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2020 World Junior Championship Tournament Guide

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The annual gathering of the world’s top hockey prospects kicks off this morning.

Finland v United States: Gold Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Christmas has just wrapped up and that means the annual World Junior Championship (WJC) must be under way. The yearly collection of the hockey world’s best under-20 prospects kicks off this morning from Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.

Ten national teams have been split into two groups for round-robin play with medals and relegation on the line. The round-robin portion of the tournament runs through New Year’s Eve before single-elimination contests determine which country takes home gold.

Nashville will send just one prospect to the WJC this year - defender Spencer Stastney - who will play for Team USA.

Despite this, I’ve gathered all you need to know about the tournament - an event that’s produced unforgettable moments and unlikely heroes over the past four decades - below.

I’ve divided this post into two sections for each group. For each nation, I have provided notes on tournament history, NHL prospects to watch, 2020 draft-eligible players, big questions heading into the tournament and loose predictions.


Group A - Trinec

Team 2019 Finish Proj. 2020 Group Finish
Team 2019 Finish Proj. 2020 Group Finish
Finland 1st 1st
Switzerland 4th 4th
Sweden 5th 2nd
Slovakia 8th 3rd
Kazakhstan 9th 5th

Finland

Roster I Schedule

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

If you weren’t paying attention to last year’s gold-medal game, then I recommend opening YouTube and watching it now. The contest between Finland and the U.S. was the epitome of how excellent the hockey can be at the WJC each year. The New York RangersKaapo Kakko scored with just over a minute to play to break a 2-2 deadlock and secure gold for the Finns.

Finland will have an interesting path if they look to repeat their gold-medal glory in the Czech Republic. People may write off their division on paper, but round-robin play could be interesting for Group A. The Finns open the tournament today with their toughest matchup: Sweden. While Kazakhstan on Monday should be an easy win, Slovakia and Switzerland could be tough outs.

Regardless, I anticipate Finland will finish atop their group and challenge for a gold medal; frankly, anything short of some hardware will be a disappointment.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Matias Maccelli F ARI 2019 Kim Nousiainen D LAK 2019
Aku Raty F ARI 2019 Rasmus Kupari F LAK 2018
Patrik Puistola F CAR 2019 Lassi Thomson D OTT 2019
Lenni Killinen F CAR 2018 Santeri Hatakka D SJS 2019
Anttoni Honka D CAR 2019 Mikko Kokkonen D TOR 2019
Antti Saarela F CHI 2019 Toni Utunen D VAN 2018
Sampo Ranta F COL 2018 Ville Heinola D WPG 2019
Justus Annunen G COL 2018

Finland is loaded with NHL-drafted talent and that starts with their blue line. They’ll benefit mightily from the return of Ville Heinola, Anttoni Honka and Toni Utunen, and Ottawa’s first-rounder this summer, Lassi Thomson, just adds to the depth.

Justus Annunen will start for the Finns in net. The 19-year old leads the Finnish Liiga with a 0.947 save percentage and 11 wins in 13 starts this season but was just okay in five outings at the World Junior Summer Showcase in August.

The forward group is thinner and will be without second-overall pick Kappo Kakko and the Montreal CanadiensJesperi Kotkaniemi, but I still like their speed and ability. Rasmus Kupari will be relied upon to pace the front-12, and I anticipate Patrik Puistola will be counted on heavily, too.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Kristian Tanus F 2018 Jukurit [Liiga]
Aatu Raty F 2021 Karpat [Liiga]
Kari Piiroinen G 2019 Windsor [OHL]

Finland’s biggest pill to swallow will be losing forward Anton Lundell to an elbow injury for this tournament. The prospect has 12 points in 20 games for HIFK of the Liiga at 18 years old and will be a first-round pick in June in Montreal.

Otherwise, the roster features a few players in their second or third years of eligibility and 2002-born Aatu Raty, who will be a top pick in 2021.

