World Juniors set to showcase top draft talent

Scott Wheeler2017 Draft Center, IIHF, International Events, NCAA, OHL, USHL, WHL

Rena Laverty | NTDP

Each year, the World Junior Championship gives top draft-eligible prospects a chance to showcase themselves on the biggest international stage of their young careers.

This year is no different, with as many as 10 prospects in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2017 NHL Draft playing in the tournament.

Get to know the top draft hopefuls to keep an eye on at IIHF 2017 World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2017. (Rosters as of  10 a.m. ET; Dec. 24th)

Switzerland

Nico Hischier – Halifax Mooseheads (31 GP, 23 G, 25 A, 48 P, 10 PIM)
FC Rank: 20

Few players have captured early draft buzz like Hischier this year. After being taken sixth overall by the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2016 CHL Import Draft, Hischier quickly became one of the QMJHL’s top offensive players and its most dynamic rookie. Hischier has 48 points in 31 games this season, including 10-game streak in November where he picked up 25 points. He’s also the only prospect on this list that played in last year’s World Juniors, where he posted two assists in six games as a 16-year-old. This year, Hischier will be counted on as Switzerland’s top player, a chance few draft-eligible players ever have. He might be the prospect to watch.

Sweden

Elias Pettersson – Timrå IK (27 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 27 P, 8 PIM)
FC Rank: 14

At 18, Pettersson is already the top under-20 prospect in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier league, with 27 points in as many games, well ahead of already-drafted Swedes such as Jesper Bratt, Jonathan Dahlen, and Jens Looke. A strong showing at the World Juniors is just a natural next step for FC’s no. 14 prospect in the 2017 class. A strong showing could put him in the top-10 conversation moving into the back half of his draft year.

Lias Andersson – HV71 (24 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 P, 16 PIM)
FC Rank: 12

If Hischier is the prospect to watch at the World Juniors, the two Swedes aren’t far behind. Andersson is playing a league above Petterson and thriving as a regular top-9 forward with HV71 in Swedish Hockey League. He sits first among under-19 SHL forwards in scoring with nine points in 24 games. Andersson and Pettersson have been skating on the same line, with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom.

Czech Republic

Martin Necas – HC Kometa Brno (29 GP, 6 G, 7 A, 13 P, 4 PIM)
FC Rank: 23

Necas is the youngest player on a young Czech team, but he’s already a star in Europe and North America is his next step. His up-tempo, give-and-go style will lend itself well to the smaller North American ice and he’ll be counted on to produce as a top-9 forward for a Czech team that will be missing Pavel Zacha, its best player. Necas is one of the more talented Czech prospects in recent memory. You can read more about his story here.

Slovakia

Adam Ruzicka – Sarnia Sting (32 GP, 12 G, 10 A, 22 P, 22 PIM)
FC Rank: 63

Ranked just behind Bucek at No. 63, Ruzicka is another big, strong forward for Team Slovakia with some finishing touch around the net. After a slow start in his first OHL season with the Sarnia Sting, Ruzicka has moved into fourth in team scoring after post nine points in his final 10 games ahead of the World Juniors. More of a shooter than a passer, Ruzicka will factor in prominently on the Slovak powerplay.

Finland

Kristian Vesalainen – HPK (9 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, 0 PIM)
FC Rank: 11

Of the draft-eligible prospects in this year’s World Juniors, Vesalainen has the most professional experience. In his second pro season, Vesalainen had five points in 16 games with the SHL’s preeminent franchise, Frolunda HC, before being loaned to HPK in his native Finland. A massive winger with strong mobility, Vesalinen has already dominated in best-on-best international play against his peers at the under-17 and under-18 levels.

Urho Vaakanainen – JYP (23 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 P, 12 PIM)
FC Rank: 19

Also in his second season of pro hockey, Vaakanainen is a heady, patient two-way defensemen. This year, as a 17-year-old, he has already taken on a regular top-six role with JYP in Liiga. Last year, he anchored Team Finland to under-18 gold on the top pairing, playing in all situations. He’ll be a factor at both ends.

Eeli Tolvanen – Sioux City Musketeers (23 GP, 16 G, 11 A, 27 P, 8 PIM)
FC Rank: 9

If Tolvanen isn’t already the best player in the United States Hockey League, he’s close. Second in league scoring with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 23 games, Tolvanen is one of the most decorated draft-eligible players, having already led U17 and U18 Worlds in goals in 2015-2016, on route to being named to the USHL All-Rookie Team. Ranked No. 9 by Future Considerations, Tolvanen is one of the most dynamic draft-eligible forwards in the 2017 class, capable of taking over games. He’s bound for Boston College next year, unless the NHL comes calling first.

Juuso Valimaki – Tri-City Americans (32 GP, 12 G, 23 A, 35 P, 22 PIM)
FC Rank: 22

In his second season with the Tri-City Americans, Valimaki ranks third among all WHL defensemen in scoring with 35 points in just 32 games, including 12 goals. A 6-foot-2, smooth-skating defensemen with a heavy shot, Valimaki has the upside to be one of the top defensemen in the 2017 class and a star for Team Finland. Few defensemen in the 2017 NHL Draft can create offence like Valimaki, who is one of the more intriguing players to keep an eye on.

United States

Jake Oettinger – Boston University (15 GP, 1.87 GAA, .932 SV%)
FC Rank: 39

Oettinger, a Boston College freshman and USA Hockey favourite internationally, is a towering, athletic goaltender who could work his way into the starting job with the Americans. A strong World Juniors showing could help Oettinger make his case as a first round talent.