. If the attackers are puck watching, Kulich observes and reacts accordingly. He won’t deviate from course. Instead, he continues he pursuit to the slot, but ensures that he gets to his desired spot after the attackers back up far enough so that way the attacker isn’t threatening the passing opportunity for Kulich. Once Kulich obtains the pass, he does a one touch shot and has quick release that paves the way for a top shelf goal like in the clip below.
He has shown throughout his draft year campaign in both league play and international play that he can go to the slot, establish open ice and deliver quality quickly timed goals. Plenty of one-timers. Plenty of rebound tip-in back door goals.
While he does a great job getting to the slot and generating high danger scoring chances, his decision making can be an issue from time-to-time. Instead of quickly making a pass when a quality passing lane presents itself, he isn’t that fast and will instead hang onto the puck and get trapped into a three on one isolation. That same issue will pop up on two-on-ones in which the defender prones and Kulich waits too long. He decides to wait for a passing lane to present himself by skating around the defender, but as we discuss later, his acceleration can be an issue. With that said, Kulich should be looking to pivot around the defender and find a passing lane quicker.
His decision making also comes into question with his shooting selection from time-to-time. Sometimes he reacts too quickly. He will attempt to shoot from far into the corner when gaining possession of a loose puck, but at the same time, he had a passing lane to the slot that he should have exploited. Given the angle of the shot attempt, a pass to the slot would have given Karlovy Vary a far better chance of getting a quality scoring chance.
There are a few more areas that I would like to see further development in Kulich’s offensive game. I would like to see him work on capturing passes when on skating on the rush and entering into the offensive zone. When obtaining possessing of passes on the rush, he will struggle to maintain control of the puck in mid-stride. There are similar issues at times when he is looking to claim possession of a rebound at the crease but struggle to truly capture the puck. He will bobble the puck or simply just over skate it.
When in the slot and looking to maintain his positioning, he sometimes gets pushed around quite a bit. I’d like to see him more assertive when being boxed out in the slot. Kulich needs to push back and make it a challenge.
As we mentioned above and will mention again later on, Kulich struggles to get the right acceleration to chase after loose pucks that had been dumped into the offensive zone. He lacks the skating mechanics to out battle the attacker. Kulich has the ability to stay toe-to-toe, but he doesn’t have that push to increase his speed and a beat the attacker by at least a stride length. While he does lack the necessary acceleration to claim loose pucks, he is still very adamant on implementing the forecheck and will go behind the red line to engage in puck battles.
Kulich has outstanding defensive positioning. He constantly displays solid positioning in the slot and in the trapezoid. If his teammates are putting pressure on the cycle along the boards behind the red line, Kulich patrols the slot and looks to take away passing options to the slot. If his teammates aren’t putting pressure on the cycle behind the red line, Kulich steps in and uses shoulder checks to separate the attacker from the puck. When keeping an eye on the attacker working the half-wall, Kulich maintains quality pace and chases him past the perimeter. Sometimes he will play up closer to the perimeter and look to keep attackers in low danger by aligning himself to them and keeping pace, but doesn’t really do anything to disrupt the attacker’s puck control. In the slot, he doesn’t necessarily eliminate a passing lane in the slot, but stays aligned with the non puck carrying attacker. Kulich is there to neutralize the threat should the attacker get the puck passed to him. In the corners, he puts up a good fight in the corners behind the red line as he hangs with the attacking puck carrier and pushes into him to try to keep him in low danger. When defending after a face-off draw that he lost, Kulich does a good job staying aligned with the puck carrying attacker immediately off of the draw.
Like in the offensive zone, there are puck control issues that need further development but this time in the defensive zone. Sometimes he’ll lose control of the puck and his stick blade will go over the puck. The puck then goes behind the blade. That has led to scoring chances for his opponents.
In addition, Kulich needs to work on boxing out attackers in the low slot to eliminate high danger threats. There are consistency issues when he attempts to box out attackers in the slot. Sometimes he is successful and other times the attacker can fend him off.
Quick decision making and vision concerns are prevalent in the defensive zone. When receiving a breakout pass at the blue line and his back is turned to the attacker in the neutral zone, upon receiving the pass, he isn’t quick enough to avoid the attacker. Kulich needs to work on using his peripheral vision to identify an attacker, so he knows that he has to dodge impending pressure. Needs to work on using his peripheral vision to identify that his defenseman is looking to pass to him. Kulich didn’t identify that the defenseman was trying to pass to him and he didn’t net possession of the puck. Needs to work on his reaction timing to attackers finding open ice in dangerous areas in the defensive zone and work on adopting a power stride to go chase down those attackers.
Then again there are moments where I come away quite impressed with his decision making ability. When skating up the half-wall boards under pressure, he identifies when the attacker extends his stick and uses that as an opportunity to complete a lateral pass. The stick extension means that the attacker is re-adjusting his stick blade and Kulich has a window of opportunity where the attacker can’t steal possession. The extension also opens up a clear passing lane. In addition, when in control of the puck and doesn’t have a clear skating lane to exploit, he will quickly deliver a pass along the boards to a teammate along the boards and closer to the blue line.
