Happy holidays and the best of the season to you and your family. For us, nothing heralds the most wonderful time of year more than the IIHF World Junior Championship Tournament. McKeen’s Hockey has just released its annual World Junior Guide digital magazine in time for the tournament with analysis for every country competing and includes over 70 player profiles of key players. You can learn more here. For the next two weeks we will focus on the tournament in our prospect coverage.
We offer predictions for the outcomes in the tournament in the magazine, if you are interested, but fully expect the medal winners to come from the five dominant hockey nations who are always competitive – Canada, The United States, Russia, Finland and Sweden. The host country, the Czech Republic has an intriguing squad that could surprise in front of the home crowd. The battle to avoid relegation will likely be fought between Slovakia, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and Germany, returning to the top tier after a four-year absence. However, the only predictions we can be certain of in a short tournament, is that there will be inspiring stories, brilliant individual performances, surprising teams and some intense, passionate hockey.
In the article below we provide a profile of a player we think can be an impact player for their country and critical to their chances. They are largely made up of drafted NHL prospects who will be in NHL lineups in due course, but many will be capturing headlines for the first time on the world stage. The tournament offers a look at the best of this next generation of hockey stars, many already playing against men in the pro leagues, competing against their peers one last time before embarking on their NHL career.
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An interesting side story at the tournament is always the performance of draft eligible 17-year-olds making a case for their ranking in June. As our Prospects Director, Ryan Wagman, explains in the intro to our World Junior Guide
‘The WJC, as this tournament is generally known, is a scouting bonanza. Technically, the tournament is reserved for players who had yet to turn 20 before the beginning of the tournament, but in reality, most of the players will be in their age 19 season, as talented younger players are often left behind. From the five top nations discussed above, the majority of their rosters will consist of players who have already been drafted or are marginally late bloomers.
That said, this year a number of the top draft eligible players for the 2020 draft will be in uniform. Canada has three big names who have yet to reach draft eligibility in the lineup including Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, and Jamie Drysdale, each of whom is expected to be drafted in the top 10 picks next June. In fact, Lafreniere and Byfield are currently the front runners for the top two picks in the draft and their relative performances at the WJC could have an out-sized impact on whose hears his name called first. Drysdale is a good bet to be the first defenseman selected. Finally, the Canadian draft quarter is completed with another projected first rounder in scoring winger Dawson Mercer.
The Swedish team will likewise have two players who are expected to join the Canadian three in the top ten in June in skilled forwards Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. From Russia, we will have the pleasure of seeing goalie phenom Yaroslav Askarov, who many compare favorably to 2019 first rounder Spencer Knight. The Czechs have a few 2020 eligibles, none more intriguing than forward Jan Mysyk.
Then we have Germany. A relative hockey also-ran in recent years, they are experiencing a resurgence and have lately been developing a string of high-end talents. A few years ago, it was only Leon Draisaitl. Time passed, and then we had Dominik Bokk. He is still 19-years-old and will be there. Last year, it was Moritz Seider, who went sixth overall in the draft and is already playing in the AHL at age 18. He’ll be there. This year, Germany has another likely first round candidate in Tim Stutzle. Some consider him as talented as Draisaitl was at the same age. But Stutzle isn’t alone, with John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel also drawing positive scouting reviews.” – Ryan Wagman, introduction to McKeen’s 2020 IIHF World Junior Guide
Enjoy this week’s article and join us next week on New Year’s Eve and we will highlight the standout performances to date as the tournament heads into the medal rounds. The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
Potential Impact Players at The World Juniors by Country
Joe Veleno, C, Drafted 30th overall, 2018, Detroit Red Wings
2019 Stats: five goals and seven assists in 29 games for Grand Rapids (AHL)
As a former “Exceptional Status” player, Veleno is the rare 19-year-old Canadian CHL player who is eligible to play in the AHL. Already accruing four years of QMJHL service time, the Detroit Red Wings have had Veleno playing with Grand Rapids this year. His team worst -20 certainly is not pretty, but it is important to remember that Veleno is currently one of only a handful of 2000 born players in the AHL competing against men and experienced professional players. Against players his own age, the expectation is that Veleno can be a go-to offensive player for Canada, especially as one of the team’s only returning players. Like Lafreniere, Veleno played a depth role for Canada last year, but could very well be the team’s number one center, perhaps even playing on the same line as the aforementioned reigning CHL Player of the Year. His vision and IQ should make him an elite playmaker at the event and give him a significant confidence boost heading back to Grand Rapids following the WJC’s. – Brock Otten
K'Andre Miller, D, Drafted 22nd overall, 2018, New York Rangers
2019 Stats: six goals and five assists in 18 games for University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
One of the holdovers from the American roster at the previous WJC, more will be expected of the ultra-talented Miller in his second – and final – try at U20 glory. With the makeup of the current roster, particularly the presence of blueliners such as Mattias Samuelsson, Ty Emberson, and Christian Krygier, Miller should be given free reign as a sort of fourth forward when Team USA has the puck. He is actually pretty strong covering in his own zone, with long reach and physicality which occasionally bubbles to the surface, but Miller truly stands out in the offensive end. He stickhandles like a scoring winger and loves to activate from the blueline, often overwhelming opposing defenses. While Miller can be a tad hit-or-miss, when he is on, there are few blueliners outside of the NHL who can do what he does. – Ryan Wagman
Rasmus Kupari, C, Drafted 20th overall, 2018, Los Angeles Kings
2019 Stats: six goals and two assists in 27 games for Ontario (AHL)
After having a strong season in the Liiga, Kupari decided to make the jump to North America for this season. Playing in the AHL has been a learning experience for the highly skilled center, getting used to the smaller rink and demands of the league. A graceful and agile skater with speed to burn, he can be very flashy with the puck and has some nice creativity in his game, too. There have been some consistency issues this season, but when he's on, he is dangerous and unpredictable in the offensive zone. Kupari is one of the four returnees from last year's gold-winning Finnish team and showed great improvement as the tournament progressed, proving to be an integral part of the squad. This year, the expectations are set even higher for the Los Angeles Kings first rounder, since the Finns do not have as much high-end skill surrounding him up front. – Marco Bombino
Rasmus Sandin, D, Drafted 29th overall, 2018, Toronto Maple Leafs
2019 Stats: Two goals and 10 assists in 12 games for Toronto (AHL), zero goals and two assists for Toronto (NHL) - Sweden’s best player entering the tournament. Sandin does almost everything well. He has offensive upside to his game as well as smart defensive play. I am quite certain that he will have a long and strong career in the NHL. For a Swedish comparison, he is more of an Oliver Ekman-Larsson than an Erik Karlsson or Victor Hedman in style and potential. I am actually a bit surprised he did not get to stay with the Leafs for the full season after a strong training camp and six NHL games. In the AHL he has 40 points in 63 career games which is very impressive for a 19-year-old two-way defenseman. He was very good at the WJC last season and will have an even bigger role this season. Sandin is a balanced defenseman who can adjust to his partner and to the situation very well. He is useful on both the penalty kill as well as the top power play. He is also a strong 5-on-5 player when joining the attack and as a breakout passer or puck-mover. – Jimmy Hamrin
Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Drafted 10th overall, 2019, Vancouver Canucks
2019 Stats: zero goals and zero assists in 14 games SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
After last year’s accolades, Podkolzin struggled a bit this season, failing to score at the KHL level and gathering only one point at the recent Canada – Russia Series. However, last year’s first rounder is a complete player who plays and competes hard, and if he gets onto the right path early in the tournament, he can quickly become unstoppable. With his spectacular acceleration and strong puck skills, Podkolzin can be a force for the Russians, especially if he finds his scoring touch again. Coach Bragin needs Podkolzin to score in the Czech Republic, but he will also have other options when it comes to creating offensive chances. – Alessandro Seren Rosso
Jan Jenik , RW-C, Drafted 65th overall, 2018, Arizona Coyotes
