2017 World Juniors: Group B Preview

groupb-tor-fw

Group A in the World Juniors this year is full of European teams with a little bit less of a battle between the teams.

Group B will be a different story as three of the biggest hockey nations will all be in the same group.

Canada, Russia, and the USA are all nations that have produced the most and the best players in the world.

The USA is somewhat new to the party as they have become a powerhouse nation but have not been there that long.

When it comes to the international stage the Americans have had a bit of a tougher time in being consistently one of the best teams.

The talent is there and there are not many countries with the same track record in producing top talent as the Americans.

In fact, there may only be two that have consistently produced more talent than the Americans, the Canadians and the Russians.

Their rivalry has been long and that is largely because of the talent that has come out of both of these countries.

The Canadians and Russians have always produced the most talented players in the NHL and in the juniors the future of their programs are on full display.

It has been a constant fight between two teams as they are the best in the world at the junior tournament.

The Russians were always the biggest challenge and have been involved in some of the best games in the tournament’s history.

They produce talent on a consistent basis and no matter what tournament or level they remain a top team with great talent.

Aside from Canada, they have been the top team in the Juniors winning more gold medals than anyone else.

The Canadians are that top team though as this tournament has been theirs every year as they head into every tournament as favourites.

They have produced the most talent in the NHL than any one country and they continue to do that year after year.

There is no doubt that these three teams are the biggest countries in hockey and when it comes to the Juniors they are all expected to be great.

The pressure in this group alone is massive as all of these teams are expected to win gold every year they enter the Juniors.

This year will be no different as all three teams will enter the tournament with the idea that they will win gold.

For the Canadians, it is a chance for them to get back to the gold and start to remain at the top after ending a five-year gold drought that ended the last time they were in Toronto and Montreal.hockey-sidebar

For the Russians, it is about finally getting back to the top after winning their last gold medal in 2011 and falling short since then.

For the Americans, it is about finally showing some consistency after winning two of the last six gold medals but then also finishing out of the medals in between.

As these three fight it out for the top spot in the group there are two other teams looking for some relevance among the big stars.

Latvia and Slovakia are the forgotten teams in Group B as they are two teams that nobody is talking about.

While most fans are focusing on the rivalry between the top three teams Latvia and Slovakia are just trying to be noticed.

They are two teams with plenty of history in this tournament and against the top teams in the tournament.

They have a good chance of getting noticed while everyone else is preparing for the big games in the group.

Both Latvia and Slovakia have a long history of upsets and they might be able to continue that pattern this year.

It could happen and it would throw a wrench into the plans of any of the top three.

That ability to make things interesting could mean that Group B is a group that could be one of the most tumultuous.

The big three could do what everyone expects but everything could turn out different if one of the forgotten teams shows up as they have done before.

canada

Every year the Canadians put together what can essentially be considered an all-star team of NHL prospects. They are always full of top draft picks from last year and top prospects for next year’s draft. Yet over the last few years, they have not performed to that level with inconsistency creeping into the team. Two years ago they took another gold medal but last year they finished out of the medals altogether. It was another bad showing but with very little reason for it as the talent was still at a very high level. They will enter a year where the pressure is big as they are back home with the expectations remaining gold or nothing. They have certainly put together a team with enough talent to get that gold but them coming together is the challenge. On offence, the Canadians will be led by Dylan Strome who has proven to be an offensive powerhouse. He will captain the team and lead a good group up front that includes NHL prospects Tyson Jost, Julien Gauthier, and Mathew Barzal. Like most junior teams the Canadians lack their major stars because they are all playing in the NHL this year. Still, the group is impressive and is sure to be able to put up plenty of points from the top line to the fourth line. On defence, the group will be led by returning defenceman Thomas Chabot and 2016 first round pick Noah Juulsen who was one of the final cuts a year ago. Much like their offence they have lost a lot of experience but the group has proven to be good in their pre-tournament games. In net, the Canadians had to go with two new netminders as Carter Hart and Connor Ingram both will enter their first Junior tournament. Hart seems like the starter for now but neither has solidified their spot making the Canadians likely to see who the hot hand is before they make a full decision. The Canadians are once again very talented although their biggest stars will not be around for this year’s tournament. If they can come together gold is in the cards but their group is going to make it tough.

canada-facts-fw

Latvia

The Latvians are one of the loveable losers in the world of international hockey as they have never won in the top tier but everyone seems to love them. That is largely because there is little to predict when they are playing as they should lose almost every game but sometimes they give unsuspecting teams plenty to handle. They haven’t been able to show that in eh Juniors for a number of years though as they haven’t been a part of the top tier since 2013. After a great campaign in Division I last year they have found their way back and will hope to stay there. If they are going to be successful in remaining in the top tier there is one way that they can do it and that they have done it in other tournaments. Their defence and goaltending needs to be on point in every game and they have proven that they can do that. Every time a Latvian team upsets a major hockey power it is because their goalie had the game of his life and shut down the opposing offence. This year the Latvians look to what seems like a rotation between Gustavs Davis Grigals and Mareks Egils Mitens. Either one of these goalies could find their way to the history books as they will be important for this team. On defence these goalies will get some help as their leader from a year ago is back in Kristaps Zile. He was a big part of their promotion from Division I and will be depending upon to lead the blue line and help the goalies out as much as possible. That is the best option they have as their talent level is simply not there but they seem to perform their best on the big stage. Up front, they will look to some CHL players to lead them in Rudolfs Balcers and Renars Krastenbergs. The rest of the team is good but not great as their depth is not a strength. When it comes to playing the top teams they don’t have the depth or skill to match but their heart in big games has always made a difference. If they can get one key win in the round robin they may achieve what they were hoping for in avoiding relegation.

