While the rest of us break out the eggnog during the festive season, 10 nations will be competing in the World Junior Championship.
In what’s become a holiday tradition in itself, the World Juniors is one of hockey’s premier tournaments, especially for junior hockey fans around the world.
The scouting community also takes notice. Though the World Junior Championship is typically seen as a 19-year-old tournament, there is always plenty of draft eligible talent spread around the world. This year is no different and could boast the most draft eligible talent in recent memory.
Two of the top rated prospects for the 2012 draft will likely be representing the returning champion Russian squad with Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko likely playing big offensive roles.
Grigorenko will likely be back in the middle on this team’s second scoring line with former CSKA Moscow wingers Nikita Gusev and Nikita Kucherov, a threesome that have shown great chemistry at prior international events.
Grigorenko plays the game similar to Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin as he has a big frame, can handle the puck, protects it well and is a playmaker that also shows elite finish although he predominantly looks to pass first.
Yakupov will likely play wing on the top scoring line where the coaches will hope he forms a good connection with Washington first rounder Evgeni Kuznetsov, giving the Russians two elite scoring lines. Kuznetsov is the only eligible returnee from Russia’s gold medal effort a year ago.
Yakupov has really added elite playmaking skills to his repertoire this year after spending last season mostly hammering home one-timers from passes off the stick of Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk. It is that skill Yakupov brings that will likely play a large role as Kuznetsov looks to enjoy a dominating performance in Alberta.
Others who have a chance to make the Russian squad and play roles for the defending champs include big winger Nikolai Prokhorkin, who is a big rangy playmaker that is not afraid to get involved physically.
Also, the highly regarded draft eligible goaltenders that will likely battle to earn one of the two spots include Saskatoon Blades stopper Andrey Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski. The early frontrunner to become this team’s starter. Makarov has been just outstanding in Subway Series and league play with Saskatoon this season.
Vasilevski, who may be just invited to camp for the experience this year, is a good bet because of his size and potential to assume the starting role next season.
For the Canadian entry, the only lock to make the tournament roster looks to be strong two-way defender Ryan Murray. Although he is just returning to Everett’s lineup from a high ankle sprain, Murray brings a mature, all-situations ingredient to what looks to be a highly skilled Canadian team.
Murray has the ability to not only contribute strong outlet passes and quick transitions but also strong shut-down play in his own zone. Those qualities likely give him the advantage on all other draft eligible defenders to make this roster.
Another guy getting some attention lately that also has a better than average chance to make it on the roster is third year draft eligible Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts. He has been on fire offensively, leading the OHL in scoring this season.
Pearson is a strong positional player who has good size and offensive intelligence who seems to find himself in the correct space for numerous offensive chances a game. He is also a strong two-way player that plays all three zones well and wins most races to pucks and battles in the trenches.
Sweden possesses a true Tre Kronor or “Three Crowns” on the roster that have a chance to make a huge splash.
Top prospect and Leksand winger Filip Forsberg will likely be given a supporting role this year unless he plays himself onto a top line over the pre-tournament exhibition games. His blend of skill, speed and drive will be used well in whatever role he is given.
His countryman and Djurganden wunderkind, winger Pontus Aberg, will likely be given more of an offensive role on the squad as his impressive quickness, quick wrist shot and opportunistic nature are just what teams are looking for with their top six in a short tournament like this. He has been dynamic offensively in SEL play this season so he will probably nail down a lead role on this squad.
The other undrafted high end Swede, Frolunda winger Sebastain Collberg, will likely fill the role of 13th forward and slot in where needed for this young squad. Collberg has similar speed and shot qualities as Aberg but also a strong two-way game with grit like Forsberg possesses. He really can play anywhere on this squad and that versatility might be one of the big reasons he was selected.
For the Americans, there are three draft eligible’s on the camp roster but only one that has a shot at a roster spot. Cornell University stopper, Andy Iles, really does not look like he stands much of a shot with two former USNTDP stoppers battling him in Jack Campbell and John Gibson.
Small but skilled Miami forward Austin Czarnik likely has a better chance at getting drafted this year, his second go round, than he does at cracking the roster with some of the top draft picks he’s going up against.
Jacob Trouba of the US National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad will likely beat out his teammate and 2013 draft eligible Seth Jones as the only underage player on the squad. His role would be a sixth/seventh defender likely due to the depth of quality puck moving defenders available.
Trouba, if given the chance, would likely contribute on both sides of the puck as well as keeping opposition attackers honest with his ability to step up on them and deliver strong physical play.
One of the true underdogs of the tournament, Latvia, has a couple nice draft year prospects siuting up in Dubuque of the USHL power forward Zemgus Girgensons and Shattuck St. Mary’s prep product Theodor Bleuger.
Girgensons is a high end prospecxt who will be a first round selection next June andn his play will go a long way to determining how Latvia fares in the tournament. A power forward who skates hard and is hard to contain for opposing defenses, Girgensons is a hard working guy who also has some nice offensive skill to go with the high effort.
Blueger, a prospect that has really impressed with his Minnesota Elite League play past fall, is a centre with good size and excellent playmaking skills. His vision and offensive smarts are something that will perk the interest of NHL teams and should allow him to play a vital role as well for Latvia.
Finland has a good stable of draft eligibles this year led by London Knights OHL import Olli Maatta on the backend. Maatta is a safe all-round defender who will not often win the game for you but will not lose it either.
His blend of accurate passing, strong defensive positioning and overall heady play will have him in a top four role in Alberta.
Joining Maatta on the backend will likely be the offensively skilled Ville Pokka who is playing in the Karpat system. A bottom pairing role with some power play time will likely be what he sees on this roster.
Pokka is a sizable two-way defender who makes quick decisions with the puck that will pinch and add that offensive threat that can make a difference in a tight tournament. He too is a strong passer however the problem is his skating also leaves him out of position from time to time going the other way.
The Czechs have a few goods ones for the 2012 NHL draft as well starting with Halifax Moosehead power forward Martin Frk who just returned from a concussion that has kept him from playing for the entire season to date.
Frk played in the tournament last year and will look to expand his role and be a go-to performer both offensively and physically in Alberta. He plays a well rounded game, producing offence, digging and battling although skating has long been listed in his deficiencies.
Joining Frk on the Czech squad and in the draft rankings this year is Kitchener Rangers import Radek Faska who has made those Rangers fan who might be missing Gabrial Landeskog get over it a little easier.
Faska has led OHL first year players in Points this year with his impressive blend of size, skill and mobility that have NHL scouts flocking to the Aud again. Faska might not have a huge role in Alberta but he has the ability to step up when/if called upon.
Coming over with the majority of the roster, Slavia Praha product Tomas Hertl, is centre who has been tearing up the Czech league this season before running into some injured issues.
The big, hard to knock off the puck, playmaking forward will likely be asked to play a similar role for the team in Alberta. NHL scouts will be flocking to see his game as his viewings have been limited this season.
One prospect whom scouts have seen lots of this year is Gatineu import Tomas Hyka who was passed over in the draft last season but has been tearing up the Quebec league this season.
He is more of a support player who can capitalize on offensive chances when paired with a playmaking centreman because of his ability to get to open ice, use his speed, handle the puck with slick hands and release one of his underrated wrist shots.
How will these draft prospects fare against older competition at the World Junior Championship? What impact will their performances have on their draft stock?
Only the tournament itself holds those answers.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!