Who Can Survive The Death Pool (Pool B Preview)

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The World Juniors only has two pools every year but that doesn’t mean that there is no death pool. This pool is Pool B in 2013 as the big three of the Juniors are all in one pool that will likely produce the 2013 champion. Usually the tournament will feature even pools where there are generally two strong teams and a third that is a good team. This year it has all changed as the biggest teams and programs in the tournament will all fight it out in Pool B. The highlight of this pool will likely be Russia who is strong and is looking for a great showing in front of their home crowd. The Russians have always been one of the strongest teams in the tournament but this year they will be looking to continue that success in their home country. They will have their biggest competition in their pool though as Canada will be in the death pool as well. Traditionally this tournament has been dominated by Canada but the last three years have not seen that dominance. The Canadians have been disappointing by their standards as they have not won gold in the last three tournaments. The positive for them though is that the last time the NHL was in a lockout they won the Gold medal. Both of these powers will be joined by a quickly emerging program in the USA. The US had never been a dominant force in the Juniors but over the past few years they have become a major factor every year. These three teams will be the three teams to watch throughout the tournament alongside Sweden from Pool A. That makes Pool B the death pool this year and for the other members of the pool it means a long climb up the ladder. Germany and Slovakia have regularly visited the relegation round in past years and being a part of this pool gives them a very tough schedule. These teams can usually be a surprise for some teams and can get on the cusp of winning a spot in the next round. The Slovaks could do this as they have regularly been upset kings in past tournaments and may be able to surprise a few. Likely though, both the Germans and Slovaks will sit at the bottom of the pool as victims of a very strong group of teams. Pool B is clearly the best pool in the tournament and will lead to plenty of drama throughout the round robin and beyond. With the best teams facing off for the right to get the quarter-final bye there will be no easy path in the B Pool making it the one to watch in 2013.

 

Canada

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The Canadians are as always under a tremendous amount of pressure as they enter the 2013 World Junior Tournament. Canadians followed up five straight Gold medals with two silver medals and a bronze last year. The outcomes have not been expected for Canadians and this year the team is hoping to turn things around especially with some NHL reinforcements. With the lockout in place no team has taken more advantage than the Canadians who are stacked with NHL talent. The offence is deep with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mark Scheifele all joining the team thanks in large part to the lockout. It doesn’t stop with the NHL talent though as projected #1 pick in the 2013 NHL draft, Nathan MacKinnon, will join the team alongside linemate Jonathan Drouin that should make a very good offensive pair. The team is built as usual for Canadians as they are full of grit mixed with some great talent. The strength of this team though will be the defence as they have a group of big and mobile defenceman. The team will rely on NHL talent like Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy, Morgan Reilly, and Griffin Reinhart to lead the team and that will be no problem. Rounding out the group will be two more drafted players in Xavier Ouellet and Scott Harrington making the defence a big strength for the Canadians. They will need to be good too as the goaltending will be the biggest question as Malcolm Subban will be the starter despite a lack of performance in the training camp. If Subban struggles the Canadians will not feel bad to put Jordan Binnington in after a great camp. Subban is a great goalie but he has not been the rock that made him the top goalie in the last few weeks leading many to question the position for the Canadians. The team is full of talent once again but that has not stopped them from struggling in the past. If the offence fades away once again in this tournament the Canadians could be in trouble but there is no question that they will get a shot after the round robin. They will need to beat the Russians if they hope to get Gold once again and that will be their biggest challenge as they look to get back to winning at the World Juniors.

Strength:
Defence
– Everyone of the defenceman is property of an NHL team making them one of the most talented groups and with a good mix of big defensive defenceman and a few offensive defenceman the Canadians could have the best defence in the tournament

Weakness:
Goaltending
– The goalie is always catalyst of the Canadians as they have won and lost tournaments for the team while this year they look to Malcolm Subban who has struggled lately and has put some worry into the Canadian fans

Player to Watch:
Nathan MacKinnon, C (Halifax, QMJHL)
– The Canadians have plenty of talent to watch this year but the most interesting to many is MacKinnon who is looking to make an impression in the tournament as the top prospect for the 2013 NHL draft

 

