Yesterday we looked at the teams in Group A of this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship. If you missed that one you can check it out here. Today we’re going to look at Group B. This group of teams include the hosts, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Belarus. It definitely looks to be the more competitive of the two.
Last year the Russians put on a good show in the elimination round but just barely made it there after a 3rd place finish in the group stage. In the end they fell short to the Connor McDavid-led Canadians. This year they’re back in full force! Leading the charge will be defenceman Ivan Provorov (PHI) and goaltender Ilya Samsonov (WAS). Returning from last year’s squad are the aforementioned Provorov, Vladislav Kamenev, and man mountain Alexander Dergachyov.
I’m not that high on the Ruskies, I’m just not convinced of their defence. Their forwards are as skillful as always with Guryanov (DAL) and Svechnikov (DET) but from what I’m hearing and reading, they’re just not being regarded as tournament favorites unless you’re talking to Craig Button. With that said, you can never ever count them out.
Bela-who? Honestly… Belarus has taken an eight year hiatus from the IIHF’s top U20 division. Can I be frank? This team is going to get their asses handed to them. The only notable player on their roster is a 6’7″ monstrosity named Stepan Falkovsky who plays for the Ottawa 67s in the OHL. Belarus’ best players aged out of the tournament leaving them bereft of any quality.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: You won’t miss Falkovsky. He’ll be the biggest player on the ice. He’s eligible for the draft this year so I imagine that will give scouts reason to watch him.
Notable draft eligible(s): Falkovsky…
After equaling their best ever showing at the tournament and winning a bronze medal in the process this breaking a 15 year medal drought, the Slovaks are back for more but this year but they’ll be without two key players from last year’s roster, forward Martin Reway and goalie Denis Godla.
Returning however are the hulking Radovan Bondra, Erik Cernak, Christian Jaros, and Matus Sukel. The offense will come from a player plying his trade in the QMJHL, Kristian Pospisil.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Erik Cernak(LA) is a beat of a defender. He’s very physical right-handed shooter. This will be his third World Junior Hockey Championships so the Slovakian team will be relying on him heavily.
Notable draft eligible(s): Krisitan Pospisil went undrafted last year but a great tournament and a solid year in the ‘Q’ could change thata quickly. Slovakia always has a player that makes some noise offensively, I reckon that player this year will be Pospisil.
The spotlight will definitely be on the hosts this year not only for being the hosts but they’ve also got two players who could go in the top 5 of the upcoming NHL entry draft, Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrick Laine. To add to those two are NHL/AHL loanees Kasperi Kapanen(TOR) and Mikko Rantanen(COL).
Last year the team had trouble scoring but that won’t be the case this year. The forwards are stacked! The defence will more likely be the team’s main weakness this year. The goaltending will be solid with Veini Vehvilainen and Kaapo Kahkonen. Finland’s goaltending is never in question, right?
Player(s) to keep an eye on: Vili Saarijarvi (DET), an undersized puck-moving defenceman that is getting ice time with the Flint Firebirds of the OHL. Might have a touch of the Kimmo Timonen or Sami Vatanen. Big time force on the PP though.
Notable draft eligible(s): Puljujarvi and Laine for sure. I’ve read that this is Finland’s version of Taylor vs. Tyler… Interesting. Both players are well over six feet tall and weighing in around 200lbs. I can’t distinctly remember Jesse Puljujarvi as a 16 year old in last year’s tournament standing out. He’s fast, he’s big and his shot was NHL last year.
There’s also a defenceman that is slotted to go in the first round of the draft, Olli Juolevi. He’s playing for the OHL powerhouse London Knights this year. He gets compared to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maata a lot.
It’s been over ten years since the Czechs won a medal at this tournament and in the twenty years since the split of Czechoslovakia the team has only won three medals. But things are changing for this country’s ice hockey program. More and more players are starting to come out of it including New Jersey Devils 2015 first rounder Pavel Zacha, Boston Bruins 2015 first rounders Jakub Zboril and David Pastrnak and potential 2016 first rounder Simon Stransky.
This year’s squad is a healthy mix of veteran players and 2016 NHL draft eligibles. Up in the air is the status of the aforementioned Pastrnak. The Bruins STILL haven’t made any indication as to whether he’ll be released or not. If he is loaned out to the Czechs that will greatly increase their odds of success in this year’s tournament.
The Czechs are still producing goalies like crazy. Vitek Vanecek (WAS) and Daniel Vladar (BOS) will be tasked with stopping pucks this year.
Player(s) to keep an eye on: You’ll find it hard not to notice Zacha. He’s very forthcoming in his style and he’s been on the radar since he was 16. The Sarnia Sting’s no.1 center can be a player that takes over games but it’s contingent on his mood.
Notable draft eligible(s): The Czechs will be taking over ten eligible players but the biggest name of them all will be Simon Stransky. He’s a little guy with big time skills. He plays for Prince Albert of the WHL.
So there you have it! The 2015/16 World Junior Hockey Championships are almost here! There’s no better feeling than watching the next flock of NHL superstars battling it out for their countries on the biggest stage. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year’s!