Big Questions

I have little concern Finland won’t be one of the best teams at this year’s tournament, but there are some hesitations. The roster features just 12 forwards without Lundell, so if injuries occur, their depth could be tested. The offense should be no problem in the group stage, but this roster may have less of an ability to go shot-for-shot in single-elimination play. Justus Annunen will unfairly be compared to Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and his 2019 heroics, but his Liiga play this year should prove there is not much need to worry.


Switzerland

Roster I Schedule

Russia v Switzerland: Bronze Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Swiss raised some eyebrows last year - despite just one win in the group stage - by dispatching Sweden in the quarterfinals before being routed by Finland in the semifinals.

Switzerland is playing in a weaker group this year and could kick off the tournament with good momentum from a win over Kazakhstan this morning. But it would be hard to imagine them escaping the group stage with more than two wins - if not one.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Valentin Nussbaumer F ARI 2019 Akira Schmid G NJD 2019
Tim Berni D CBJ 2018 Nico Gross D NYR 2018

Switzerland’s offense will flow through Nussbaumer or it’s unlikely this roster is able to generate enough offense to medal. The Coyotes prospect was a seventh-round pick this summer, but is playing well in his second season with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL with seven goals and 25 points in 31 games.

Berni and Gross each posted just two points for the Swiss last year in seven games, but they’ll be relied on to hold the blue line night in and night out. Gross is just a point shy of shattering his 2018-19 scoring totals halfway through the season in Oshawa of the OHL with seven goals and 19 points in 27 games.

Akira Schmid is joining the team from the USHL (he plays in Omaha with Nashville’s Alexander Campbell), but expect free agent Luca Hollenstein to start in net for the Swiss.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Bastian Guggenheim D 2020 Langnau [U20-Elit]
Simon Knak F 2020 Portland [WHL]

Switzerland won’t have much on display when it comes to the entry draft in June but Knak may become an interesting mid-round play. This tournament is often where players of his ilk might distinguish themselves, if just for a moment, from the rest of the draft-eligible field.

Knak has six goals and 18 points in 25 games for Portland this season and notched four points in seven games for the Swiss at the U18 World Junior Championship last spring.

Big Questions

Teams like Switzerland can always surprise (see: 2019), but, as is often the theme for squads with less firepower, they will need to rely on goaltending to avoid quick elimination. Hollenstein was excellent last December, but, if he falters, can Akira Schmid get back on track between the pipes?


Sweden

Roster I Schedule

Sweden v Kazakhstan - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

The running joke of the World Junior Championship is that Team Sweden is much like the Capitals were before capturing the Stanley Cup in 2018. The Tre Konor has long been dominant in group stage play, but there have been recent struggles when it comes to the elimination stage, including being shut out by Switzerland last year in the quarterfinals.

The tournament schedulers have handed us Day 1 of the tournament as a late Christmas present: Sweden v. Finland and the U.S. v. Canada. This opening game will be a good measuring stick for how this group plays out. All signs point to these two teams gunning for group honors, so this match will likely decide who finishes first.

If their defense plays as advertised, Sweden shouldn’t have much trouble dispatching the rest of the group.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Victor Soderstrom D ARI 2019 Mattias Norlinder D MTL 2019
Erik Portillo G BUF 2019 Nikola Pasic F NJD 2019
Oskar Back F DAL 2018 Nils Lundkvist D NYR 2018
Albin Eriksson F DAL 2018 Karl Henriksson F NYR 2019
Jonatan Berggren F DET 2018 Adam Ginning D PHI 2018
Jesper Eliasson G DET 2018 Hugo Alnefelt G TBL 2019
Philip Broberg D EDM 2019 Rasmus Sandin D TOR 2018
Samuel Fagemo F LAK 2019 Nils Hoglander F VAN 2019
Tobias Bjornfot D LAK 2019 David Gustafsson F WPG 2018

To no one’s surprise, Sweden is loaded with NHL talent; take one look at that blue line and any opposing offense should shudder in fear. Rasmus Sandin will lead the group alongside Tobias Bjornfot who has been excellent for Ontario in the AHL this season.

Nils Lundqvist has scored an astonishing 17 points in 24 games for Lulea in the SHL this season. The play of those three may relegate Philip Broberg and Victor Soderstrom to fewer even-strength minutes, which will provide terrifying depth from two top-15 picks this past summer.

Sweden’s forward corps has some big names, but there are concerns about players skating above their ability. The scoring will likely be led by Samuel Fagemo, Nils Hoglander and Jonatan Berggren, as will time on the power play. The Swedes like their role players and those like Nikola Pasic and Albin Eriksson will help mitigate chances against and likely kill penalties.

However, Gustafsson, Henriksson and Back don’t inspire much confidence down the middle.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Alexander Holtz F 2020 Djurgardens IF
Lucas Raymond F 2020 Frolund HC

These two skaters are dynamite; thank your lucky stars that both were cleared from illness and injury to skate in this tournament. Holtz and Raymond will compete for top-five selections at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and may be two of the most exhilarating players in the competition.

They both led Sweden to a gold medal at the U18 World Junior Championship last spring. Raymond scored eight points in seven games and his five points in 16 games for Frolunda as a 17-year old. He’s fast, has absurdly good hands and a beautiful shot - consider him a more well-rounded version of Holtz. Holtz notched seven points at the U18 WJC and has five goals and eight points in 21 games for Djurgardens this season.

Big Questions

The elephant in the room is their elimination-round play. History points to Sweden cruising through the group stage, but will their embarrassing finish last year motivate them enough to reach a medal game? Expect Hugo Alnefelt to start in net with his impressive SHL resume as an 18-year old, but, if he stutters, will Sweden have to test its depth in the crease?


Slovakia

Roster I Schedule

Slovakia v Finland - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

I’ll note right off the bat that I cheer for Slovakia internationally. I’ll also note that while they rarely compete seriously for a medal, this squad scares teams every year at the WJC. And, finally, that’s almost always on the back of an otherworldly goaltending performance.

Last year they lost in the quarterfinals after just one win in the group stage, but it was their opening day performance - a 2-1 loss to the U.S. - that always gets people scrambling for their remote hoping for an upset.

Slovakia has finally escaped the group of death and should feasibly score two wins in the group stage. I wouldn’t ever rule them out for more or a surprise victory in the quarterfinal round.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Maxim Cajkovic F TBL 2019

The Slovaks have just one NHL-drafted prospect on this year’s roster - Maxim Cajokovic - but that shouldn’t convince you to write them off. Cajkovic was a third-round pick of Tampa this summer despite starting the 2018-19 season in the first-round conversation. He was okay for a dreadful Saint John’s team in the QMJHL but has ten goals and 22 points in 16 games so far this season.

On the blue line, Slovakia will miss Capitals’ pick Martin Fehervary, who has aged out of the tournament and is skating for the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

There are a few players dotting the roster that have maybe warranted a late-round pick the past couple years that will be relied on to generate offense, including Martin Fasko-Rudas, Oliver Okuliar and Oliver Turan.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Samuel Knazko D 2020 TPS [Jr. A SM-liiga]
Marko Stacha D 2020 HK Dukla [Slovakia]

As much as Sweden is known for not capitalizing on group stage dominance, Slovakia is known for cutting its best 17 and 18-year old prospects from their WJC roster. Slovakia’s youth program is modeled after the U.S. National Team Development Program, and it’s been mildly successful at developing talent over the past few years. But, to no one’s surprise, the Slovaks have made another questionable roster decision. Last year it was Maxim Cajkovic and this year it’s Martin Chromiak and Oliver Fatul.

Knazko has been very good for TPS U20 at the Jr. A SM-liiga level this year scoring six goals and 22 points in 32 games. He should go in the second or third round this summer, and, fun fact, plays the net-front for TPS on the power play.

Big Questions

The obvious question is where will the offense come from, but it’s possible Cajkovic and Okuliar can score enough for this team to run. Without a doubt, however, all eyes will be on netminder Samuel Hlavaj. The undrafted goalie for the Sherbrooke Phoenix will not only be playing to hear his name called in June (he went undrafted in 2019) but also to replicate his jaw-dropping play for the Slovaks last year.


Kazakhstan

Roster I Schedule

Kazakhstan v United States - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Kazakhstan didn’t win a single game in the group stage last year but avoided demotion by beating Denmark twice with a combined score of 8-3 in the relegation round. Much of that squad will be back this year as they aim to secure at least one victory in Group A.

It doesn’t look great for their chances, but today’s match against the Swiss may be their best opportunity. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine them avoiding the relegation round against a likely more-formidable opponent.

The Kazakhs have no NHL-drafted prospects on their roster, and their best weapon last year - Artur Gatiyatov - has aged out of the tournament after challenging for the competition’s scoring title in Canada with five goals and eight points in six games.

Kazakhstan has also done themselves no favors with the recent cut of forward Dias Guseinov. He scored nine points in five games at the U18 Division 1A WJC last spring and skated in all six games for Kazakhstan at the 2019 WJC. Currently, he’s posted 13 goals and 41 points in 36 games for Snezhnye Barsy Astana of the Russian MHL. There’s word he’s injured, but, regardless, he will surely be missed.

Otherwise, Kazakhstan will rely on Maxim Musorov to conduct offense; the 18-year old has 23 points in 17 MHL games this season, has skated in 22 combined KHL and VHL games for the Barys club and posted six points in five games at the U18 Division 1A WJC in the spring.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Stanislav Alexandrov F 2020 Snezhnye [MHL]
Rustem Dzhumagulov D 2020 Snezhnye [MHL]
Artyom Korolyov D 2020 Snezhnye [MHL]
Maxim Pavlenko G 2020 Snezhnye [MHL]
Ansar Shaikhmeddenov F 2020 Snezhnye [MHL]

Kazakhstan is not a frequent NHL prospect factory, but this tournament could do wonders for a few of the players above. Artyom Korolyov is having an excellent season in the MHL and could warrant a late-round pick in June. Alexandrov has 12 goals and 14 points in 27 games for Snezhnye and could be a dark-horse offensive threat.

Big Questions

This team has the benefit of chemistry. Nearly all of them play on the same team in the MHL and are mainstays in the Barys program, Kazakhstan’s only KHL club. Maxim Pavlenko will need to shine in net as is custom for these smaller nation teams. But the biggest test will come in a likely relegation round appearance where there is no clear Group B opponent.


Group B - Ostrava

Team 2019 Finish Proj. 2020 Group Finish
Team 2019 Finish Proj. 2020 Group Finish
United States 2nd 2nd
Russia 3rd 1st
Canada 6th 3rd
Czech Republic 7th 5th
Germany Promoted 4th

United States

Roster I Schedule

United States v Czech Republic: Quarterfinals - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

The U.S. suffered an agonizing defeat at the hands of the Finns in last year’s gold-medal game, and, make no mistake, the roster is once again constructed to win gold. The Americans are an early favorite to avenge their loss in the 2019 competition - and rightfully so when you look at their roster head to toe.

The only potential hiccup to the U.S.’s shot at gold is their group. It isn’t a ‘Group of Death’ per se, but there is no clear easy win. The U.S. opens their tournament this afternoon against Canada; you may think that’s a match that decides who wins the group, but that could very easily not be the case. The U.S. should have their way on Friday, but the Germans will make it hard.

Sunday will bring a game everyone should tune into: America versus Russia or, in other terms, Spencer Knight versus Yaroslav Askarov (hopefully).

The United States will utilize their goaltending and waves of elite offense to carry them through group play and presumably to a medal.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Spencer Knight G FLA 2019 Bobby Brink F PHI 2019
Isaiah Saville G VGK 2019 Cole Caufield F MTL 2019
Dustin Wolf G CGY 2019 Jack Drury F CAR 2018
Ty Emberson D ARI 2018 Curtis Hall F BOS 2018
Jordan Harris D MTL 2018 Arthur Kaliyev F LAK 2019
Zac Jones D NYR 2019 Shane Pinto F OTT 2019
K'Andre Miller D NYR 2018 Jacob Pivonka F NYI 2018
Mattias Samuelsson D BUF 2018 Nick Robertson F TOR 2019
Spencer Stastney D NSH 2018 Alex Turcotte F LAK 2019
Cam York D PHI 2019 Oliver Wahlstrom F NYI 2018
John Beecher F BOS 2019 Trevor Zegras F ANA 2019

22 of the 23 players on the final U.S. roster have been drafted into the NHL, but that doesn’t always guarantee success. This group is littered with first-round talent and an unmatched scoring touch, though.

Down the middle, the U.S. will run Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte and John Beecher (all first-round picks this summer) and flank them on the wings with Arthur Kaliyev, Cole Caufield, Oliver Wahlstrom and Nick Robertson. If those names don’t pop off the page at you, take one look at Elite Propsects to see how gaudy their goal-scoring numbers are; Cole Caufield already has 12 goals and 20 points in 18 games for Wisconsin after a stunning 72-goal campaign with the U.S. NTDP in 2018-19.

The blue line is an interesting mix at this year’s WJC for the Americans. Heavy minutes will be handed out to K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson, who were both on the silver-medal squad last year. Otherwise, the defense is a smaller group that excels at the transition game - like Nashville prospect Spencer Stastney. He’s likely to line up with Miller to start the tournament, which means ample opportunity to showcase his team-best skating ability (I will be tracking Stastney’s tournament and provide a full recap in January).

In net, the Americans will turn to first-round talent Spencer Knight, who has been phenomenal at Boston College, entering the holiday break with a 0.940 save percentage and a shutout in nearly a third of his starts (4).

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Parker Ford F 2018 Providence [NCAA]

There aren’t actually any draft-eligible players on the U.S. roster, but there is one undrafted skater in Providence Friar Parker Ford. He’s aged out of entry-draft eligibility but impressed the coaching staff enough to survive final cuts. He’ll likely have some NHL suitors this off-season as he has six goals and 14 points in his first 17 NCAA games ever.

Big Questions

There isn’t much to worry about with this U.S. team on paper. They can score at will and their goaltending should be one of the defining parts of their tournament. If they have a weakness, it’s the blue line, but I would hesitate to call it that. If anything, it’s non-traditional, and that should serve their forward group well with a good ability to break out the puck with possession.

Their group will be a big test, however. One stumble and any one of Russia, Canada or even the Czech Republic or Germany could pounce on the opportunity.


Russia

Roster I Schedule

Russia v Switzerland: Bronze Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

If there’s one team that can go toe-to-toe with the Americans offensively, it’s Russia. There have been some questions about why players like Nashville prospect Egor Afanasyev were left off the roster. The Russians typically don’t ice North American skaters at the WJC, but, at the same time, this roster carries several.

Regardless, goal scoring shouldn’t be a problem for this team that was eliminated by the U.S. in last year’s semifinals before dismantling the Swiss en route to a bronze medal.

First place in Group B is likely a toss-up, and Russia has Canada and the U.S. back-to-back afternoons this weekend, but I think it could come down to Sunday’s contest against America in what likely could be a shootout.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Daniil Misyul D NJD 2019 Dmitri Voronkov F CBJ 2019
Alexander Romanov D MTL 2018 Pavel Dorofeyev F VGK 2019
Yegor Zamula D PHI -- Alexander Khovanov F MIN 2018
Daniil Zhuravlyov D COL 2018 Kirill Marchenko F CBJ 2018
Nikita Alexandrov F STL 2019 Ivan Morozov F VGK 2018
Grigori Denisenko F FLA 2018 Vasili Podkolzin F VAN 2019

As I mentioned above, goal scoring should not be an issue for a Russian team that will ice Nikita Alexandrov, Yegor Sokolov, Alexander Khovanov, Kirill Marchenko, Ivan Morozov and Grigori Denisenko. Denisenko was one of the tournament’s best players last year with nine points in seven games and should challenge again for the scoring title.

Additionally, eyes will certainly be tracking Vancouver’s Vasili Podkolzin, who became the league’s annual whipping boy around draft day in June as someone who oozes raw talent but has NHL-readiness concerns. For what it’s worth, I love Podklozin’s game; should he be able to kick it into high gear for this tournament then the rest of Group B could be in trouble.

