World Junior Preview (Pool A)

The World Juniors is always considered a Canadian Tournament but last year in Buffalo they did not take home the prize. Instead the Russians took home the prize and are back this year to begin their own streak that the Canadians are known for. With a number of top prospects the Russians look to dominate Pool A and advance into the playoffs. They may just do that as Pool A seems to be the weaker pool in the tournament with the Swedes as the only real test for the Russian team. The Swiss and the Slovakians will try to have their say in the pool as they hope to give the top teams a run for their money. Meanwhile Latvia will be hoping to just stay out of relegation this year hoping to stay in the top-tier of the tournament. Loaded with European teams Pool A will all have the same travel schedule to the West of Canada as Edmonton and Calgary will host the 2012 tournament. It is not the best pool with the top two teams obvious favorites but there may be a good battle for the 3rd and final playoff spot. Then again in any tournament like this one any team can win on any given night so don’t miss a minute as you never know who will come out on top.

 

Switzerland

 

 

 

 

 

Making their U20 debut in 1977, Switzerland had their early struggles as they were in a long pattern of relegation and promotion. In 1995 the IIHF changed the format creating two pools and a round robin and since that point Switzerland has been a constant in this tournament. Their last relegation came in 2008 but after a year in the lower division they were back and ready to take on the best. In the 2010 tournament the Swiss had their biggest win in the U20 tournament beating the heavily favoured Russians in the quarter-finals but they could go no further.  The Swiss teams have not had the most success as they have one Bronze medal to show for their time in the tournament and multiple finishes in 4th place. The Swiss are also known for their amazing goaltender performances from relatively unknown goalies including David Aebischer in 1998 and Tobias Stephan in 2002. This year they hope to pull out more upsets as they hope to keep their spot in the tournament. One glaring hole in their roster will be made by their former captain Nino Niederreiter who will not earn a release from the New York Islanders to play in the tournament and is currently recovering from a concussion. In his place will be Sven Bartschi who will need to pick up the slack that Niederreiter’s absence will create. The rest of the roster is filled out by Swiss Men’s League players including all of their goalies. There will be some CHL talent in the mix with a number of WHL players, including Bartschi, as they will feel at home in Western Canada and will be used to facing the type of talent that will be in the tournament. Overall the Swiss are not very promising but could pull another upset if one of their goalies plays big, which is what they are used to. They will be hoping to stay out of the Relegation this year and could make a run at the 3rd place spot after the round-robin. They will probably have some trouble in their first game as they will take on the Russians on Boxing Day which will either turn out as a massive first day upset or a crushing defeat. Look for the Swiss to battle with Slovakia for the third place spot but not do much more with a lack of overpowering talent on the team.

 

Ones to Watch:

Sven Bartschi, LW (Portland Winterhawks, WHL)

– 13th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Calgary Flames)

– 5th in WHL Scoring with the Portland Winterhawks (12 G, 42 A, 54 P)

 

Sweden

 

 

 

 

Since the very start of the U20 tournament the Swedish team has been in the mix winning 15 total medals since 1974. Their struggles started in 1997 and for ten years they were unable to make the medal rounds. Since the 1998 tournament the Swedes have won a medal in all but one tournament. They currently have one gold medal in 1981 and 8 silvers and are currently one of the more dangerous teams in the tournament. Last year the Swedes were one of the more surprising teams as they beat out the Canadians for the top of their pool. They could not get through to the Gold Medal game though and lost the last game to the Americans ending up in 4th place. This year they hope to become one of the teams to beat in Pool A and will do this with a host of returnees and some of the top prospects in the NHL draft. The Sedish team will be anchored by their returning players like Johan Larsson and Patrik Nemeth. The main part of their roster will be their big number of NHL draftees that will be joining the team. None bigger than Mika Zibanejad who spent 9 games in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators before they sent him back to the Swedish Elite League to continue to develop. Zibanejad will be a big focus for the Swedes who hope that his time in the NHL will help him become a big contributor in the tournament. They will also look to two key Swedish prospects who will be eligible for the NHL draft in 2012. Sebastien Collberg and Filip Forsberg are both 17 years old and will be some of the youngest players in the tournament. This will be a big tournament for both players but Forsberg could have the biggest impact as a standout at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and a member of the NHL Development Camp. With so many weapons the Swedes look to be a force in the tournament yet again and could be a very tough team to beat. With Johan Mattson, Sudbury Wolves, in net and some great defenders they will have a good defence once again. Add that to some of the top offensive prospects for the NHL the Swedes are definitely dangerous and could even be able to challenge Russia for the top spot, although Russia look even better. Expect the Swedes to be a solid second place with a chance at upsetting the defending champion Russians.

