World Junior Preview (Pool B)

There is no question that the World Junior Tournament is one of the favorites and has become a Boxing Day tradition for all Canadians. Recently though the Canadians have had some disappointing years after a long time of ruling the tournament. This year the Canadians will try to get back to their winning ways in Pool B but will have a tough time against the better of the two pools. The Canadians, as always, are favorites in the pool but there are plenty of other great teams that could give them problems. Finland continues to get better and could be the biggest challenge to the Canadians while the Czech Republic and U.S.A remain solid teams. Denmark could be the doormat of the pool as they will just be trying to stay out of relegation this year. The Canadians have come up short the last two years and for a team that is expected to win every year this is not good enough. They will have their work cut out for them as every team is gunning for the home team who loves to state that they are the best Hockey Nation in the world. This will be the motivation for team Canada as they look to get back on top of the junior hockey world in front of their home crowd.

 

Czech Republic

 

 

 

 

 

The Czech Republic has been a member of the tournament since 1993 and have had their successes. The Czechs have two gold medals to show for their time in the Junior tournament and they were back to back. In 2000 the Czechs were led by Milan Kraft and the goaltending of Zdenek Smid to win their first gold medal in the tournament. In 2001 it was Pavel Brendl and Tomas Duba to help them win their second straight Gold Medal in the WJC. Last year the Czechs were not very successful falling into the relegation round. They didn’t see much challenge in the relegation round as they won all three games and stayed in the tournament for this year. With the new year comes a new team as the Czechs hope to get back to the top of the pool and win another medal. They will do this by looking to their superstar Martin Frk who is ranked 2nd in QMJHL prospects. The one major issue with this will be that Frk has missed the entire season with a concussion and the Czechs will hope that he will make his return in the tournament. If Frk cannot return in time for the tournament the offence will look to top ranked Czech prospect Tomas Hrtl. On defence the Czechs will lean on Petr Zamorsky and Daniel Krejci, brother of Boston Bruin David Krejci, to hold down the blue line. The Czechs will also have one of the younger teams in the tournament with five underage players from last year returning this year. They will hope that the experience of last year will help them this year to improve on their performance. There is no question that the Czech’s strength will need to be their offence and it very well could be if Frk is healthy and able to be the dominant player that he can be. The Czech Republic has been on the decline since 2001 but if they are hoping they can get back to their winning ways. It will not be easy for them in the better of both pools in this year’s tournament and with their top player on the mend from a concussion it could be a tough year for them. The Czech Republic will probably be in a fight for the third spot but could end up fourth against some tough competition.

 

Ones to Watch:

Martin Frk, RW (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)

– 2nd Ranked prospect from the QMJHL for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

– Has missed the majority of his QMJHL season with a concussion but may make his comeback at the tournament

 

Canada

 

 

 

 

 

Team Canada has been the most successful team in the World Junior tournament and have been in the tournament since the start. They started their participation in bad form not winning goal for the first five years but were still one of the top teams in the tournament. Their true dominance began in 1993 when they began a streak of 5 years winning gold and they matched this feat from 2005-2009 when they also won 5 straight Golds. With this kind of success the Canadian fans have one expectation for their team and that is to win Gold every year. It becomes a disappointment when the team does not win Gold and this has been the case in the last two years. In 2010 and 2011 the Canadians have come second to two of their biggest rivals, U.S.A. in 2010 and Russia in 2011. Last year was one of the worst as the Canadians led the Russians 3-0 going into the third and then allowed 5 straight goals by the Russians in the third period losing the game and settling for the Silver. This year the Canadians are hoping to get back to their winning ways because for the fans silver is a losing year. They will do this with possibly the most talented roster in the tournament. The roster includes a number of NHL training camp invitees and some current NHL players. The Canadians will lean on Devonte Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly who have spent this year in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning respectively. Both of these NHLers will be key to Canada’s success but there are plenty of other great players on the team that could make an impact. The defence is a perfect expression of the new attitude on team Canada with no returning players but a number of players that will be making an impact in the NHL including Dougie Hamilton and Nathan Beaulieu. With only 4 players returning from last year the team is not very experienced but they can be an explosive and tough team. Canada is clearly the best team overall team on paper both in offence and defence but the question will be whether or not they can handle the pressure of playing at home in one of the biggest tournaments for Canadian Hockey Fans. The Canadians will not be able to walk into first place with teams getting better every year but they will be one of two teams fighting for the top spot in Pool B.

 

Ones to Watch:

Devonte Smith-Pelly, LW (Anaheim Ducks, NHL)

– 42nd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Anaheim Ducks)

– Spent the year in the NHL and was granted a leave from the team to play in the Tournament

 

Mark Scheifele, C (Barrie Colts, OHL)

– 7th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Winnipeg Jets)

– Spent 7 games in the NHL before being released back to his OHL team

 

Brett Connolly, RW (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL)

– 6th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Tampa Bay Lightning)

– Has spent the season in the NHL and was granted a leave to play in the tournament

 

Denmark

 

 

 

The Danes are the least experienced group in the tournament with the Denmark team only making one appearance in the tournament. Their one appearance was in 2008 and it wasn’t their best showing as they finished in 10th place. Denmark has remained in the Division I group B since then but last year they won the group and earned their spot in the big tournament. They will look to make an impact in their second time at the big tournament and will be looking to stay away from relegation this year. Within the tournament there is always room for an upset and Denmark is one team that will need to pull an upset if they hope to stay out of relegation. The Danes will be looking to Niklas Jensen to lead the team in this tournament as one of the few players who is currently in North America. Jensen was drafted in the 1st round by the Vancouver Canucks and is currently leading the Oshawa Generals in scoring this year. Jensen will need to be the leader on offence and will get some help from top ranked Danish prospect Thomas Spelling and Mads Eller, brother to Montreal Canadian Lars Eller. With some small help from Eller and Spelling Jensen will still need to carry the load if the Danes hope to pull of some upset wins. Of course the Danish team could always see some breakout performances from a number of players and with the average age at 18.17 this team is a young one. With any upset team in hockey the biggest position is always the goalie and this year they will look to some home grown talent in Sebastian Feuk, Dennis Jensen, and Christian Larsen who all play in Europe, Feuk and Jensen play in Denmark while Larsen plays in Sweden. The defence will not have too many standouts with every player from the Danish league and not ranked among the top prospects in Europe. There is no question that Denmark will have a tough run against the best pool in the tournament with every game against a very good team. With only one big impact player the Danes will have issues competing in a pool that features two or three scoring lines on every team. They will likely not be able to keep up and will go into the relegation round this year where they may struggle to stay in the big tournament.

 

Ones to Watch:

Niklas Jensen, RW (Oshawa Generals, OHL)

– 29th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Vancouver Canucks)

– Leading scorer on his OHL team (17 G, 18 A, 35 P)

 

Finland

 

 

 

 

Finland is one of the original teams in this tournament and like the rest of the original teams have never made a trip to the lower tournament. They are almost always a part of the title conversation but they have had their moments. From 1989 to 1997 the Finnish team could not find a right combination to get a medal and they are currently trying to end their most recent streak, from 2007 to 2011, of medal-less tournaments. They have also had their success though with 13 medals including two gold medals in 1987 and 1998. Last year the Finns did not have a great performance finishing in 6th place after losing to Switzerland in the 5th place game. This year they will be looking to a roster loaded with talent to get back to their winning ways. They will try to get back into the medals with a great combination as the Granlund brothers will take the ice together. Markus Granlund and Mikael Granlund will be the focus of the Finnish team as the brothers will be the leaders of the offence. Mikael is arguably the better of the two brothers and was drafted 9th overall in 2011 by the Minnesota Wild but is currently playing in the Finnish league. His brother Markus was drafted in the second round by the Calgary and will be playing in what may be his home rink during the tournament. The Granlunds will be core of the offence and will be playing the top two line centres as they hope to get some support from some key prospects including Miro Aaltonen and Mikael Kuronen. On defence the Finns will be looking to one of their best players in Olli Maatta who is the top ranked OHL prospect for the 2012 NHL Draft. Maatta will be looking to be an impact player and will be one of the better Finns on the ice when they play. The Finnish team will also have a solid netminder in Sami Aittokallio who will be returning from last year and will be the top goalie for the Finns at the start of the tournament. Aittokallio was a 4th round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2010 draft and will be looking make an impact in his last chance at the U20 tournament. The Finns have a very talented team and are going to be one of the more challenging teams in the pool. They will also need to face some very strong teams but I believe they will get through and enter a tight battle for position in the top three where they will finish 2nd.

 

Ones to Watch:

Mikael Granlund, C (HIFK Helsinki, Fin)

– 9th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Minnesota Wild)

– This will mark his 2nd appearance in the World Junior Championship after first appearing at 16 years old

 

Olli Maatta, D (London Knights, OHL)

– Top ranked Defenceman prospect in the OHL for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

– One of two players who made the Finnish team from the CHL

 

U.S.A

 

 

 

The Americans are a bit of a forgotten team in the tournament but they should not be taken lightly as they have been a great challenger in recent years. The US are another original team but they were the joke of the tournament for many years at the start. The Americans played in the 1974 tournament but did not win their first medal until 1986 when they took home a bronze. Since that tournament the Americans did not have the most success in the tournament occasionally being in the mix. It wasn’t until the 2000s that USA Hockey seemingly took the tournament seriously and they became a real force in the tournament. They won their first gold medal in 2004 and repeated that performance in 2010 while beating their border rivals, the Canadians in both. The Americans have been one of the better teams in recent years as they are almost always in the mix for a medal if not the gold medal. Last year they missed out on an opportunity to win at home as the tournament went to Buffalo but the US could not pull off a gold medal. Instead the Americans took home the bronze medal and earned their first back-to-back medals in their history in the tournament. This year the Americans will look to make it three medals in a row and make it a third gold medal as they try to spoil the party for the Canadians again. The US will lean on one main player but he will not be skating in the open very much. It is clear that the best player for the Americans is their goalie Jack Campbell who won the tournament’s best goalie award in the 2011 tournament. Campbell will be the anchor for a team that puts special attention on their defensive play. This includes the love of big defenceman that seem to constantly make their appearances on the US roster. This year is no different as the American defensive corps has an average height of 6’2” and are an imposing force in front of Campbell. On offence the Americans will include a number of NCAA players like Jason Zucker from the University of Denver. Zucker is a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild and will be one of the offensive leaders of the team after returning from last year’s medal winning team. The Americans now have their formula for winning medals and that is to build from the goalie forward. They have done this again this year with the best goalie coming into the tournament and a number of big defenders to play in front of him. Their weakness could be their offence that may not have enough firepower to match others but with their defence being so good it might even out. The Americans have a chance at winning another medal and in a tough group they will likely be in a battle for one of the top three spots. With the talent in other teams they may slide to the third spot in this group but this will give them another opportunity to win a medal this year.

 

Ones to Watch:

Jack Campbell, G (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL)

– 11th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Dallas Stars)

– Named the Best Goalie in the 2011 World Junior Championship Tournament

 

Jason Zucker, LW (University of Denver, WCHA)

– 59th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (Minnesota Wild)

– Member of the Bronze winning team from 2011 and the Gold winning team from 2010

 

Prediction:

1. Canada

2. Finland

3. U.S.A.

4. Czech Republic

5. Denmark

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