The blue line will be led by Montreal prospect Alexander Romanov who was the competition’s best defender last year and really put his name on the map. There will certainly be high expectations for him to repeat his impressive performance, but he may also be concerned with heavy minutes as the defense corps is relatively untested.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Yaroslav Askarov G 2020 SKA-Neva [VHL]
Maxim Groshev F 2020 Nizhnekamsk [MHL]

As exciting as the forward group is, the net is where fans may want to watch when Russia hits the ice. It remains to be seen whether Yaroslav Askarov will start for Russia - they have a talented returnee in Amir Miftakov, too, but regardless he will likely be a first-round pick come June.

At 17-years old, Askarov has started 16 games in the VHL (AHL-level league in Russia) and boasts a 0.922 save percentage. Should he start and get hot, Russia will have a relatively clear path to a medal if they can out-duel the Americans.

Big Questions

The depth of the blue line is what most will probably point to as Russia’s biggest weakness. I’m curious to see what they do in net; I don’t think it’s that odd to rotate Askarov and Miftakov in the group stage to parse out the hot hand.

Russia should be able to score on pace with the U.S., but if they stumble there watch for special teams to be a big test for how far this team will go at the 2020 competition.


Canada

Roster I Schedule

Canada v Slovakia: Exhibition - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

It’s probable a mistake to pencil in Canada as finishing third in the group, but by no means does that suggest they don’t medal at this tournament. After a single loss to the Russians in last year’s group stage, the Canadians fell to Finland in overtime in the quarterfinals, finishing sixth in the tournament despite having the competition’s best goal differential.

Five of those players are returning this year - Lafreniere, Smith, Veleno, Hayton and McIsaac - and Canada will ice arguably the deepest roster in the group. Unfortunately, their opening contest versus the U.S. this afternoon may decide their fate in group play. Depending on which Russian team they see, that should be a win and Germany and the Czech Republic should be victories, too.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Barrett Hayton F ARI 2018 Akil Thomas F LAK 2018
Dylan Cozens F BUF 2019 Aidan Dudas F LAK 2018
Bowen Byram D COL 2019 Kevin Bahl D NJD 2018
Liam Foudy F CBJ 2018 Ty Smith D NJD 2018
Ty Dellandrea F DAL 2018 Jacob Bernard-Docker D OTT 2018
Jared McIssac D DET 2019 Calen Addison D PIT 2018
Joe Veleno F DET 2018 Joel Hofer G STL 2018
Olivier Rodrigue G EDM 2018 Nolan Foote F TBL 2019
Raphael Lavoie F EDM 2019 Connor McMichael F WSH 2019

Much like the American roster, this lineup is almost exclusively NHL-drafted talent. In fact, the five players who haven’t been drafted all will be this summer (at least four in the first round).

I like this Canadian roster a lot. Their four forward lines in practice yesterday lined up as the following:

That’s absurd. Connor McMichael is second in OHL scoring this season with 59 points in 27 games for London and he’s skating on the fourth line. Then you factor in a blue line led by Bowen Byram and Ty Smith and you’ve got a roster that’s hard to beat. But that’s the problem - there are at least two other teams in Group B that can boast the same thing, and Canada delivers the worst confidence in net of the three.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Quinton Byfield F 2020 Sudbury [OHL]
Jamie Drysdale D 2020 Erie [OHL]
Alexis Lafreniere F 2020 Rimouski [QMJHL]
Dawson Mercer F 2020 Drummonville [QMJHL]

The most exciting aspect of Team Canada will be the discussion it sparks about the NHL Entry Draft in Montreal in June. For some time, Alexis Lafrieniere has been the consensus first overall pick in 2020, but Sudbury center Quinton Byfield is raising contrary opinions with 22 goals and 57 points in 30 games this season, which is good for third in the entire OHL.

I know we do this dance each year (see: Hughes v. Kakko), but there is a legitimate discussion about taking Byfield first overall, and we know how much NHL teams prefer centers to wingers. This tournament will certainly catalyze the rumor mill from now until June.

