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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25: T-#17 Jiri Kulich

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of staff writers and over 600 readers that ranked Buffalo Sabres players under the age of 25 as of August 1, 2022. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player.

Next up in the 2022 Top 25 Under 25 series is the Sabres third first-rounder from this year’s draft, Jiri Kulich.

The young center has been immediately visible to Sabres fans thanks to his excellent showing for the surprising Czech team during the recently-concluded World Hockey Juniors when he helped his side get to the semi-finals.

It was just the latest feather in his cap in a year where he has been dominant in his age group, including a star turn during the Under-18 World Championship where he ended up being named the MVP, outplaying some generational talents who would go on to become 2022 first round picks themselves like Rutger McGroarty, as well as 2023 top prospects Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli.

Kulich has received plaudits not just for his shooting on powerplays where the majority of his goals have come from, but also his incredible work ethic on the ice. A fighter through and through, there is no quit in his game and he has the skating ability to speed away when he does win the puck in the corners.

Commended for his two-way game as well as his ability to score in a number of ways, the Kadan-born forward is going to give GM Kevyn Adams a bit of a headache on what to do with him for the upcoming season. Logic dictates that he should go back to the Extraliga in Czech Republic for the coming year having already signed his three-year entry level contract.

However, there is an intriguing possibility that if he makes a big enough impact in this month’s training camp that he might get a shot at playing his hockey this season for the Rochester Americans. Whether the 18-year-old will be able to hold up to the wear and tear of the grinding AHL is another matter, but that is a decision the Sabres will need to make. Amerks head coach Seth Appert certainly expects to have Kulich in Rochester next season, and has even gone on record saying that.

Josh Tessler over at Smaht Scouting is a fan of Kulich –

“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.”

Scott Wheeler noted in his U-18 Worlds diary –

“…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”

He still needs to get better at puck protection, especially when going through the neutral zone at speed, along with his building up his frame with muscle as he comes up against bigger and faster players.

Whether he returns to the Extraliga where he was the highest scoring junior last season or plays at the Amerks, the Sabres have a prospect on their hands who has a very high ceiling and the kind of work rate that Don Granato and the fans would appreciate.