 

Ones to Watch:

Mika Zibanejad, C (Djurgardens IF, SEL)

– 6th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Ottawa Senators)

– Played 9 games in the NHL this year until returning to Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Elite League

 

Filip Forsberg, C (Leksand IF, SEL)

– Top Ranked Prospect from Sweden for the 2012 NHL Draft

– Won a Silver Medal with Sweden at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2011

 

Latvia

 

 

The Latvians are one of the new teams on the block as they have only made three appearances in the tournament. Working their way up the ladder for the junior tournament has taken up most of their time and they have struggled to remain in the top division. They have repeatedly been the top of the Division IB and at the same time have been the bottom of the top division. This was true again last year as the Latvians won the Division I group A tournament earning them a spot in this year’s tournament. They have yet to place higher than 8th in their three attempts but are hoping that a shift in Latvian hockey will help them out. Recently there have been much more players making an impact in the CHL the Latvian team is looking to make more of an impact this year and hope to stay away from relegation for the first time in the big tournament. Leading the charge will be a number of European players who are currently playing in many different junior teams for professional European clubs. They will also have 4 players that are in North America including Nikita Kolesnikovs, Teodors Blugers, and Zemgus Girgensons. None better than Kristians Pelss who is currently playing in Edmonton for the Edmonton Oil Kings and was drafted in the 7th round by the Edmonton Oilers. Pelss was on the team that won the Division IB tournament and he is currently making an impact on his WHL team. He will be looked to as a leader of the team and the player that can get the offence going. As with most teams in Latvia’s situation they will need a good performance by their goalie if they hope to make a run out of the relegation rounds. They will have a number of goalies from the European Leagues but nobody on the roster seems to be anything special. The Latvians will struggle again unless some other players step up and play big for their national team. Unless the Latvians can pull off a surprise don’t expect them to be challenging for a playoff spot. The best that the Latvians can hope for this year will be to avoid relegation as they continue to build their program that could become something if they stay on track.

 

Ones to Watch:

Kristians Pelss, LW (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL)

– Played for the U20 Latvian team last year that won the Division-IB U20 Tournament in 2011

– Currently among the top ten in scoring for the Edmonton Oil Kings (13 G, 11 A, 24 P)

 

Russia

 

 

 

 

 

