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 chock 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 World Juniors will be no exception, with a handful of projected 1st-rounders taking part, including the current consensus top two picks.
Here now is a rundown of some of the most notable draft-eligible prospects to watch out for.
Philip Broberg, D, Sweden, 6-3, 200, DOB: 25-6-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 13
Broberg made a statement at this past summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup with his powerful skating and exciting end-to-end puck rushes, finishing as one of the event’s top performers. He has been playing a regular shift with AIK in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league since the season began, picking up seven assists in 27 games. Might have a hard time getting minutes on a deep Swedish defence group.
Ville Heinola, D, Finland, 5-11, 180, DOB: 3-2-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 80
Heinola has been on a rapid upward trajectory since the start of the season, going from Finland’s top junior league to logging an average of nearly 18 minutes per game with Lukko in the Liiga as a 17-year-old. A consistent, reliable puck-moving defender at even strength, he has also shown off some flash and creativity when given time with the man advantage.
Anttoni Honka, D, Finland, 5-10, 180, DOB: 5-10-2000
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 22
Honka is no stranger to playing internationally for Finland, having previously appeared at the U18 and Hlinka tournaments. A quick and dynamic puck-moving defenseman like his older brother Julius of the Dallas Stars. A late 2000 birthday, he has struggled a bit this season in Finland’s top pro leagues, but should be able to strut his stuff here against younger competition.
Jack Hughes, F, United States, 5-10, 170, DOB: 14-5-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 1
Currently the consensus top pick ahead of the 2019 draft, Hughes will have an excellent opportunity to cement that status at the World Juniors. He’ll be reunited with former USA Hockey National Team Development Program linemates Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom, a trio that was dominant for all of the 2017-18 year. Hughes has always thrived punching up a weight class.
Kaapo Kakko, F, Finland, 6-2, 195, DOB: 13-2-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 2
While Hughes is currently the consensus top pick, Kakko is widely expected to be the next player off the board in 2019. He was phenomenal for Finland at this past summer’s U18s, playing a key role in helping his home nation win gold. Starring against men in the Liiga since the start of this season, he’ll have no trouble competing against opponents his own age here.
Spencer Knight, G, United States, 6-3, 195, DOB: 19-4-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 42
One of the best goaltending prospects to come around in years, Knight is no stranger to facing older competition thanks to his advanced positioning, technique and composure. He backstopped his country to a silver medal as a 16-year-old at the 2018 U18s. The U.S. is bringing three goalies to the World Juniors, so it still remains to be seen how much ice time (if any) Knight will see.
Brett Leason, F, Canada, 6-4, 199, DOB: 30-4-1999
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: NR
Leason was completely passed over in two straight NHL entry drafts, but even just cracking an always-stacked Canadian World Junior roster pretty much ensures that it won’t happen a third time. A late bloomer, he has been terrorizing the WHL all season on a league-leading Prince Albert Raiders club thanks to his tantalizing package of size, mobility, puck skill and shooting ability.
Valentin Nussbaumer, F, Switzerland, 5-11, 170, DOB: 25-9-2000
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 79
A staple for the Swiss at international events over the past few years, including last year’s World Juniors, Nussbaumer will be expected to carry a heavy load for his team in this tournament. The skilled forward has a wide array of offensive tools, but has struggled to produce points with Shawinigan in his first year in the QMJHL. A strong World Juniors could go a long toward proving his potential.
Vasili Podkolzin, F, Russia, 6-1, 190, DOB: 24-6-2001
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: 7
Podkolzin played so well at both the Hlinka tournament and early December’s World Junior A Challenge that the Russian national team, which usually relies almost entirely on 19-year-olds, simply couldn’t afford to leave the dynamic 17-year-old at home. A one-man highlight machine, don’t be surprised if Podkolzin scores a jaw-dropping goal or two despite being younger than his peers.
Mads Sogaard, G, Denmark, 6-7, 190, DOB: 13-12-2000
Future Considerations Fall Ranking: NR
The Danes go into the World Juniors heavily outgunned compared to other nations, but with Sogaard between the pipes they have a chance to steal games and avoid relegation. A gargantuan stopper at 6-foot-7, the Medicine Hat Tigers import is one of the best goalies in the WHL. He is no stranger to facing a ton of rubber, something that he’ll have to deal with again in this tournament.