Typically, the IIHF World Junior Championship is an event of previously drafted 19 and 20-year-olds that are lucky enough and skilled enough to represent their respective countries at the top U20 event on the hockey calendar.
But there is always a handful of elite draft eligible prospects that make this grand stage and enjoy the limelight of playing in front of hoards of NHL types, media as well as the general fan that looks forward to this event each holiday season.
There’s plenty to look forward to from a draft perspective. The 2014 event looks to have a strong contingent of draft eligible participants.
Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad may not have the flash of some of Canada’s other options on the backend but what he brings is strong, minute munching, dependable overall play at both ends of the rink.
He can play staunch physical defense pinning those flashy opponents along the wall, dropping down in front of shots and getting his big frame in lanes as well as making heady outlets and bring a strong one-timer option from the blue line on the power play. Everyone knows who he is but this could still be a coming out part for the big blueliner.
Sam Reinhart, widely considered the top draft eligible forward, can fill any role on this squad asked of him which makes him a strong candidate to represent Canada. If required, he can play the shutdown centre role staying with the oppositions best. He can man a spot on the PK as well as the power play.
With his ability to slow things down and pick apart defenses, he will undoubtedly provide some secondary scoring if he is not called upon in a top six role. Brent Sutter absolutely loves this kid and his high-end smarts.
One of two top end Czechs playing in Sweden this season, David Pastrnak looks to use his two-way ability and strong offensive skills to contribute to an underdog Czech team in Malmo. All will see Pastrnak use his slick hands, ability to think the game quickly and excellent shot to cause some damage against his opponents.
Jakub Vrana, the other highly skilled Czech national plying his trade in Sweden this year, has been royally inconsistent this year making little impact at the SHL level but showing some elite flashes in the SuperElit J20 league.
Vrana has the ability to take the puck end-to-end with dazzling dekes and slick moves but also disappears for long stretches. If he hopes to be a contributor to the Czech’s success he best find some consistency.
Ondrej Kase is the only Czech on this list playing in his native country this season and could be the one to make the biggest impact on fans and media types in Sweden. Despite his lack of playing time with Chomutov in the Czech’s top league this season and a recent undisclosed injury, if he can suit up in Malmo his speed and puck distribution which are his best assets will be on full display. Offensive play is not the only thing Kase brings to the table however as he works hard and tries to play a solid game at both ends.
The son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, Kasperi Kapanen could be given a large role with his Finnish squad as they look to play a high flying offensive game in Malmo. Look for Kapanen to utilize his speed, slipperiness with the puck and creativity to generate quality scoring chances for himself and his linemates each time he steps out onto the ice. He also has the shot and finishing instincts to make a real difference on the score sheet.
What a year Julius Honka is having in Swift Current. He is a point-per-game player for the Broncos and has worked to improve his defensive game as well. With his vision and smooth hands he represents the best puck moving option the Finns have on the backend and should aid their power play in Malmo.
Leon Draisaitl has taken his game to new heights this season in leading his Prince Albert Raiders offensively. He will look to be the top offensive catalyst for a historically stingy German team as they try to remain in the top grouping of the IIHF WJC’s. Expect to see Draisatl play a game where he can use his size to drive through traffic and protect the puck as well as utilize his vision and playmaking abilities.
An intriguing prospect, Ivan Barbashev looks to be one of team Russia leaders despite his age. Barbashev displays a very complete offensive game, combining physical strength with skill and intelligence to make him a threat each time he has possession of the puck. He is also a responsible defensive player who’s compete level is very high. He isn’t the most electrifying player but he is very consistent. Where he lacks elite level skills he makes up for in versatility and drive.
Anton Karlsson has had a hot and cold season this year as he has had some dominating games where he showcases his package of fluid skating, two-way skill, physical strength, solid vision and quick shot release while other games he looks lethargic and disinterested in the play as a whole. Sweden will hope that he can use his size and skill to help out as a bottom six forward who can add some solid defensive play as well as some secondary scoring.
Yannick Rathgeb is on the bubble to make the Swiss squad going to Malmo but if he does make the team he could be a real difference maker as he is an excellent passer from the backend with great mobility, transitioning the puck from defense to offense quickly and playing the game with that prototypical grit and work ethic the Swiss consistently bring to these short tournaments.
Another bubble guy to make the tournament in Malmo despite being named to the American’s preliminary roster, Anthony DeAngelo would bring an element that few teams over there could boast – a truly dangerous offensive defenseman. DeAngelo moves the puck up ice like not many others can in the entire age group but his problems defending bigger forwards and risky pinches make him a question mark.
Join me again next month as ‘Directors Cut’ continues to take a look at more NHL draft prospects and news.
Until next month, see you at the rink.
Director of Scouting
As always if you have any questions regarding the draft or its prospects, feel free to TWEET ME and I will do my best to address them in a future column.