latvia-facts-fw

Russia

The Russians are one of the most consistent teams in the World Juniors but consistency has never been their goal. They are always in the medal hunt and they have won medals in the past six years but again medals are not the goal. Only one colour of medal matters to the Russians as they are much like the Canadians in that this tournament is gold or bust. For two straight years, they have fallen short of that goal losing in the gold medal game and having to settle for silver. They enter a new year with no less pressure as gold is the only medal that counts for the Russians. The talent is all over this team but for the Russians, there has been a shift from offensive power to defensive. Their goaltenders have been some of the best of the tournament in recent years and that doesn’t seem to be changing. Ilya Samsonov returns to the team after playing two games last year as the back-up and he looks like he can take over and fill the spot without much faltering. In front of him, the defensive corps is a good one with top NHL prospects and some KHL players joining the team. Mikhail Sergachev and Sergei Zborovsky are both NHL prospects that will lead the blue line along with plenty of other talent. Their defence is going to be their biggest asset this time around as the Russians are bringing a lot of talent to the tournament again. The offence has always been the strength of the Russians but this year it isn’t nearly as potent as it always used to be with only one major threat. KHL all-star Kirill Kaprizov is the player that everyone will need to watch as he can change a game. Beyond him, the offence is good but lacks that firepower that they have been known for over the past few years. With such a great defence though the medals are in the future but what colour could come down to the ability of their offence to score on every line.

russia-facts-fw

Slovakia

The Slovaks are a team that has constantly been built like the Latvians as they are not the most skilled group but they tend to come through at important times. They have been a thorn in the side of plenty of teams throughout the years as they tend to have at least one surprise in them every year. Like the Latvians, a lot of that has to do with their goaltending as a good goaltender can change their entire tournament. Yet despite their ability to surprise they haven’t been able to consistently put together wins enough to stay out of the relegation talk. They will try to do that this year as they try to continue their time in the top tier and avoid relegation for another tournament. Like every other year that might come down to their goaltending and they will look to Adam Huska to lead them in the net. If he can have some amazing performances throughout the tournament he might very well help them to make an impact this year. His performance will be the difference for this team as he will make the difference between relegation and remaining in the top tier. The rest of the team will need to step up as there are few big stars for the team to lean on throughout the tournament. One of the major players that they will look to for leadership will be Erik Cernak who is currently playing in the OHL and is a Los Angeles Kings prospect. His defensive capabilities will help as they will need good defence but the talent is not there behind him. The offence will be led by Chicago Blackhawks prospect Radovan Bondra but again beyond him, there is not a lot of depth on the team. That will be the issue as the Slovaks are a team that will depend on a few players to lead them without the depth to run through four lines. That will be their issue as they might have a surprise for one of the top teams but they will likely be working to stay out of relegation.

slovakia-facts-fw

usa

The Americans are sometimes the forgotten team amongst the big teams in hockey and that is because the history isn’t there. They have a not been a power for very long and the past is not as storied as the other big teams. But the athletic system in the USA is amazing when people begin to focus on a sport. They have quickly become a more consistent power in hockey and are beginning to produce big names more consistently into the NHL. In the Juniors they are still trying to find their footing as they have been at the top of the heap but have also sunk to out of the medals directly after. They are trying to find a spot where they can consistently compete for the gold medal rather than just finding themselves there in random years. After a bronze medal performance last year, the Americans are back with a team that looks like they can compete for the top spot. Their ability to that will depend on how well their forwards play in the big tournament. The depth of the forwards is massive and could be the best collection in the tournament this year, even without Alex Debrincat. Jeremy Bracco, Colin White, Kieffer Bellows plus plenty more are all top tier players and most have been claimed by NHL teams. The depth and speed are great on offence but what they used to be great might be their issue this time around. They lost a lot of talent on defence from a year ago and that could expose them. They will look to Charlie McAvoy and Chad Krys to lead them as two returnees and teammates in the NCAA. They will need to stand up with an entirely new goaltending group to help defend. The goalies are good but none have been in the Juniors before although Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll have played for the Americans in the U18 tournament. The Americans are an offensive powerhouse giving them plenty of chances to win a gold but they have to come through which has been an issue in past tournaments.

usa-facts-fw

Prediction:
The Group is going to be a tough one because any loss by the big three will surely change the look of the group entirely. One team might be able to run the table but it doesn’t seem likely in this group. The Canadians are still a good bet to come out on top but their fight with the Americans on New Years could be the deciding factor. The Americans are so good offensively they might be able to knock them off while the Russians don’t have that offence but a great defence pushing them to third. The Latvians and Slovaks will fight it out to stay out of relegation and Latvia might just have it as they remain in the top tier for another year.

groupb-prediction-fw

Advertisements

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 131 other followers

%d bloggers like this: