We’re less than two weeks until thousands of fans and hundreds of scouts alike will be filling the seats to watch one of hockey’s greatest dramas unfold – the World Junior Championship – in Ufa, Russia.
Future Considerations will have a handful of correspondents heading to Russia this holiday season but the rest of North America will be taking in the event from our living rooms. Scouting this tournament can be important as it gives evaluators another chance to see some of the high-end draft eligible talent compete and react while competing against the best in their age group. While it is a small piece to the overall picture of a draft season, it is a valuable one when taken into its context.
There are a handful of draft eligible prospects that will likely represent their country in Ufa and have a real chance to make the highlight reel over the holiday season. I thought with this month’s ‘Director’s Cut’ I would run though some of the draft eligible names to keep an eye on.
The much-hyped Canadian forward Nathan MacKinnon (Halifax – QMJHL) and his dynamic linemate Jonathan Drouin both showed us marvelous chemistry during the Super Series and all season long in the Halifax lineup.
Canada could use MacKinnon’s relentless drive and his all-round offensive skill-set coupled with Drouin’s impressive vision and playmaking creativity as well as the tandems instant offensive chemistry in a top-six role. MacKinnon looks close to a lock while Drouin might be a year away from contributing at this event despite his hot start this season.
Staying with the Canadian entry and big centre Sean Monahan (Ottawa – OHL) could slide in nicely on one of Canada’s bottom-six spots or even as the 13th forward as his versatility and maturity would be a strong addition to this squad. Dark horse draft eligible candidates include winger Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat – WHL) could play a hard-working role or add to the offensive punch and a guy who was passed over last season in the NHL entry Draft but has impressed early this season in winger JC Lipon (Kamloops – WHL).
Selfishly, if I could watch both MacKinnon and Drouin making offensive magic all tournament in Ufa, that alone would make my holiday season special.
The Americans will bring highly regarded and the potential top 2013 NHL Draft selection Seth Jones (Portland – WHL) to Russia as a key part of their back end. He will be a top pairing guy for them and act as a General directing traffic on the power play. Jones would have brought his strong two-way defensive game last season to the WJC if not for the shoulder injury that kept him out. Fellow eligible, centre Ryan Hartman (Plymouth – OHL), looks to be a long shot to make this roster but would add some sandpaper and scoring in a depth role.
Sweden, the reigning champions of the event, will likely have a few draft eligibles on the roster at this tournament with potential top-5 selection in centre Elias Lindholm (Brynas – SEL) leading the charge. Lindholm has been tearing up the SEL so far this season and looks to carry that impressive play over on the international stage. His draft value and media hype could see a big time spike after the exposure he gets at this event.
Joining Lindholm could be a few other potential top round draft prospects such as versatile power forward Jacob de la Rose (Leksand – Allsvenkan), scoring winger André Burakovsky (Malmo – Allsvenkan) and offensive winger Alexander Wennberg (Djurgården – Allsvenkan). Dark horse candidates to make the squad include defensive defender Linus Arnesson (Djurgården – Allsvenkan) and slick winger Nick Sorensen (Quebec – QMJHL).
De la Rose would be able to play on either the bottom two lines as a checker or as a power winger compliment to a couple highly skilled offensive forwards. Burakovsky and Wennberg would need to make the team in a top-six capacity and counted on to produce to be effective.
Finland, who looks to have a very strong draft crop this season after years of producing mediocre pools of draft talent, will have big draft prospect Aleksander Barkov (Tappara – SM-Liiga) as its top line centre. Barkov has been on fire to start his season and is one of the top scorers in Finland’s top mens league has made many pundits believe he will challenge for top billing. He’s returning to the event that saw him become the youngest player ever to score at the event last season – eclipsing Sidney Crosby’s mark set in 2004.
Joining Barkov will be big blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen (TPS – SM-Liiga), who will also play a prominent role for this squad in Ufa. His impressive size, extremely impressive composure and strong two-way skills will be on full display for the Finns.
Other wildcards who could make the U20 team include smallish goal scoring wingers Henrik Haapala (Tappara – SM-Liiga) and Artturi Lekhonen (KalPa – SM-Liiga) who both jumped out to a hot starts this season but has since cooled off a little. Big two-way winger Saku Salminen (Jokerit – SM-Liiga), little offensive dynamo Juuso Ikonen (Blues – SM-Liiga) and sleeper two-way defenseman Juuso Vainio (HPK – SM-Liiga) all have a shot to make the squad as well.
After a silver medal finish last year, Russia will be looking to recapture glory on home ice and hope some of their younger talent can assist in doing just that. Undrafted prospects such as big, skilled wingers Anton Slepyshev (Metallurg Novokuznets – KHL) and Andrei Sigarev (Dizel Penza – VHL) will both look to produce in prominent roles.
A couple wildcard defensemen who could make the Russian team include London Knights big man Nikita Zadorov (London – OHL), who has really been impressive lately as well as ornery two-way defender Andrei Mironov (Dynamo Moskva – KHL).
A few other draft eligibles such as big, fast and slick winger Valeri Nichushkin (Traktor Chelyabinsk– KHL), power center Bogdan Yakimov (Izhstal Izhevsk – VHL) and defender Pavel Koledov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl – VHL) could all make the squad in depth roles.
A few other high-end draft eligibles from other countries to keep tabs on include Slovak skilled centre Marko Dano (Bratislava – KHL) and a pair of skilled Germans in offensive winger Frederik Tiffels (Muskegon – USHL) and rearguard Tim Bender (Mannheim U18 – DNL). Czech defender Jan Stencel (HC Vitkovice – Extraliga) will be one guy that I am looking forward to seeing as he has many talents that would make him a solid draft prospect.
While there will likely be a handful more draft eligible to watch, these names are a good starting point to keep your eyes on, even if it is just from your living room couch.
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 email me at email@example.com and I will do my best to address them in my next column.