Germany

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The Germans are one of those up and down teams in the World Juniors as they have been in the top division before. Usually they do not last in the top division though as they tend to trade off spots with other middle of the road teams. In 2011 the Germans would be relegated to the second division finishing in last place. In 2012 the Germans would compete in Division IA and would win their spot in the top division of the tournament. The Germans are the new kids on the block for this year as they look to stay in the top tier for next year’s tournament. They will attempt to do this using the new format as only one team gets relegated meaning they will only need to beat one team. The Germans will lean on their offence to get the wins that they need to stay in the top tier as they have a number of good prospects up front. They will look to Tobias Reider for most of their output as the Edmonton Oilers draft pick will be the top player on the team. Reider will not be alone though as the Germans are a team with plenty of good talent up front. He will be joined by Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun who both represent a bright future for the German program. The offence will need to be good as well with a defence that lacks any true major talent.  Maximilian Faber and Max Meirandres will likely form the top pairing as the two best defenders on the team. The rest of the blue line group is sparse though as many are lost in the German Elite League and do not have much experience in IIHF tournaments. This will put some pressure on the goaltending of the Germans who will need to be great if they hope to stay in the top tier. The starter will likely by Marvin Cupper who has the most experience with high talent as a member of the Shawinigan Cataracts. Behind him will be Philipp Lehr who has had success in the German Elite League and could serve as a good backup. The Germans are not the deepest team in the tournament as they will have a few holes that better teams can exploit. Still they could find themselves in the top tier next year as the relegation could come down to the Germans and the Latvians as they look to stay put for 2014.

Strength:
Offence
– The offence for the Germans is the best part of this team as they have plenty of talent to roll two solid lines which is better than other teams as they look for the offence to over power weaker teams

Weakness:
Defence
– The defence will need the offences help in the games as they are not very deep and do not have a lot of experience in international play meaning that they might be in trouble adjusting to the styles of play that are present in Pool B

Player to Watch:
Tobias Reider, RW (Kitchener, OHL)
– Reider is the clear leader of the teams as the only one of the team with an NHL team as he will be the key to the Germans offence as he needs to lead the team if they hope to stay in the top tier of the tournament

 

Russia

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The Russians continue to be one of the strongest teams in the tournament every year and after a silver medal in 2012 they are hungry for another gold medal at home in Ufa, Russia. The Russians are built as usual with speed and skill up front that are sure to put pressure on the best of defences. The Russians are stacked with talent in almost every line of forwards. They are led by two first round NHL picks in first overall pick by Edmonton Nail Yakupov, now in the KHL during the lockout, and Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres, now with the Quebec Remparts. Along with these two the Russians add a number of players in the KHL and the CHL including top Russian prospect Valeri Nichushkin. The defence for the Russians has traditionally not been a strength as they play a game that focuses on offence more than defence. This year will be no different as the Russians lack the talent of other teams although there is still plenty there. The top pairing will be the two most experienced defenceman on the squad in Nikita Nesterov and Artem Sergeyev, both NHL prospects. The defence will also lean on a top Russian prospect in Nikita Zadarov who will bring some much-needed physicality to the Russian blue line. With a weaker defence the Russians will still be favorites in large part thanks to the goaltending situation. Last year Andrei Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski traded off time with both struggling when they started a game and then shutting the door when coming in for relief. Another year means more experience as either goalie may find himself as the starter with a short leash as a good backup is waiting in the wings. The Russians are a favorite once again and despite not having the strongest defence they are still one of the best teams. They have never relied on the defensive side as they overwhelm other teams with constant offensive pressure and some of the best skill in hockey. They will try to do the same and have a very good chance at winning the pool and the Gold medal although they will not be able to do it without some major challenges. The Russians will likely fight with Canada for the pool and will have to get through them to get the gold medal which could be the best battle to watch throughout the tournament.

Strength:
Offence
– Led by Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko the offence is a typical Russian offence with plenty of speed and skill that looks to be one of the best in the tournament as the Russians look to overwhelm their opponents

Weakness:
Defence
– The defence lacks the big name talent that many teams have in this tournament as the Russians continue a tradition of lacking physicality against very physical teams even if they are getting better at playing a more North American style of defence

Player to Watch:
Nail Yakupov, RW (Nizhnekamsk, KHL)
– The top pick in the 2012 NHL draft Yakupov’s NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers has been delayed thanks to the lockout but it is a positive for the Russians as the top young player form 2012 will be the key to the offensive attack

 

Slovakia

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Slovakia has become one of the upset kings in this tournament as they have regularly surprised some of the top teams. The program for the Slovakians has been on the rise as more and more good players have come out of Slovakia. Last year the Slovakians made it out of the round robin but could not go much further. This year they are looking to get further on in their development as they hope to make it past the round robin once again. The Slovaks do not have the talent that they have enjoyed in the last few years with much more players in the new U20 team than in the CHL. The offence is made up almost entirely of HK Orange 20 Bratislava, Slovakia’s de-facto Junior team, players with only a few players coming from somewhere else. One of these players is Martin Reway who currently plays for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. He will be joined by the Mraz brothers Richard and Bruno who were both drafted by the CHL but are currently playing for the Orange 20 team. On defence the Slovakians will see their best player as Peter Ceresnak will lead the blue line. The Peterborough Petes defenceman and draft pick of the New York Rangers will be the best player on the ice for the Slovakians as one of the few players on the team who is attached to the NHL. He will likely be paired with David Bajanik to make a pretty good top pairing for the team. After that there are very few big players as most are with the Orange 20 team like the offence. The goaltending for the Slovakians is not terrible but also not great. They will likely lean on Richard Sabol who currently plays with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Sabol is not a lock for the top spot though as if he struggles the team won’t have an issue going with Patrik Romancik, a member of the Orange 20 team. The Slovakian team is not as talented as they used to be and that will open some door s for the weaker teams. They do have a reputation for the upsets though and most of the players on this team have been playing together all year making them one of the few true teams in the tournament. Don’t expect a medal from this team but making it out of the round robin is not impossible if they can get a big win against one of the big three in the pool.

Strength:
Defence
– The two best players could be their top defensive pairing and that is a good thing for the Slovakians as these players could make a big impact against some of the top lines in the group to give their team a chance to win

Weakness:
Goaltending
– The Slovakians are bringing in three new goaltenders to the tournament and all three have never been a part of the World Junior team as they will all be thrown into the fire against some very good offensive teams in Pool B

Player to Watch:
Peter Ceresnak, D (Peterborough, OHL)
– He is the only player to be drafted by an NHL team on the Slovakian team and is clearly their best player as they will need to lean on Ceresnak to help shut down some very good teams to give them a shot moving on into the round robin

 

USA

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Of the big three the USA tends to be the forgotten as they have not been as consistent as the Russians or the Canadians. In 2011 the Americans reached their peak in Canada as they beat the Canadians for the Gold Medal. This win began a conversation of the USA beginning to make an impact in the Junior tournament. That theory took a big hit last year though as the Americans barely avoided relegation finishing in 7th place despite the belief that they were a lock for at least the bronze if not another Gold. The 2012 tournament was a massive disappointment for USA Hockey who were hoping to start to become a major part of the World Juniors. Now they go on to the 2013 tournament in hopes to put the disappointment behind them and take it as a speed bump to becoming a bigger World Junior tournament. The Americans will go into the tournament with a well mixed offence that has plenty of talent and is built much like the Canadians had built teams. They will have a number of gritty players like Tyler Biggs and Stefan Matteau along with some undersized but quick layers like Rocco Grimaldi and John Gaudreau. The star of the offence though will be Alex Galenchenyuk who was selected 3rd overall in last year’s draft and is could be one of the best players in the tournament. The defence is built like every year for the Americans as they are big and tough with players like Connor Murphy and Brady Skjei. They will add some offensive flair as well with Seth Jones on the team as he looks to impress and challenge Nathan MacKinnon as the best prospect in the 2013 NHL Draft. The Americans have always built from the back in their teams and it hasn’t changed as they will go in to the tournament with one of the best goalies in the tournament. John Gibson was a top ranked goaltender before being drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011 and will be the starting goalie for the Americans. The Americans seem to have superhuman performances from their goalies when they need it the most and Gibson can provide that as he will be the key if they hope to beat either Canada or the Russians. The Americans are looking strong again but they are a bit of a mash-up of a team with not true identity. That doesn’t mean they will be terrible this year as they will challenge the top teams and get by the bottom teams although finishing in the top two may be too much of a challenge for them. Expect them to finish in third place in the pool

Strength:
Goaltending
– John Gibson could be the best goaltender in the tournament and if past tournaments are any indication the USA will need him to be if they hope to get to a medal this year as he will be unchallenged for the starting spot

Weakness:
Offence
– They have some big guys and a good amount of talent but they are not a grinding team or a pure skill team as they have no true identity in the offence which could lead to some breaks in the way they perform throughout the tournament

Player to Watch:
Seth Jones, D (Portland, WHL)
– There are a number of big names but the biggest upcoming name is Seth Jones who goes into the tournament as the second ranked prospect for the 2013 NHL draft and looks to show everyone that he deserves to be #1

 

Prediction:
1. Russia
2. Canada
3. USA
4. Slovakia
5. Germany

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