While he does have some vision and quick decision making issues to improve upon, he does have a solid active stick. He does a good job of extending his stick towards the puck even with the puck carrier’s back turned to Kulich as they skate across the boards along the red line. His reach allows to steal possession. Kulich sneaks in and grabs a hold of the puck without much a fight.
Yet, there are moments in which he tries to use his active stick, but it doesn’t prove to be effective. Situations in which he was trying to trap the attacker along the boards, but extended his stick blade out towards the right instead of to the left to trap the attacker who was clearly skating up the left and not the right. I’m not concerned about this and believe that Kulich will improve his active stick down the road. It has been effective, but like every player on the ice that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. The instances in which it works is extremely intriguing and I believe that he can be more consistent with his preventative active stick down the road.
Kulich does have good reachability to grab a hold of a loose puck that he wasn’t mentally prepared for. He has excellent reach to grab loose pucks that he is slightly away from, swings the puck with his backhand and then brings the puck around his body back to his forehand to then completes a zone entry pass to his winger. Kulich’s reachability also allows him to push the puck further out from his body to avoid coughing up possession against heavy pressure like in the clip below. His reach at center ice prevents the attacker who is slightly behind him to get a hand on the puck.
But, as we’ve seen in the other zones, he struggles with consistency when it comes to puck security and reachability. Kulich needs to work on maintaining reach by extending the puck and continuing to push the puck when dealing with an attacker at the offensive zone blue line. Sometimes he will extend the puck but then shorten how far out he has the puck over time.
However, if that can be ironed out over time, his reachability will make him a strong stick-handler not just in the offensive or defensive zone, but in the neutral zone as well and that will only elevate his transitional play when on the rush. While we mention that it needs to be improved upon in all three zones, I want to make mention that its in neutral zone where he is far more effective with his stick-handling. He has the ability to drive the puck around multiple attackers and drive the puck into the offensive zone. It’s simply the consistency that holds him back slightly.
Like in the offensive and defensive zone, Kulich does a good job of creating a lateral passing lane in the neutral zone. Kulich’s ability to find open ice with consistency in all three zones just makes him an attractive commodity, but it’s in the neutral zone where it becomes a must and he fulfills those requirements at a consistent rate in the neutral zone.
If he is defending the rush in the neutral zone, he often can keep pace if he was already aligned with the attacker before the rush. But, if the rush comes out of the offensive zone, more often then not he doesn’t have the speed to combat the attack in the neutral zone. To make up for it, he will try to stick lift but it isn’t that effective in causing the attacker to lose possession.
Kulich does need to be more attentive in the neutral zone. If he sees a teammate coming into him, he needs to communicate and shift his positioning before he takes out his teammate (by skating into his teammate). I’d like him to use his vision more in the neutral zone, identify the puck carrier and put pressure on him. Instead he doesn’t really seem to track the puck that well. Kulich needs to work on reacting to puck movement at a faster rate. He skates into the neutral zone to put pressure on the attacker, but the attacker reacts by skating away and Kulich doesn’t react to that movement in time, so he’ll pivot further out from the attacker and lose ground on him. When reacting to loose pucks, his reaction time is slow enough that he either doesn’t spot them or finds them when he is too far away from them.
As we’ve seen in each zone, acceleration can be a challenge for the Czech forward. When skating back towards the defensive zone in the neutral zone and Kulich looks to keep pace with the rush even though he isn’t defending the rush along the boards and is skating through centered ice. He’ll lean on crossovers to keep up pace. You will notice that Kulich doesn’t always utilize lengthy skate extensions when skating up and down the ice. Instead when he’s on the move, he uses plenty of crossovers and shortened skate extensions. Uses a lot of crossovers when capturing a puck in the neutral zone at the blue line and netting the necessary acceleration to skate to the slot and try a shot at net-front. It’s enough acceleration to keep pace and be annoying defensively. It’s enough acceleration to fuel his rushes. But, when in control of the puck, he has to rely more on his stick-handling than straight line speed for separation purposes.
While he doesn’t have the power stride that you are looking for, most of the skating fundamentals are in good shape. He has quality ankle flexion. Knee lines with up with the toe of the skate. Ideally, I’d like to him bend his frame slightly a bit more and keep a lower posture than what you’ll notice from him on a consistent basis. By lowering his posture, it will only improve his ankle flexion and allow him to grow a power stride. If he starts to work on inserting lengthy extensions after implementing crossovers, he might garner the true speed to be effective on the forecheck, grab loose pucks and use the acceleration for separation from attackers.
I would also like to him work on his mobility and pivoting. Kulich needs to be cautious of dragging his skates too far away from each other and as that hurts his mobility and reach when going in for loose pucks in the neutral zone. When he is having issues with mobility, he can’t properly secure the possession of the puck. He also needs to work on pivoting after skating to a loose puck. Instead of completing a true pivot, he will complete the pivot on one leg (plant leg) but struggle with landing his inside edge on the non plant leg.
Honestly, the sky is the limit with Kulich. If he can become a far stronger skater and acquire a power stride, he can be even more dangerous. But, his ability to create ice for himself in all three zones makes him a true intriguing prospect at the draft. I could see second line upside as a center in the NHL or he could be deployed as a winger with an excellent playmaker on the top line. It just depends on how his development goes.
December 24, 2021
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
Looking for other scouting reports? Check out the Prospects tab for our other scouting reports.
Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!