While the World Junior Championship is more appealing to hockey fans, the World Junior A Challenge is equally as appealing to NHL scouts as they prepare for the 2013 NHL Draft.
The six-team tournament beginning Monday is comprised of the top Canadian Junior Hockey League players playing for either Canada East or Canada West, the top players from the USHL (except the NTDP), and a national team from both the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
The United States brings a roster featuring the tournament’s top draft eligible talent with the likes of Luke Johnson, Ryan Fitzgerald and Taylor Cammarata upfront for the Americans. All three forwards were ranked in Future Considerations’ Top 100 last month.
As many draft followers have seen, Fitzgerald has had quite the start to his draft year and looks to continue his success playing for the United States after playing for the National Team Development Program last month. Fitzgerald has a well-rounded game and has proved early this year he has no problem playing against top-level competition.
Cammarata has had an impressive opening month of his own with 17 points in nine games. Cammarata continues to prove that his size is not a limiting factor and can be made up with his skating and offensive potency.
Despite a point-per-game season last year, Luke Johnson is off to a slow start with three points in seven games for Lincoln. Johnson, who has a very high hockey IQ, could really benefit from a good tournament.
Mobile defenseman Michael Downing will represent the United States for the second time in three months and, while he’s the youngest player on the team, will be one of the most relied upon players. Defensively, the Americans took a big hit when fellow draft eligible Ian McCoshen was unable to play due to mono and Downing will likely fill the role alongside Jaccob Slavin as the team’s top two blueliner.
Eamon McAdam will likely be the starter for the United States and is the top draft eligible goaltender in the USHL this season. McAdam has been stellar for Waterloo in five games, posting a 1.40 goals against average and a .960 save percentage—both league bests.
While the US team will be the closest watched amongst scouts at the Yarmouth, N.S. tournament, a handful of other players from Canada’s two teams will also be watched at the weeklong challenge.
Nolan De Jong, who plays for Victoria in the BCHL, is a first year draft eligible who could be the first Canadian Junior A player selected at June’s draft. De Jong will play for Canada West and provides depth to arguably the best defensive corps at the tournament. De Jong, a University of Michigan commit, has a great two way game and despite being one of the youngest players on Canada West will play a large role for the team.
Canada East’s Matt Buckles is arguably the most underrated draft eligible players at this year’s tournament. Buckles is a big power forward with a high offensive upside with a strong shot and quick release. Playing on a loaded St. Michael’s Buzzers team, the Cornell commit leads all first year draft eligible players in scoring with 25 points in 18 games.
Both Canadian and American temas feature players who were passed over in their first year of eligibility that have a chance to prove themselves at the tournament.
Canada West’s Troy Stecher was ranked in Future Considerations’ Top 210 for the 2012 NHL Draft. Stecher is a small, mobile defenseman who possesses a lot of offensive ability. Luke Ripley is another from Canada West who scouts will key in on. Playing for the Power River Kings, Ripley has imposing size at six-foot-three with strong skating to compliment his frame.
Likewise, Canada East’s Patrick McCarron (Cornell) was also ranked in FC’s Top 210 and leads all defensemen in points in the OJHL this year.
For the United States, Justin Kloos, who was named Minnesota Mr. Hockey, but was not drafted in June has had quite the season thus far in Waterloo. Kloos is tied with Cammarata in points with 17 points in 10 games. He can flat out score and should stand out in this year’s tournament with his offensive ability.
All WJAC games can be watched for free on FastHockey as the tournament runs from Monday, November 5th to Sunday, November 11th.