WJC: Budik hopeful his play will lead to contract with the Sabres

January 2, 2018

The 2018 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship rolls along on Tuesday with the quarterfinal round set to begin at 12 p.m. at KeyBank Center and HarborCenter.

One of the stand-out teams from the preliminary round was the Czech Republic, who went 3-0-0-1 in four games with wins over Russia, Belarus and Switzerland. Even after losing to Sweden, the Czechs still finished second in Group B, and will face Finland in the first quarterfinal game of the day.

The Buffalo Sabres have one prospect suiting up for the Czech Republic in this tournament, and has become one of their key pieces to the blue line.

2016 fifth round pick (130th overall) Vojtech Budik has been impressive for the Czechs in their first four games of the tournament. Budik has three assists, four shots on goal and a plus-2 rating while averaging 19:50 of total ice-time. In his second career World Juniors tournament, this year's event for Budik has been everything he could have hoped for.

"I think it has been a good tournament for me," Budik said following Sunday's 6-3 win over Switzerland. "We have our nine points in four games, so I think it was the most points we've recorded before the [playoffs]. We are satisfied for sure, but we have to continue to [prepare] for the next game."

Last year, Budik was a late call up to the Czech national team when the tournament was held in Canada, but did not register a point in two games played. This year, Budik has been an important piece to the Czech blue line, and is getting the chance to showcase himself in front of the Buffalo faithful.

"I think it's good for me because everyone is watching me in Buffalo. Managers, coaches, scouts. It's good for me to play in front of Buffalo Sabres fans too," Budik said.

"He's enjoying the time here, and he's really glad that we moved out of the basic group and finished like this with nine points," Czech head coach Filip Pesan said of his 19-year old defenseman. "He's helping me out a lot, and he's going to be one our best players in the quarterfinals.

"He's better every day. We can really count on him because of the way he plays. It shows the system we want to play."

Budik's play has increased every game for the Czechs, and has played an average of 21:21 over the past two games playing on a defensive pairing with Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Libor Hajek. On Saturday, Budik played, perhaps, his best game of the tournament with two assists in 21:16 of ice-time in a 6-5 win over Belarus.

"I had two assists, made some good passes too," Budik said. "I think it was the best game for me, but for the team probably not. Our best game was probably today (against Switzerland), for sure."

Budik has spent the past three seasons in the Western Hockey League playing with the Prince Albert Raiders, collecting six goals and 53 points in 158 combined games. This season, the Raiders have been in the thick of the WHL playoff race after finishing as one of the worst teams in the league. Budik has been a big part of Prince Albert's play with his strong two-way defensive play, and feels that his overall play has improved since being drafted by the Sabres.

"I think I improved my defense for sure," Budik said. "My coach in Prince Albert, Dave Mason, told me I have to play more defense, move the puck, make good passes, move my legs too. I think I've improved my defense the most."

The Sabres have yet to sign Budik to an entry-level deal since he was drafted at the 2016 NHL Draft. Buffalo will have until June 1st to sign Budik before he is eligible to re-enter the NHL Draft.

In his exit meeting with the Sabres before heading back to Prince Albert this season, Budik knew he had some work to do with his game as he hopes to sign a contract with the team at some point before June.

"[The Sabres] wanted me to play good defense, be aggressive behind and in front of the net, make good passes, [work on] skating, and to shoot more," Budik said.

With Budik's play at this year's World Juniors, and if he continues to play well in the WHL, those dreams of signing a NHL contract with the Sabres may come true.