Dawson Mercer and Jamie Drysdale will also be first-round picks in Montreal.

Big Questions

Hockey Canada left some talent off the roster. I’m not too concerned it will hurt them, because that’s four lines that should score when they want. But, taking a player like Nolan Foote or Aidan Dudas over Alex Newhook, Samuel Poulin or Philip Tomasino could bite them on special teams or scoring off the rush - something the U.S. and Russia could best them at.

I’m not sure who will start against the U.S. today (we know it’s not Rodrigue), but none of Canada’s three options have the pedigree of Spencer Knight or Yaroslav Askarov.


Czech Republic

Roster I Schedule

Denmark v Czech Republic - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

The host country might have drawn the unluckiest schedule of any serious contender at the 2020 World Junior Championship. They open today against Russia, who they likely can’t compete with offensively. Saturday will be a must-win for them against Germany, and back-to-back contests against the U.S. and Canada on Monday and Tuesday could spell doom.

The Czechs disappointed last year wasting a talented roster by losing twice in the group stage (and barely beating Switzerland) before being worked over by the U.S. in the quarterfinals. This year’s roster is less proven and probably less talented, but they will have Lukas Dostal back in net to boost their confidence.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Lukas Dostal G ANA 2018 Jakub Lauko F BOS 2018
Lukas Parik G LAK 2019 Matej Pekar F BUF 2018
Hugo Has D WSH 2019 Karel Plasek F VAN 2019
Matej Blumel F EDM 2019 Michal Teply F CHI 2019
Jan Jenik F ARI 2018

Dostal may just be the Czechs’ saving grace should they advance anywhere in the elimination stage; he started four games in last year’s tournament and finished with a 0.957 save percentage. He’s been one of the best goalies in the Finnish Liiga this year, too, so they have a known quantity between the pipes.

The offense will be led by Coyotes prospect Jan Jenik, who’s having an otherworldly season with Hamilton in the OHL with 22 goals and 56 points in 27 games. He scored two assists in just three appearances at last year’s tournament but will be relied on to work with Pekar, Lauko, Teply and Blumel to grind out a few victories.

Hug Has is the Czech’s best option on the blue line; he may deliver a dark-horse campaign for the tournament’s best defender, But he isn’t surrounded by help, as the Czechs’ entire 2019 blue line is no longer eligible for the WJC.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Karel Klikorka D 2020 Mlada Boleslav [Czech]
Simon Kubicek D 2020 Seattle [WHL]
Radek Kucerik D 2020 Saskatoon [WHL]
Nick Malik G 2020 Trinec [Czech]
Jan Mysak F 2020 Litvinov [Czech]
Jaromir Pytlik F 2020 Sault Ste. Marie [OHL]
Adam Raska F 2020 Rimouski [QMJHL]

Players like Simon Kubicek, Adam Raska and Radek Kucerik should deliver good depth for the Czechs, but I will be watching 17-year old Jan Mysak. He’s created a massive divide in the prospects community this year; he should easily be a first-round pick with nine points in 26 games for Litvinov (he’s scoring 1.27 primary points per 60 minutes) but some traditionalists haven’t caught the bug yet.

Big Questions

If the Czechs can manage to dispatch the Russians today, then there may not be much to worry about. And maybe there is some host country magic that I can’t factor in, but, otherwise, the big question is how this team performs against the Germans on Saturday.

That match will likely determine who enters the relegation round, seeing as the hosts will have trouble managing the offensive firepower of the rest of the group with or without a phenomenal Lukas Dostal.

This roster just doesn’t do enough for me to avoid the relegation round. If they aren’t careful, an opportunistic Kazakhstan team could end the Czechs’ tournament in disaster, too.


Germany

Roster I Schedule

Ice Hockey WM: Czech Republic - Germany Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Germans were awarded promotion to the top division for the 2020 World Junior Championship after running the tables of the Division 1A competition last year, losing zero games and outscoring opponents 22-5.

