Yuletide Youth

Posted: December 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Brittany Bell

Perhaps the greatest gathering of hockey’s future stars, the IIHF’s World Junior Championship is upon us. This year talent is abundant and hype surrounding NHL Draft prospects is reminiscent of the Gretzky and Crosby years. Who will be the standouts and who will emerge as champion? That is still uncertain, but I am going to preview who I think will make an impact in this year’s championship.


Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Team Canada
Powerhouse Canada is looking as strong as ever this year. After losing to Russia in the bronze-medal game last year, Canada is looking to avenge it’s somewhat sub-par performance. Leading the way will be top 2015 NHL Draft prospect Connor McDavid. Even after suffering through a broken hand this season, McDavid has put up some incredible numbers with the Eerie Otters and projects to be one of Team Canada’s top producers. Another player who looks to take Canada back to the top is nineteen year-old Sam Reinhart. After helping Canada to gold in the U18 World Juniors and going as second overall draft pick behind Aaron Ekblad, Reinhart looks to bring Canada back on track and win the tournament. Look for Canada to be a strong and skilled team this tournament, as I expect them to come back hoping for the Midas touch.


Team Russia
After defeating Canada in the bronze medal game last year, Russia looks to keep up its dominance this tournament. Although they don’t have as many standout players as they have in the past, they still will be a strong contender. Players to look out for include Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rinat Valiev, 2015 Draft Prospect Ivan Provorov, Vladimir Tkachyov, and Dmitri Yudin. I predict Russia will make a run for a medal again this year, but may face difficulty against other powerhouse teams.


Team Sweden
A country known for its highly skilled finesse players, last years silver medalists are coming back to the tournament with another championship-bound team. Look out for Oliver Kylington on the blue line. Eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Kylington is one of the top prospects because of his top-notch skating ability and playmaking skills. On the offensive line will be Jacob de la Rose of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. He is known for his leadership abilities and positive attitude, while being a great two-way player. He will be a big part in Sweden’s success this WJC. I surmise that Sweden will once again show their skill and go deep into the tournament.


Team Finland
Last year’s gold medalist, Team Finland, will be looking to defend their first place title at this year’s WJC. Julius Honka was selected by the Dallas Stars in the 1st Round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and will be solid on the blue line for Finland. Kasperi Kapanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins will also be joining the team after being reassigned to his Finnish pro club KalPa. Although he may not have been prepared for the NHL just yet, he is expected to put up points for Team Finland. In between the pipes will be Juuse Saros, a prospect of the Nashville Predators. Finland also boasts big winger Mikko Rantanen and the highly skilled Aleksi Saarela. Finland will be defending their gold medal this year, and with this squad will have a very good chance of doing so.


Team Slovakia
After falling to Sweden in last year’s quarterfinals 6-0, Slovakia is looking to reestablish themselves as a competitive team who can keep up with powerhouse countries. 2015 NHL Draft prospect Erik Cernak will be returning to Team Slovakia for the WJC. A seasoned veteran in the WJC (he’s been playing for the Slovakian team since he was 16 years old), he is a solid defenseman and Slovakia will look to him to lead the blue line and make hard hits. Although Team Slovakia lacks some of the power that some teams have, they still will be a good opponent and will win games this tournament.


Team Germany
Last year, Team Germany failed to make the elimination round of the WJC. They are hoping to rebound this year and be a contender for a medal. Muskegon Lumberjacks’ David Trinkberger will be an offensive defenseman for the team. He shined in junior hockey in Germany, and has been a top player for the Lumberjacks since arriving in the United States to play. He will be a great player for Germany with his poise and size, and will also be eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. On the offensive line will be Dominik Kahun, a quick skater who plays a smart two-way game. He will be helpful in moving the puck for the Germans. I’m not sure if Team Germany will make the giant leaps they hope to, but I imagine they will better their -17 goal differential and their 24 goals allowed.


Team Czech Republic
Team Czech Republic fell to last year’s gold medalist Finland in the quarterfinals last year. This tournament, they are hoping to push past the quarterfinals and enter into the deeper rounds of the WJC. Leading team Czech Republic will be Boston Bruins prospect David Pastrnak. Having played a couple games in the NHL with Boston, Pastrnak will be a highly skilled player for Team Czech Republic. With good hands, quick feet, and a quick shot, Pastrnak will be a driving force. Also on Team Czech Republic is top NHL 2015 Draft prospect Pavel Zacha. He will be a  contributor to the point totals for the team. I expect Team Czech Republic will put up another good performance at this year’s WJC.


Team Switzerland
After falling to Canada in the quarterfinals last season, Team Switzerland is still trying to find its rhythm. Without many top draft prospects Switzerland may struggle this year. One player who will help is Kay Schweri of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix. He is a stabilizing defensive force who uses his size and physicality to block shots and passes. He will be solid on the blue line for the Swiss Team. He is also eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Like I said before, I’m not sure if Team Switzerland will be a winning squad this year, but you never know, they may surprise us.


Team Denmark
New to the World Junior Championships this year is Team Denmark. This is only their third appearance in the tournament, and they are looking to establish themselves as one of the world’s top hockey nations. Like Switzerland, they lack top draft prospects and are still in their initial stages of building a gold medal team. However, shining for Team Denmark at camp has been the Winnipeg Jets ninth overall pick Nikolaj Ehlers. In the two exhibition matches the team has had so far, Ehlers has 5 goals and has been dominating on the ice. He was named the 2014 CHL Rookie of the Year after posting 104 points in 63 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, and already has 47 points in 23 junior outings this season. He will be a star for the Danish Team.


Team USA
With a short-lived run at last year’s World Junior Championships, Team USA will look to come back this year with force. Leading the team will be Boston University forward and Team USA captain, Jack Eichel. Eichel is putting up staggering numbers this season as a rookie— 8 goals, 19 assists, a +21 goal differentiation, and a 1.69 points per game average. He will be a key component in the US offensive lines. Team USA will also look to their goaltending to put them on top. Boston College goalkeeper Thatcher Demko will most likely be top goalie on the squad. He is a returning player for the team, so his experience and his so-far-successful season at BC makes him most prepared to lead USA to the gold. He also was drafted in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft to the Vancouver Canucks. I predict (and hope) team USA will go further this year than they did last, and can see them making their way to the gold medal round as they did in 2014.


The World Junior Championship kicks off this Friday, December 26th at 1:00 with Denmark vs. Russia at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. Other matches will be held at the Bell Centre in Montreal.


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