If you are a fan of this game like I am, the World Junior Championship gives you the best chance to enjoy the game in its purest form; played with national pride on the line by talented young men with passion and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win gold for their nation.
It is also a time were the cream of the crop in terms of pre-NHL prospects tend to get some mainstream exposure in the media.
The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship also tends to have some strong draft eligible talents to keep tabs on and that is the case again this year in Finland, starting with the host countries dynamic duo of wingers Jesse Puljujarvi of Karpat and Patrik Laine of Tappara, both in the Liiga, the top men’s league in Finland.
Puljujarvi and Laine have been neck and neck in the 2016 draft rankings for most NHL teams and independent lists, and this might be the chance one of them needs to really stake claim to be declared the 2016 draft’s top Finnish prospect. Both will have important roles in the Finish offensive and the opportunity to present their case, should be fun to watch play out.
The Americans bring the draft’s undisputed top prospect in center Auston Matthews. He will be a top-line player for the USA at this event and many eyes will be affixed to his on-ice play as well as off-ice activities, as the Arizona native plays a little out of sight for the media as a member of the Zurich Lions in Switzerland’s top league during regular season play.
The USA could also boast gritty, hardworking winger Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights and pace-setting defenseman Charlie McAvoy of Boston University. Both have a strong chance to crack the roster heading to Finland and play significant roles despite being underage participants in a 19-year-old’s tournament.
Next is Sweden’s contingent of strong forwards Carl Grundstrom of MoDo and Rasmus Asplund of Farjestad, both playing regularly against men in their own country. Each have been playing with the U20 national team all season and could see some important minutes, Asplund as a two-way guy and Grundstrom in more of an offensive role.
The Canadians have the drafts top rated blue liner Jakob Chychrun attending their pre-tournament camp and he has a decent chance to make the squad, contributing in all roles. Big forward Julien Gauthier, who was invited to the summer evaluation camp and made a good impression on Hockey Canada brass, has a very good shot of playing a bottom-six role as an underager.
Then there are a few draft eligible prospects that might not be the big headliners but have a chance to make some noise in this tournament, if given the chance, and really turn some heads such as goal scoring Alex DeBrincat who could make team USA, the NTDP’s dynamic offensive forward Clayton Keller also on the preliminary list for team USA.
Prospects like puck-moving defender Filip Hronek and playmaking winger Simon Stransky of the Czech Republic, two-way defenders Olli Juolevi and Jesper Mattila of Finland, Alexander Nylander, who would be dynamite teaming up with brother William for Sweden, Slovakia’s small but skilled offensive spark plug winger Samuel Solensky, and two-way forward Pierre-Luc Dubois of Canada could all really make an impact if they make their nations final rosters.
FIRST TOP-100 REVEALS LACK OF OVERALL DEPTH
As we at Future Considerations gathered our evaluators opinions on who should be included in the December rankings and where they stand in our first top-100 release of the season, one thing became clear. This draft lacks depth and in some regional cases high-end talent.
Our Western Canada evaluators, Quebec evaluators, Mid-West USA evaluators and even Swedish evaluators are all coming back with the same message: “This seems to be a down year for draft talent in my region.” Leagues like the Ontario Hockey League are producing solid talent, but the other leagues are missing a little shine.
Because of this we fully expect the names of numerous second and third-year eligibles to be called come June. There are always future NHLers in every draft class so now comes the time for scouts to really work for their paychecks and dig deeper to find them.
Join me again next month as ‘Directors Cut’ continues to take a look at more NHL draft prospects and news.
Director of Scouting