It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Starting on Boxing Day, December 26th, the world’s arguably most exciting hockey tournament begins in the Czech Republic. The World Junior Championship is beloved in Canada and Europe, and while it may not receive the same media attention in the United States, it is still a stellar tournament and very entertaining. The World Junior is for players under 20 years old, and it includes some of the best prospects in the world, including those that have been drafted and those that are draft eligible. The NHL Network will televise most games in the U.S.
This year’s tournament includes a high number of players eligible for the 2020 draft, including three who are playing for Canada (one of the highest numbers for them in recent memory). The competition will be close, and with no clear cut #1 team, games should be highly competitive and energetic.
Without further ado, here is a preview for the 2020 World Junior Championship, by country.
Canada heads into the tournament with one of the youngest teams in recent memory. After a disappointing appearance last season, the Canadians went a different route in roster formation. Rather than stacking the team full of 19 year-olds, they have included a high number of young players.
Canada’s top two defenders almost made the NHL this season. Bowen Byram, a Colorado first-rounder, is a high-end talent who projects as a top-pairing defender at the NHL level. Ty Smith almost made the New Jersey Devils out of camp and has dominated the WHL once again as a 19-year-old. Smith boasts an excellent two-way game and should dominate throughout the tournament. Draft-eligible defender Drysdale will likely play limited minutes, but rarely do draft-eligible defenders make Team Canada at this tournament. He is an elite skater and boasts a high offensive ceiling. Keep an eye out for him as the tournament progresses.
At forward, the Canadians have a plethora of NHL prospects, but draft eligibles Quinton Byfield, Alex Lafreniere, and Dawson Mercer are all players to keep an eye on. Lafreniere and Byfield are ranked #1 and #2 respectively for this year’s draft and should play a prominent role. Lafreniere is a silky smooth winger who has dominated the Quebec League.
Byfield is a 6’4″ power-forward type, but not in your traditional sense. He is highly skilled and uses his size and frame to complement his elite overall skillset.
Mercer was a bit of a surprise to make the team, but he has dominated the Quebec League this year also. He may function as Canada’s extra forward this year, but he is fun to watch and plays with a high level of pace and puck possession.
Overall, Canada has a bit of a weaker team than normal, but they still boast a high skill set and could easily win the Gold with this current roster.
The Czech development program has taken some hits over the past few years, and while they have improved in this regard, they still aren’t the powerhouse of old.
Overall, the Czechs will struggle to medal at this event unless they receive absolutely dominant performances from a handful of their forwards. Jan Mysak, a 17-year-old draft-eligible forward is a likely first-rounder in the NHL this year. He is playing against men currently in the Czech Republic, and the World Juniors will be a solid test for him against top competition in his age group.
Michael Teply, a Blackhawks draft pick last season, will likely play a prominent top-six role and could be the Czech’s top forward in this tournament, along with Boston second-rounder Lauko and Arizona prospect Jenik.
Jaromir Pytlick, a top-rated prospect for this year’s draft, plays in the OHL and will likely play a top-six role as well. He has some Jagr comparisons (mostly due to his size and name) but is far from this level of skill. He may sneak into the first round of the draft this year, but is likely a second-rounder. This tournament will be a good test for him as well, playing against his peers in a prominent role.
Overall, the Czechs don’t have the depth of the top teams in this tournament, but they still have skill worth watching.
Finland has dominated the development game the past few years, and this year is no exception. While they don’t have the same skill as years past, they still boast a solid defensive core and some great forwards.
On defense, Ville Heinola will lead a group of mostly 18 year-olds. Heinola played for the Winnipeg Jets early this season and didn’t look out of place before being returned to Europe. He will play a prominent role.
Carolina pick Anttoni Honka is one of my personal favorite prospects in this tournament and should be fun to watch. Honka is a rushing defenseman with elite speed and puck skills. He should be a noticeable player for the Finns.
At forward, the Finns will be led by Rusmas Kupari, a Kings first-rounder currently playing for their AHL affiliate. Kupari has struggled a bit with his transition from Europe to the AHL, but he is still a teenager. The World Juniors should help his confidence, and he should be the Finns’ best forward.
Overall, Finland boasts a decent roster but is unlikely a gold medal contender. However, if their solid defensive core is able to shut down opposing forwards, it isn’t entirely out of the question. They should be highly competitive.
Germany brings its best roster to date to the World Juniors.
On defense, Red Wings’ top 10 pick Moritz Seider will anchor the back-end. Seider has looked amazing as an 18-year-old in the AHL for the Grand Rapids Griffins and may see some NHL games late in the season. Seider boasts a solid two-way game and is noticeable in most games he plays. He is a player to keep an eye on.
