The 2011 IIHF World Juniors tournament is set to kick off December 26, 2010. Each team has a dozen or so elite prospects to look out for, but many are undrafted. Poolies, pay attention to the following players, keeping in mind I am focusing only on those who have been drafted to the NHL.
The Swedish team is always built tough and strong and this year is no exception. Guided by big, towering players, expect the Swedes to play responsible hockey, especially in their own end. The team will be extremely strong defensively. Sweden is made up of younger players who do not have much experience in this tournament. They will rely on smart decisions and solid team play in order to advance. They always do…
Prediction: Third place finish
Forward prospect to watch: Anton Lander, C, Edmonton Oilers
Lander is no stranger to International play. He has had some success, most notably at the 2009 World Under-18 Championship where he scored two goals and seven assists in six games.
Defenseman prospect to watch: Patrick Nemeth, D, Dallas Stars
Nemeth is a behemoth, listed at 6-3, 220 lbs, who is known to really throw his weight around. Look for him to play a strong defensive role, shutting down the opposing team's top units. This year he has just five assists in 22 games playing in Sweden.
Goalie prospect to watch: Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa Senators
Lehner is said to be the heir to the Ottawa throne. He has put up some poor numbers as a member of the AHL's Binghamton Senators but is clearly maturing at a rapid pace. Look for him to be the go-to-guy if the Swedish team fails to perform up to their lofty standards.
The Russian team boasts some speedsters as well as some slick snipers. The team is loaded with talent on the wings, as Evgeny Kunetsov, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Maxim Kitsyn are all very dangerous. The team is solid, however not as flashy as they have been in the past. They will struggle to keep up with the heavyweights and will eventually tail off. A good showing by their defense could do wonders. The offense will be strong. Fire in the hole!
Prediction: Fifth place finish
Forward prospect to watch: Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko is an elite prospect who has played on this stage before. Last year he tied for the team lead with four goals. The sniper will surely play on the top line as well as the top power play unit. He has had success in the KHL as well, posting eight goals and eight assists in 35 games this season.
Defenseman prospect to watch: Dmitry Orlov, D, Washington Capitals
Orlov is an offensive defenseman who has a bite of a nasty streak. In 35 KHL games this season he has two goals, eight assists, and 35 PIMs. He is constantly pushing the play and has a real offensive knack. Look for him to be one of the leading point-getters for the Russian squad, from the blue line of course.
Goalie prospect to watch: Ramis Sadikov, G, Undrafted
While the Russians usually have a reliable, proven goalie, this year's team is a bit of a mystery. While no goaltender has been named starter, it is clear that Sadikov is the best. He has played exceptionally well in the OHL for the Erie Otters. His record is 16-11-2 with a .911 save percentage. His glove hand is quick, which throws off some shooters.
The Czechs will field a stronger than normal team this year as they look to show well in the Juniors tournament. The team is very young, with several players who have not been drafted into the NHL yet. But, this team is as talented as Russia's, making them a nice sleeper pick.
Prediction: Fourth place finish
Forward prospect to watch: Jakub Culek, Left Wing, Ottawa Senators
Culek is a big presence on the ice. Traditionally a left winger, he is able to play either side, if need be. Culek has performed well in the QMJHL this season with 14 points and 16 PIMs in 31 games. He has great hands, making him a dangerous player in front of the net.
Defenseman prospect to watch: Adam Polasek, D, Vancouver Canucks
Polasek is an exceptional defenseman, playing for the P.E.I Rocket in the QMJHL. He has great offensive upside, having scored three goals and 13 assists in 28 games. He also doesn't shy away from physicality, the evidence being his 26 PIMs. He is a tough-nosed player.
Goalie prospect to watch: Petr Mrazek, G, Detroit Red Wings
Mrazek is the only drafted goalie of the bunch. He may not get full playing time but he is capable of carrying this team deep in the tournament. Mrazek was drafted in the fifth round, 141st overall. He has been sensational playing for the Ottawa 67's in the OHL, posting a 17-7-1 record with a 2.72 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Team Canada, the annual favorites for this tournament, will dress a very young and untested team. The consensus in Canada is that the team will thrive only if all four lines are clicking. With a spread out offense, look for the young guns (Carter Ashton, Brett Connolly, Sean Couturier, and Marcus Foligno) to shine in the international forum. As always, this team is so deep it will be especially hard to beat them. Canada will be led by their incredibly strong defense corps made up of talent such as Simon Despres, Calvin da Haan, and Erik Gudbranson.
Prediction: First place finish
Forward prospect to watch: Quinton Howden, LW, Florida Panthers
Howden exemplifies Team Canada's emphasis-on-speed approach to this tournament. It will be fun to watch this team leave vapour trails behind. While young, he is definitely one of the top prospects in the whole tournament. Howdon has been extremely successful in WHL this season playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors. So far he has 22 goals and 18 assists in 29 games. He also has 21 PIMs to his name. This guy is fast and a load on his skates. He will have a special tournament.
Defenseman prospect to watch: Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators
The early favorite to represent Canada as captain, Ellis continues to amaze the hockey world with his poise and leadership. He was drafted high by the Predators because they see him as a legitimate power play quarterback for the next ten years. Playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, Ellis has 12 goals and 18 assists in 27 games.
Goalie prospect to watch: Olivier Roy, G, Edmonton Oilers
Roy and fellow goalie Mark Visentin will most likely rotate starts, as they are both heavily regarded prospects in Canada. Roy has been great playing in the QMJHL for Acadie-Bathurst. He has a 12-9 record with 2.95 GAA and .905 save percentage. Look for him to have a breakout performance and carry Team Canada to the finals.
Most are saying Team USA is the team to beat in this year's tournament. The team is made up of some great young talent, most of whom are poised to become household names in the United States. This team is very fast and very talented around the net. Rotoworld would not be surprised if Team USA took this tournament. However their inexperience could wreck havoc on the team chemistry in the late stages.
Forward prospect to watch: Chris Kreider, C, New York Rangers
Kreider is a young player, playing for Boston College. He is as fast as they come and likely to burn lots of teams with his deceptive moves. Kreider will play as a top-six forward and should see some time on the power play.
Defenseman prospect to watch: Nick Leddy, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Leddy is a solid prospect for the talented Chicago Blackhawks team. He has played a few games in the NHL but the bulk of his season has been played in the AHL. He even scored his first NHL goal this season. Keep an eye on this talented skater; he will be a difference maker in Buffalo.
Goalie prospect to watch: Jack Campbell, G, Dallas Stars
Jack Campbell was taken high by the Stars because of his potential. He has struggled in the OHL this year partly because he is very young. Expect Campbell to turn it on as the tournament progresses. He is an elite talent and will no doubt be considered one of the top goalies in this year's tournament.