It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to watch hockey.
Die-hard junior hockey fans and casual hockey fans alike know that the annual IIHF World Junior Championship consistently offers up some of the most exciting hockey that can be found anywhere.
Not only is the tournament full of future NHL talent, longstanding international hockey rivalries also ensure that much-desired bragging rights are on the line for many of the games.
For scouts, however, there is yet another reason to follow the event: a chance to analyze some of the top talent ahead of each year’s entry draft.
This year’s iteration of the WJC, however, is shaping up to be extra special.
Not only are the projected top two picks for the 2020 NHL Draft taking part, so are the players ranked 3rd, 5th and 6th in Future Considerations’ fall ranking, as well as five others who cracked our top 31.
Here now is a rundown of some of the most notable draft-eligible prospects to watch out for.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, Russia, 6-3, 176, 16-6-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 11
Arguably the best goaltending prospect to come along since Carey Price, Askarov already has an incredible track record at international events, winning two golds, a silver and a bronze in the past two years. Despite being a 17-year-old on a Russian team that usually bring a roster of almost exclusively 19-year-olds, he could easily be his squad’s top netminder thanks to his elite athleticism and technique.
Quinton Byfield, C, Canada, 6-4, 215, 19-8-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 2
Byfield is widely considered the second-best prospect for the 2020 draft, but could a big showing on the big WJC stage vault him into that top spot? The 6-foot-4 centre is a disaster for opposing defences to handle because he combines his huge frame with powerful skating strides and high-end puck skill. On a forward group loaded with talent, Byfield could very well end up being the best of the bunch.
Jamie Drysdale, D, Canada, 5-11, 175, 8-4-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 8
It’s rare for Hockey Canada to bring 17-year-old forwards to the WJC. But 17-year-old defensemen? That’s almost unheard of. The fact that Drysdale made the cut this year just goes to show how talented and mature he already is. The undisputed top blueliner in the 2020 draft class, he will be eager to win gold in the Czech Republic after settling for silver in the same country at this past summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Sweden, 6-0, 183, 23-1-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 6
Holtz has been playing against older competition for years, including spending most of this season thus far in the SHL, so being an underager in this tournament probably won’t phase him one bit. He and longtime international linemate Lucas Raymond have already terrorized the U17s, the U18s and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup together, so don’t be surprised if that happens again in this event.
Alexis Lafrenière, LW, Canada, 6-1, 196, 11-10-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 1
If he hadn’t missed the 2019 entry draft due to his late birthday Lafrenière would be playing in the NHL right now. That quirky circumstance will be a huge boost for Hockey Canada at the WJC, but an absolute nightmare for all the nations that will have to contend with stopping him. Lafrenière had one goal in five games at last year’s iteration of this tournament, experience that will surely provide a boost this time around.
Dawson Mercer, C, Canada, 6-0, 181, 27-10-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 19
A fast riser on the Future Considerations draft board since the start of the season, Mercer has been tearing up the QMJHL (points in 22 of 26 games played, for 42 in total) and will hope to carry that momentum into his trip to the Czech Republic. The versatile forward can play centre or wing, as well as both sides of special teams, which will make him a valuable player for Canada’s coaching staff.
Jan Mysak, LW/RW, Czech Republic, 5-11, 180, 24-6-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 31
A Czech native who has been playing professionally in his home country over the past two years, Mysak will have the advantage of familiarity on his side in this event. The speedy and slick forward has been up and down in international events, but will have much better teammates to work with over the next two weeks than what he’s used to. Was named Player of the Game in a warm-up win over Slovakia.
Jaromir Pytlik, C, Czech Republic, 6-2, 201, 25-9-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 27
Pytlik played pro hockey in the Czech Republic before switching over to the OHL, and he has also taken part in a few international tournaments before this one. That variety of experience, most notably his games against the OHLers on the Canadian and American rosters, should work in his favour at the WJC. A big, mobile pivot who can play in all situations, Pytlik could log a lot of minutes for the Czechs.
Lucas Raymond, LW, Sweden, 5-11, 170, 28-3-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 3
He might have fallen out of the conversation for the second-best prospect in the 2020 draft since the start of this season, but Raymond is still an immensely talented young forward. The past few months have been trying for him, not getting ideal ice time on his deep SHL club and then recently fighting through an injury, so he might be a little extra motivated to put forth a big performance at the WJC.
Tim Stützle, LW, Germany, 6-1, 185, 15-1-2002
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 5
Germany has become something of a hotbed lately for developing hockey prospects, and Stützle is the latest continuation of that emerging trend. He’s an electrifying player to watch because of his lightning-quick hands and superb offensive awareness. Playing in the DEL allows Stützle to compete both alongside and against a number of former NHLers, so he should have no trouble competing here.