At forward, draft-eligible center Tim Stutzle will likely be the team’s top forward. Stutzle has dominated the German League as a 17-year-old and will play top minutes for the Germans. Stutzle has excellent hands and plays with a ton of pace. He could solidify his position as a top-5 talent through his play at this tournament.
Dominik Bokk, a Carolina prospect and former Blues’ first-rounder, should have an excellent tournament as well. Bokk has struggled a bit this season playing in Europe, but like other teenagers playing against men in this tournament, the World Juniors should be a good confidence boost for him.
Even with this talent, Germany could easily surprise some teams – but they are unlikely to do a lot. They may make the quarterfinals, but a medal is likely out of the question.
Russia enters the World Juniors with some solid overall talent. However, Russia can be a hard team to evaluate, as they tend to prefer to play older players at this tournament and at times play players unfamiliar to most in North America.
In goal, if given an opportunity, 17-year-old Askarov is a player to keep an eye on. Askarov is ranked in the top 10 by many scouts for this year’s draft and has even played games in Russia’s top league, the KHL. He is considered by many to be the best goaltending prospect in recent memory, and if he is allowed to play, he should be entertaining to watch.
On defense, Montreal second-rounder Alex Romanov should play prominent minutes. Romanov is a small, skilled, offensive-minded defender. Keep an eye on him as the tournament progresses.
At forward, Vancouver first-rounder Podkolzin plays like a Mac truck. In a tournament that is always highly physical, Podkolzin should lead the Russians in physicalness. Florida first-rounder Gregori Denisenko was likely NHL ready this past summer, but like many Russian players, he is still under contract in the KHL. He dominated last year’s tournament and will likely do so again.
Overall, the Russian’s will be a medal contender and an entertaining bunch as usual.
Like the Czech Republic, Slovakia has struggled in the development department as of late. This year is more of the same. Outside of Tampa second-rounder Cajkovic, the Slovaks will struggle to win most games in the tournament. In fact, they could be forced out of the top tier due to their lack of depth and talent. Not much to see here.
See Slovakia, but worse. No NHL prospects on the roster, unlikely to be any who make the NHL at any point in their career. They will be relegated.
A perennial gold medal contender, Sweden boasts a dominant defensive core. With five first-round picks on the blue-line and two with NHL experience, Sweden brings one of their best defensive cores ever.
Toronto first-rounder Rasmus Sandin leads a group that includes Kings’ pick Tobias Bjornfot, Arizona first-rounder Victor Soderstrom, Edmonton top-10 pick Philip Broberg, and Rangers first-rounder Niklas Lundqvist. All five will play a prominent role, and all five play a strong-two way game.
At forward, Canucks second-rounder Nils Hoglander will play a prominent top-six role. Hoglander is a highly skilled forward who is a human highlight reel. He is likely to have a few of these types of plays in this tournament.
Likely top-10 picks Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz will likely play top-six roles. Raymond has struggled a bit this season but boasts high-end skill and sniping ability. Holtz projects as a top-six forward and is clearly a goal scorer. The World Juniors will help both players solidify where they are at in their skill development against older players.
Overall, Sweden is a gold medal contender. They should be fun to watch with lots of skill to go around.
The Swiss have stepped up their development game in recent years, but it’s a bit of an off year for them. Valentin Nussbaumer, an Arizona 7th-rounder could do some damage, but outside of him, the team is missing skill and depth. They could be relegated.
The U.S. has done well at the World Juniors in recent memory and will likely do so again.
In goal, Florida first-rounder Spencer Knight should shine as the starter. Knight has had an excellent start to his NCAA career, and his calm and steady demeanor makes him an early favorite to be the top goalie in the tournament.
On defense, Rangers first-rounder K’Andre Miller will lead a highly-skilled back-end that also includes Flyers first-rounder Cam York.
At forward, the U.S. has a loaded roster. Montreal first-rounder and sniper Cole Caufield could easily lead the tournament in goals. His teammate, Alex Turcotte, will be one of the best two-way forwards in the tournament. Oliver Wahlstrom, an Islanders first-rounder who has played NHL games this season, will have an opportunity to play a prominent role. After some struggles last year, the World Juniors will be a solid test for Wahlstrom and should help his confidence.
Overall, the U.S. will be a medal contender and could easily win the Gold. They have a tough group but should come out close to the top.
Here is how I think each group will shake out in overall record:
- Czech Republic
Sweden over Germany
Canada over Switzerland
Finlander over Russia
U.S.A. over Slovakia
Sweden Over Canada
U.S.A. over Finland
Cole Caufield (U.S.A.)
Gregori Denisenko (Russia)
Alex Turcotte (U.S.A.)
Moritz Seider (Germany)
Bowen Byram (Canada)
Spencer Knight (U.S.A.)