The Russians are one of three teams that take this tournament seriously, although they are not noticed much in their home country. The Russians competed as a country for the first time in 1993, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and since have rarely found themselves out of contention. Since 1993 the Russians have won 15 medals and have won 4 Gold Medals. They are currently coming off of their 4th Gold Medal at last year’s tournament where they beat Canada in the final game by scoring 4 unanswered goals in a big comeback. The Russians continue to get better in their junior system and have become one of the teams that every other team needs to beat in order to win the tournament. This year is no different as they will welcome back some key players from the Gold Medal winning team last year and will welcome some of the top prospects in the NHL. A key returnee will be Yevgeni Kuznetsov who made an impact in last year’s tournament and is currently in the KHL while also being drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2010. He will be a key player to lean on for the Russians as one of the few returnees from last year’s gold medal winning team. Two key players will also be joining the team and will partly use the tournament as a tryout for the NHL draft. Mikhail Grigorenko is one of the top ranked prospects for the 2012 NHL draft and will be a key contributor to the Russians attempt at repeating. The most important piece may be Nail Yakupov who is currently the top ranked prospect in the 2012 NHL Draft and will be one of the key players to watch throughout the tournament. Earning 101 points last year, his first year in the OHL, with the Sarnia Sting Yakupov could be one of Russia’s best players in the tournament. As usual the firepower will always be good from the Russians who have always been known as a flashy team that can score at will. They will also add some big defenceman including Andrei Pedran and Artyom Sergeyev who will play in front of Andrei Makarov who looks to make an impact in a position that has not been a strength for the Russian Junior team. The Russians are obviously one of the favorites for the Gold medal in the tournament and most teams that could unseat them are in Pool B. They may struggle against Sweden if they take them lightly but expect them to walk into the top spot in the pool. The only thing that can likely beat the Russians in the round robin will be themselves as they are known for playing lazy sometimes and if they fall into that pattern they will not be able to repeat as champions.

 

Ones to Watch:

Yevgeni Kuznetsov, C/RW (Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL)

– 26th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Washington Capitals)

– Played in the Gold Medal Winning team for the 2011 U20 Tournament

 

Nail Yakupov, RW (Sarnia Sting, OHL)

– Top ranked Prospect for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

– 3rd in OHL Scoring with the Sarnia Sting (19 G, 30 A, 49 P)

 

Mikhail Grigorenko, RW (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL)

– Top ranked prospect in the QMJHL for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

– 4th ranked scorer in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts (24 G, 32 A, 56 P)

 

Slovakia

 

 

 

 

 

The Slovakians have played in the Tournament since 1996 but they have not had much success over their time in the tournament. The best finish that the Slovaks have had is their bronze medal in 1999 but have not been able to repeat a medal performance. Last year they were only one loss away from being relegated to the Division IB tournament but they survived and are back again this year. They will try to continue their run in the big tournament and have some skilled players that can do it. The Slovakian team is one of few European teams that has a roster chalk full of CHL players. Many European teams depend on their local leagues to fill rosters but Slovakia is clearly depending on their young talented players who have moved on to tougher competition in the CHL. This is no more evident than in their defensive corps where only two defenceman are playing in Slovakia. This defensive corps will include many NHL draftees like Michal Cajkovsky (L.A. Kings) and Adam Janosik (Tampa Bay Lightning) who are both playing in the CHL after spending time in their NHL team’s training camps. On offence there are a lot more players who are playing in Slovakia. Two of the best players on offence could be a pair of Detroit Red Wings prospects who are making an impact on their teams. Tomas Jurco and Marek Tvrdon are both at the top of their team’s scoring charts. Both were also selected by the Detroit Red Wings in 2011 and will hope to make an impact in the tournament. Meanwhile in net the Slovaks are hoping that their Slovakian netminders will be able to hold up some powerful attacks from the pool A teams. Slovakia will be looking to some experienced players who have real NHL potential as the system continues to grow. They are hoping to recover from an iffy tournament last year that saw them very close to the Division IB tournament. They will have their work cut out as their defence looks good but the netminders could be a weak point in the team. Don’t expect anything great out of the Slovakians but they do have some talent on their team that could give them a boost into the playoffs that will keep them out of the relegation round. They may be in for a fight with Switzerland but the defensive strength of Slovakia may be able to give them the 3rd and final playoff spot.

 

Ones to Watch:

Tomas Jurco, RW (Saint John Seadogs, QMJHL)

– 35th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Detroit Red Wings)

– 3rd ranked scorer on his QMJHL Team (21 G, 24 A, 45 P)

 

Marek Tvrdon, LW (Vancouver Giants, WHL)

– 115th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Detroit Red Wings)

– 2nd ranked scorer on his WHL Team (14 G, 23 A, 37 P)

 

Prediction:

1. Russia

2. Sweden

3. Slovakia

4. Switzerland

5. Latvia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: