Radek Faksa (Czech Republic – C – DAL) – Faksa was praised for his leadership abilities and his willingness to use his size to his advantage when the Dallas Stars took him with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He hasn't put up stunning offensive numbers this season – seven goals and 25 points in 29 OHL games – but he could come up big on the international stage. The Czech Republic has a shot of earning a medal in this tournament and it will be interesting to see how much Faksa can contribute to that effort.
Alex Galchenyuk (USA – C – MON) – In 2010-11, Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov led the OHL Sarnia Sting offensively with 83 and 101 points respectively. However, Galchenyuk missed almost the entire 2011-12 campaign due to an ACL tear. The Montreal Canadiens took a chance by scooping him up with the third pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and so far it's paid off. While Yakupov has left the Sting to play in the KHL, Galchenyuk has bounced back in a big way with 27 goals and 61 points in 33 OHL contests. Now the former teammates will square off on the international stage and while Russia and Yakupov will likely be regarded as the favorites when that happens, Galchenyuk and Team USA shouldn't be overlooked.
Nail Yakupov (Russia – RW – EDM) – Yakupov is an easy player to find a rival for when talking about the other heavy hitters in Group B. As mentioned above, he'll be facing a former teammate in Galchenyuk when Russia plays against America. However, Yakupov will also be pitted against a future teammate and fellow number one pick when Russia takes on Team Canada and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Yakupov has held his own against the lockout enhanced KHL and it'll be equally interesting to see how he does when he leads Russia against a Canadian squad that contains some NHL-ready talent or an American-squad that comes with a highly regarded blueline. While we wait for this lockout to end so that Yakupov can finally play in his first NHL game, this tournament should give us insight into how he'll handle himself against tough competition, an international audience, and a ton of focus as a leader on the host country.
Alexander Barkov (Finland – C – 2013) – Outside of the Canadian Hockey League, Barkov is regarded as the top prospect eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. If his value holds, he should end up being a top-five selection when the time comes. NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb described him as a two-way center, who is capable of both finding the back of the net and setting up goals. He has 14 goals and 28 points in 32 games with Tappara Tampere of SM-liiga. Given that he's been playing in Finland, this will be one of the rare opportunities to see him perform before he gets drafted.
J.T. Miller (USA – LW – NYR) – Miller has looked good transitioning from the OHL Plymouth Whalers to the AHL Connecticut Whale, but he'll take time away from that to return to the World Junior Championship. Miller had two goals and four points in six games with the Americans in the last tournament, but the United States was ultimately ousted in the round robin and consequently had to play in the Relegation round just to stay out of Division I A for 2013. This time around he'll be playing a leadership role and be an alternate captain in one color jersey. Team USA coach Phil Housley also praised Miller for putting his foot and positioning himself in a leadership role.
Valeri Nichushkin (Russia – LW – 2013) – Nichushkin is just 17 years old, but he already has an imposing 6-foot-4, 196-pound frame. He's a two-way forward who can work with the puck while in traffic and is tough for defenders to contain. ISS rated him as the top Russian prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft in their December release and seventh overall. He's been playing in Russia and given that this will be his first stint with Team Russia in the World Junior Under-20 Championship, this tournament will serve as his introduction for most North American viewers.
Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland – D – 2013) – Another prospect who's likely to be scooped up early in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Ristolainen is already playing with men in Finland’s SM-liiga. For a player who just turned 18, this lockout has been a rare opportunity as it's led to him playing on the same team as noteworthy NHLers like Mikko Koivu, Kris Russell, and Lauri Korpikoski. Ristolainen has eight points and 18 penalty minutes in 29 games with TPS Turku this season. He's a mobile defenseman, so he's worth keeping tabs on if you're looking for possible gems you might end up owning in keeper leagues.
John Gibson (USA – G – ANA) – Gibson made Team USA in 2012, but he barely played. This time around he should be in for a much bigger role. He has an impressive 2.33 GAA and .929 save percentage in 20 OHL contests with the Kitchener Rangers this season, but it should be interesting to see how he holds himself against a higher level of competition. America will face Team Canada and Team Russia in the Preliminary round and both squads have more than enough firepower to keep Gibson busy.
Filip Forsberg (Sweden – C – WAS) – Forsberg won a gold medal with Sweden in the 2012 World Junior Championship, but he wasn't a major contributor on that squad. This time around he's the team captain and he'll have his work cut out for him if he wants to lead his country to back-to-back titles. Forsberg has nine goals and 19 points in 22 games with Leksand of the HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden's second-tier hockey league. He was the third forward taken in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and has been favorably compared to Corey Perry and Jarome Iginla. In other words, he's the type of player you want to hold onto if you're in a keeper league.
Mikhail Grigorenko (Russia – RW – BUF) - He's a key member of Russia's well-stocked team and has been dominating in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts. Going into the tournament, he has 29 goals and 50 points in 30 games this season. Grigorenko also competed in the 2012 World Junior Championship and had two goals and five points in six games. He's not expected to play in the NHL this season even if the lockout ends in time to save it, but he could be a significant contributor for the Buffalo Sabres down the road.
Hampus Lindholm (Sweden – D – ANA) – Lindholm wasn't a part of Sweden’s 2012 gold medal run, but he might be able to earn a medal with them this time around. He started the 2012-13 campaign by becoming the youngest player to ever skate for AHL Norfolk at 18 years, eight months and 23 days old. He's gone on to score a goal and five points in 19 games while posting a plus-two rating on a team that ranks near the bottom in the Eastern Conference. In the long run, he has offensive potential and it should be interesting to see how he performs when pitted against the best players in his age range. An injury could keep him out of action during the tournament so stay tuned.
Jacob Trouba (USA – D – WPG) – After being taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Trouba opted to attend the University of Michigan. He's exceled as a freshman with 11 points and 50 penalty minutes in 16 NCAA games. Trouba is one of the few players returning from Team USA's disappointing performance in the 2012 tournament. He'll be looking for redemption, but also figures to be a leader as one of the veterans on the squad.