The Rise of Europe (WJC Pool B Preview)

Pool B

The World Juniors have long been a tournament for the Canadians as they have always been the biggest team. There has always been one other team though that has been one of the best even if they do not focus on the tournament that much. The Russians have always been one of the best teams in the tournament as they have been constantly among the top teams every year. From the time the tournament started the Russians, then the USSR, have been the one team that has challenged the Canadians every step of the way. They have been the representatives of the European teams for a very long time and have really been the only European team to make any noise in the tournament. Much like the rest of the tournament a lot of that has changed in the last few years as the tournament has become more even than ever before. Pool B will feature the best of Europe as the rising teams in the area look to challenge the dominance of the Russians. The European teams have always been in the mix but not until recently were many of them considered some of the best in the world. In the last few years a number of European teams have shown that they have what it takes to challenge the top teams every year. Much like the Americans in Pool A there are a number of teams in Pool B that have changed everything about their development. The leaders in this have been the teams in Scandinavia as the Finnish and Swedish teams have become true powers in the tournament. Out of the two countries it has been the Swedes that have been the better team more recently. They have finished in the medals 5 of the last 6 years including a Gold in 2012 and a silver last year. The Swedes have put themselves in the conversation for the best team in Europe alongside the Russians. There will be a number of other teams that will try to make their name in this tournament as the European teams are getting better every year. There are more surprises in every tournament as teams are becoming better and better every year. This year seems to be the same thing as teams from Europe look good once again but when it comes down to it there are two teams in Pool B that will be the clear-cut favorites. The Russians and the Swedes are the teams in the forefront this year in the pool as they are the two best teams in the group. While the Swedes look to win another gold medal this time in front of their home crowd the Russians are looking to make up for a lost chance from last year. These two teams look to be the top two while the Finnish team looks to take third place and make it out of the pool in a pool full of less than impressive teams. As good as Europe has become in this tournament there are still plenty of weak spots and many of them are in Pool B although the battle for the top will be more than entertaining.

Finland

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The Finnish team has been a bit of a question mark for a number of years as they have had great teams on paper but have not translated that to the ice. Last year the Fins would have a number of very good players on their team and all were ready to make an impact. Yet despite some great performances by players like Mikhail Granlund the Finnish team would finish in 7th place. It was a big disappointment for a team that looked poised to take the next step last year with the potential to challenge the top teams. Now they are without some of their top players including Aleksander Barkov, who will not be released by the Florida Panthers, and Mikhail Granlund, who is not eligible anymore. They will look to move on this year from their former greats and try to come back to a medal this year. They haven’t won a medal since 2006 when they would take a bronze and this year will not be much easier. There is talent on this team although the majority of their top players will come from the back-end. The Fins will have four drafted players on the blueline along with two drafted goaltenders. Up front there are only a few draftees as Henri Ikonen, Arturri Lehkonen, Saku Maenalanen, and Teuvo Teravinen  represent the future stars of the NHL for the Fins. There will also be only a few potential draft picks in the future while the rest of the team is made up of Finnish league players who went undrafted in the NHL. That won’t stop the Fins from coming on strong this year as they are still among the middle of the road teams in the tournament and have the potential to upset some of the elite teams. The Pool should give the Fins an opportunity to stay out of the relegation round this year as they will likely finish in third place and move out of the pool but beyond that will be a struggle as a medal does not seem to be in their future.

Player to Watch:
Kasperi Kapanen, RW (KalPa, FIN)
– He holds a legendary name in Finland with a family that has played at the top-level in Finland and the NHL and now the younger Kapanen is looking to make an impression in the tournament and solidify himself as a first round pick in 2014

 

Norway

norway

The Norwegians are new to the party this year as they will try to follow up a successful 2013 campaign. Last year Norway would beat a number of good teams in Division I Group A and would end up in first place. With a 4-1-0-0 record in 2013 Norway would earn their spot in the top division as they look to become permanent guests. The Norwegians have been in the top division five times since their junior team began and only once did they stay in the top division longer than a year. In 1989-1991 the Norwegians would make a habit of finishing just high enough to remain in the top division. Since then though, they have not been able to remain in this division for very long. This year they are looking to do just that as they are hoping that a good group of young talent can keep them in the top division. The roster is not to the level of the top teams in this tier but they will be led by some good talent. The main leader of this team will be Markus Soberg as he is the only drafted player on the roster this year. They will also look towards Martin Ronnild who will be eligible for the 2014 draft and will look to try to prove his worth in the tournament. The Norwegians will be at a disadvantage though as they do not have the talent on the roster that many teams in Pool A will have. They could be good for a few surprises if they can get some great performances. Like many teams will less talent they will need to look to their goaltending to carry them if they hope to stay in the top division. They will not compete with the top in the pool this year as they will have to fight it out in the relegation series and will need to fight it out to the last game to remain in the top division as relegation may be in their future.