2019 Stats: 22 goals and 34 assists in 27 games for Hamilton (OHL)
No question, Jenik will be a pivotal player for the Czech Republic at this event, perhaps even their most pivotal. The Arizona Coyotes prospect is having a fantastic season in the OHL where he is among the league leaders in scoring and just had a 26-game point streak come to an end. Although he has played center this year, it remains to be seen whether he will play center or the wing for the Czechs, as he can struggle in the faceoff circle. However, Jenik has many other strengths. He is an ultra-aggressive player who excels with and without the puck, as he is always on the attack, using his speed to drive the middle of the ice and to open up lanes. If he gets stripped of the puck, he will fight to get it back, willing to make or take a hit to make a play. Jenik also possesses a high skill level with the puck that allows him to be a creative playmaker, something that has made him the perfect linemate for sniper Arthur Kaliyev in Hamilton. Expectations have to be high for Jenik on home ice as he looks to help his team medal. – Brock Otten
Maxim Cajkovic, RW, Drafted 89th overall, 2019, Tampa Bay Lightning
2019 Stats: 10 goals and 12 assists in 16 games for Saint John (QMJHL)
The Tampa Bay third rounder last June was not chosen by the Slovaks last season despite a decently impressive rookie season in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs. Cajkovic is showing the same talents that made him the first overall pick in the CHL import draft in 2018, despite an early season injury that forced him out of the lineup for nearly two months. Upon returning, Cajkovic had an eight-game point streak. He comes into the tournament hot, with six points in his last three games, all multi-point efforts. Cajkovic loves to drive the play from the right wing and control the puck, but he also uses his teammates effectively. Expect Cajkovic to be used as a triggerman off either wing as a potent offensive threat. - Mike Sanderson
Nico Gross, D, Drafted, 101st overall, 2018, New York Rangers
2019 Stats: seven goals and 12 assists in 27 games for Oshawa (OHL)
A veteran of the IIHF World Junior Championships, Gross will become the fourth player in the event’s history to have played in four U20 tournaments for Switzerland (joining Michel Riesen, Phil Baltisberger, and Bjorn Christen). Having worn an ‘A’ the previous two tournaments, Gross seems like a likely bet to be the captain of this year’s Swiss team. He will join Columbus prospect Tim Berni to form the backbone of the team’s defense and will be asked to play in all situations and eat up a ton of minutes. A New York Rangers draft pick, Gross is in the midst of his best OHL season to date (this being his third season) with the Oshawa Generals. He is a confident player in his own end who plays a very physical brand of hockey. His play with the puck has improved this year, although he is at his best when he keeps things simple as he can be turnover prone at times. That said, he will likely be asked to use his strong skating ability to create in transition and take chances, even if that puts him at risk of some poor decisions. – Brock Otten
Maxim Musorov, LW, 2020 Draft Eligible
2019 Stats: 10 goals and 13 assists in 17 games for Snezhnye Barsy (MHL), zero goals and one assist in 12 games for Barys Nur-Sultan (KHL)
A fast skater who likes to play the off wing, Musorov enjoys great chemistry with Guseinov and can produce scoring chances in the offensive zone by means of his mobility. Unlike other players on the team, Musorov has a decent size, albeit not a big player (5’11”, 175 lbs). The Kazakh coaches will have to use the Guseinov and Musorov duo to try and score some goals in the most important games. Chemistry and a good top line can go a long way when you only need to win a couple of games to retain a spot in the elite division.
Tim Stutzle, LW-C, 2020 Draft Eligible
2019 Stats: five goals and 18 assists in 25 games for Adler Mannhiem (DEL)
Let there be no doubt that Stutzle possesses all the attributes of a future mover and shaker at the NHL level. He is a fantastic skater, particularly when it comes to agility and balance, and continues to display an iron lung. Some of his dominating shifts in the offensive zone against tried and true pros have seemed longer than your average Godfather movie. His hockey sense is evident almost every time he steps on the ice and is the type of thing that separates him from a good 95% of his draft-eligible peers. He constantly finds teammates in scoring positions and can thread the needle. That he has not only made his way onto a scoring line for an absolutely packed championship Mannheim roster, but already has 23 points in 25 DEL contests and another five points in eight Champions Hockey League games, speaks volumes about where he’s at in his development. Expect this young man who is brimming with confidence to use this WJC to officially arrive on the scene, if he hasn’t already. - Chapin Landvogt