They enter the more difficult of the two groups and look to avoid a second-straight relegation from the top division. The’ll take on a tired U.S. group on Friday afternoon before their big match up against the Czechs on Saturday. One of their contests versus Canada or Russia on Monday and Tuesday could be must-wins should they lose to the hosts this weekend.

But I’m not quite there yet with Germany. This is a talented roster; it’s not bolstered with NHL talent, but it’s one that could surprise teams and maybe squeeze out a quarterfinal win should they get that far.

NHL Prospects

Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted Player Pos. NHL Team Drafted
Moritz Seider D DET 2019 Justin Schutz F FLA 2018
Dominik Bokk F CAR 2018

The Germans will lean heavily on first-round pick Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings to carry any upset hopes. His sixth-overall selection raised eyebrows in June, but he’s been stellar in the AHL this season, scoring 12 points in 28 games with Grand Rapids to date. He scored seven points in five games at the Division 1A WJC last year and posted two goals for Germany at the IIHF World Championship in the spring, too.

Dominik Bokk - the St. Louis draft pick turned Hurricanes prospect - led that Division 1A tournament last year with eight points and will once again be the Germans go-to on offense.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
Player Pos. Eligible Current Team
John-Jason Peterka F 2020 Munchen [DEL]
Lukas Reichel F 2020 Berlin [DEL]
Tim Stutzle F 2020 Mannheim [DEL]

Similar to Sweden and Canada, Germany will ice some exciting talent eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Maximilian Glotzl and Simon Gnyp were recently cut from the team, but he highlight here is Tim Stutzle. The 17-year old playing in the Mannheim program of Germany’s top league has been astonishing, scoring five goals and 23 points in 25 games for the Eagles against grown men.

The kid has unreal skill combined with a quick skating stride and next-level vision. Playing in the German league won’t push his name to the top of many armchair scouting reports, but Stutzle is a legitimate top-10 pick this June.

Big Questions

The question at hand for Germany is whether their star power will be enough to overcome the Czech Republic and push for another surprise victory. German hockey has been a remarkable story over the past few years and this could be another notch in that belt.

If the Germans falter, they should avoid relegation with ease, but stranger things have happened at the World Junior Championship.


All-Star Team

Here’s my predicted all-tournament team:

F: Grigori Denisenko - Russia

F: Joe Veleno - Canada

F: Arthur Kaliyev - USA

D: Tobias Bjornfot - Sweden

D: Ville Heinola - Finland

G: Spencer Knight - USA

All-2020 Team

Here’s my predicted all-tournament team for 2020-eligible players:

F: Tim Stutzle - Germany

F: Alexis Lafreniere - Canada

F: Lucas Raymond - Sweden

D: Bastian Guggenheim - Switzerland

D: Samuel Knazko - Slovakia

G: Yaroslav Askarov - Russia


Final Standings Prediction

Here’s my predicted tournament results and final standings:

Group A

1 - Finland

2 - Sweden

3 - Slovakia

4 - Switzerland

5 - Kazakhstan

Group B

1 - Russia

2 - USA

3 - Canada

4 - Germany

5 - Czech Republic

Relegation

Czech Republic def. Kazakhstan (2 games to 0)

Quarterfinals

Russia def. Switzerland

Finland def. Germany

Sweden def. Canada

USA def. Slovakia

Semifinals

Finland def. Sweden

Russia def. USA

Final Standings

Gold - Russia

Silver - Finland

Bronze - USA

4th - Sweden

5th - Canada

6th - Slovakia

7th - Germany

8th - Switzerland

9th - Czech Republic

Relegated - Kazakhstan


The tournament kicks off this morning at 8:00 AM Central Time with Switzerland taking on Kazakhstan. NHL Network will air games in the U.S.; TSN will do so in Canada. The Czech Republic is seven hours ahead of Central Standard Time, for those keeping track at home.

Spencer Stastney and Team USA will play on Dec. 26 (12 PM), Dec. 27 (12 PM), Dec. 29 (12 PM) and Dec. 30 (12 PM) in the group stage.

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and iihf.com.