The World Junior Hockey Championships are almost here! It’s by far one of the best times of the year for any hockey lover. So many memories of hockey come from this little tournament. My all-time favorite being the year Eberle scored that goal to tie the game versus Russia and send it to OT. What about you?
Before getting into this year’s version of the World Junior Hockey Championships, why don’t we watch a little recap vid from last year. The year of Max Domi, Darnell Nurse, and none other than Connor McDavid.
Led by this generation’s version of the Bure brothers, the Nylanders, Sweden will be looking for retribution after losing last year’s bronze medal game to the upstart Slovakians. The Swedes will be a tough opponent for anybody coming up against them. They’re big, physical, and have moves like Jagr.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: The Nylanders, William (TOR) and Alexander (Mississauga Steelheads), are going to tear this tourney up. William has led the AHL in scoring at times this season and Alexander the same but for rookie scoring in the OHL.
Notable draft eligible(s): Alexander Nylander, Rasmus Asplund, and Carl Grundstrom.
Last year the Danes managed to take the Russians, the Swiss and the Czechs to extra time during the group phase of the tournament largely on the back of the netminder George Sorensen and the scoring of Nik Ehlers (WPG) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (CLB). They lost to Russian and the Czech Rep. but did find a way to beat Switzerland giving the team their first win in the U20 WJHC ever.
This year they’re projected to be cannon fodder for the likes of Canada, the USA, and Sweden.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Normally we’d put Nik Ehlers here but I’m uncertain of his status. So we’ll put his cousin in instead. Alexander True of the Seattle Thunderbirds is a hulking presence on the ice sitting at 6’4″. He’s putting up reasonable stats for Seattle (19 pts in 29 games) and he’ll be relied upon to do the majority of the scoring for the Danes.
Notable draft eligible(s): Matias From, Nikolaj Krag Christensen, and Daniel Nielsen. I don’t have much info on these guys but let’s be honest. How many of you are going to be tuning in to see the great players from Denmark? We’ll watch when they do something of note I suppose.
Ah the Swiss. They sure have come a long way from being the pinatas of the WJHCs. Now they are a team that gives everyone a helluva challenge. They always play a very defensive North American style that gives teams fits except last year when they were leaking goals like crazy. They managed not to get relegated after a two game series with Germany where they outscored the Germans 10-4.
This year it appears the team will be stocked with a few more veterans. Noah Rod (SJ), Timo Meier (SJ), Jonas Siegenthaler (WAS), and Pias Suter are on their way to Helsinki to prevent the team from falling into a relegation battle again.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Not Kevin Fiala. Nashville didn’t loan him to Switzerland for the tourney. But you can rejoice in watching the wrecking ball that is Timo Meier. Anybody that knows him from his play in Halifax knows that he’s a beast. He hits, shoots, and causes havoc.
Notable draft eligible(s): Nico Hischier is a 16 year old center who is eligible for next year’s draft in 2017. Hischier is already playing in the top flite in for SC Bern because he was dominating the U20 division. He’ll be the youngest player at the tournament. Some say he’s better than Roman Josi and Mark Streit at the same age… So we’ll see.
Team USA was stacked last year and couldn’t find a way to make it past the Russians in the quarter finals. This year will be even harder without the likes of Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Paul Bittner. They will however have goaltender Brandon Halverson, defensemen Brandon Carlo and Zach Werenski and the lock for first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, 18-year-old Auston Matthews.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Matthews of course. We saw glimpes of his brilliance last year but he was simply overwhelmed by the occasion and the competition. This year won’t be the case and you can expect him to dominate.
Notable draft eligible(s): Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Debrincat, and Auston Matthews. This is apparently the line that will lead the Americans in Helsinki and what a line it is! At the moment Debrincat and Tkachuk are destroying the OHL. Alex Debincat (Erie Otters) is 1st in goals (33 in 30 games) and Tkachuk (London Knights) is 2nd league scoring (14g 45a 59pts).
Team Canada ripped through the tournament with ease last year. The only real threat came to them in the gold medal game when the Russians mounted a serious comeback bid in the 2nd period. Canada ultimately held on to win the gold medals.
This year the team will be led by a new group of stars including Mitch Marner (TOR), Dylan Strome (ARI), and Matthew Barzal (NYI). Returning will be Joe Hicketts (DET), Lawson Crouse (FLA), Brayden Point (TB), and Jake Virtanen (VAN).
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Toronto Maple Leafs draftee Mitch Marner is going to electrify you. He’s got skills to thrill and I think you’ll see him battling the likes of William Nylander and Auston Matthews for the scoring crown. If you like gritty little guys that can wheel then Anthony Beauvillier and Travis Konecny are your guys.
Notable draft eligible(s): Julien Gauther (Val D’or) is a massive 6’4″ 225lb winger from Val D’or of the QMJHL. He’s already racked up 29 goals and 37 points in 33 games. This kid can absolutely fly out there. He’s got the speed, size and an NHL shot already. Look for him to make an impact.