Player to Watch:
Markus Soberg, RW (Frolunda, SWE)
– He is a Columbus Draft pick and the only NHL talent on the team as his speed and skill will be needed if the Norwegians hope to stay in the top-tier of the tournament as he will be the player everyone is looking to

Russia

russia

The Russians are the only team that can rival the Canadians in terms of overall success in the World Juniors. They are a team that has been there from the start and has been one of the best teams in the tournament. Last year they would disappoint though, as they found themselves in the bronze medal game while hosting the tournament. There was a lot of hope entering the 2013 tournament that the Russians would win at home a year after winning silver but it would not come to pass as they would save face with the bronze medal and now will be looking to win a gold and get back on top. They have also been one of the few teams that runs into a problem of not having their best players. They are cursed by their success as their best young players remain in the NHL during the tournament. Still they have enough talent to fill in the spots and although they will not have the level of NHL talent that the top teams do they still have the highest level of talent in this pool. The Russians will do so with a number of returning players including their best player from last year’s tournament. In 2013 the Russians would earn their bronze medal in large part due to the performance of their goaltending. That should be the case once again as Andrei Vasilevski will return and looks to be one of the best goalies once again. He would hold the second best GAA and the second best save percentage in the tournament and looks to do the same this year. Along with Vasilevski the Russians will look to Mikhail Grigorenko, Valentin Zykov, and Nikita Zadorov as their leaders this year while seeing a number of young stars have an impact. There is no doubt that the Russians will be at the top of the pool this year as they are a team with more than enough talent to win the gold medal but will have to have everything working like every other elite team if they hope to get back to the top.

Player to Watch:
Ivan Barbashev, LW (Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL)
– He is one of the top prospects coming out of Russia for this year’s draft and with more than a point per game in the QJMHL this year he will be looked at to try to provide scoring for the Russians this year and improve his draft stock

Sweden

sweden

The Swedes are back at home and they are hoping that a new year will mean they continue to their recent dominance. They would win only their second gold medal in 2012 and have won a medal in 5 of the last six years. They are a team that has risen from never being a part of the conversation and producing few NHL stars to a team that continues to produce great players and continues to win in the Juniors. It has been a meteoric rise for the Swedes as before 2008 they had not won a medal for 11 years. They had also never seen the top of the podium since 1981 until they won the tournament in 2012. Now they must be considered among the best teams in the tournament every year and are the favorites to medal in every tournament. They are trying to do the same thing this year as they hope to continue their winning ways and earn another gold medal. They will do so with another very talented team as they are one of only three teams that will have more drafted players than undrafted players on their roster. There is plenty of talent on this team and they will be able to challenge the elite in the tournament once again. The battle has already been set up for Pool B as the pool will come down to the Russian talent against the NHL talent of the Swedes. With players like goaltender Oscar Dansk, forwards Sebastien Collberg, Elias Lindholm, Alexander Wennberg, and Anton Karlsson the Swedes are set up to have a big year at home. They will take on the Russians and possibly win the Pool while making their way to the medal rounds where they will truly test their talent. The Swedes are not far from becoming one of the most dominant teams of the era as they look to another strong year. A gold medal is not out of the question for them this year but there are plenty of obstacles to stop them as they will have to get by the elite teams once again to get there.

Player to Watch:
Anton Karlsson, RW (Frolunda, SWE)
– He is considered one of the best all round prospects in the NHL draft this year and his speed and size make him a legitimate threat as he will look to have a great tournament and lead his team to the gold medal at home

 

Switzerland

switzerland

The Swiss are back in the top-tier for another year as they would have a good year last year to win their chance to stick around. They are a team that has sat in the middle for the last few years and are now looking to take another step forward. The Swiss are used to being in the top division as they have spent time in both divisions but lately have made a home in the top-tier. Since 1996 the Swiss have only played in the second tier once and in that time have taken their only medal of the tournament. 1998 was the best year for the Swiss team as they would earn their first medal ever as they would earn the bronze in what turned out to be one of the rare tournaments where none of the elite teams were at the top. The Swiss are hoping that they can do the same this year and improve on their 6th place finish from 2012. They will do this with a handful of NHL caliber players that will look to surprise everyone by finishing in the medals. The team will look to their top NHL talent for leadership in the tournament as Mirco Mueller and Christoph Bertschy will join the team as the two top players. The Swiss will also look to potential draftee in Kevin Fiala who will be looking at the tournament to try to improve his draft stock. If any player on the Swiss team has a great tournament they may be able to make it out of the pool but the talent is not there without that great performance. The Swiss will likely earn tier way to the playoffs with a new format in place and will extend their stay in the top tier. Still they look to be a team that will extend their stay in the top tier as they will avoid relegation as an improving nation.

Player to Watch:
Mirco Mueller, D (Everett Silvertips, WHL)
– He was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks and he ;looks to be one of the key pieces to the future of the team and this year he will be a key piece to the Swiss team as their top defenceman

 

Prediction:
1. Sweden
2. Russia
3. Finland
4. Switzerland
5. Norway

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