2018 World Juniors Preview: Group B

groupbGroup A in the World Juniors tournament will be the best group out of the two with plenty of top competition but that won’t leave Group B with nothing.

Although Group A has some of the deepest talent there are some very big teams in this group plus a few that are sure to make things a little more interesting.

The group will feature one of the biggest hockey nations in the world as Russia is the other major program in Juniors.

U20 teams can be a tough thing for many countries as a good team requires a very good program from the youngest players to the top.

Putting together that type of system is extremely difficult for any country because it requires a lot of investment and thought.

Just putting on programs to get kids into hockey isn’t good enough, there has to be more thought in order to build something.

The Canadians have figured it out to a certain extent as they have programs everywhere in the country and the game is the most popular throughout the country.

Almost everyone players the game and there is a defined path to find their way to the top level of the sport.

Although not everyone will get there, the program is there to help kids from a young age find their way to more competitive hockey.

That is the system that has produced more professional hockey players than any other country in the world and it is a system that many others have copied.

The Russians are not quite there as they never really copied the Canadians but always had their own system in place.

It may not be as structured as the Canadian system but it is a system that seems to be just as effective in producing talent.

Like in Canada the Russians are a people who follow hockey above all else and it is a country where hockey the best choice for athletes.

That attitude and their system has helped the Russians turn into one of the best junior programs in the world.

They are constantly producing top talent and although it might not be as often as the Canadians they are still one of the top countries in the world.

Like every other major power in the hockey world other countries are beginning to catch up though and things aren’t as automatic.

The Canadians struggle with putting out a consistent product but so do the Americans and that becomes especially tough in the junior tournament where the age limit takes players away.

For the Russians, the issue tends to run through the entire program from juniors up until the senior team.hockey-sidebar

The Russians tend to find it hard to get up for games and that keeps their hopes from being achieved.

This year they will try to find that motivation for the tournament but might not have the toughest time getting to the medal rounds.

This group includes a number of teams that have struggled to find the system that works the best for them.

The Swedes have it somewhat figured out as they have been pretty consistent with their ability to produce young talent and are sure to be the biggest test for the Russians in this group.

Belarus and Switzerland continue to be teams that struggle to stay in the top tournament every year.

They always seem to be fighting to stay out of relegation and can’t seem to find the right mix of talent on their teams.

Both can surely provide some sort of surprise in the tournament and both have done it before but their talent is not at the same level.

The Czech Republic has a long tradition of greatness in hockey but it hasn’t been the same as they did in the past.

With two clear-cut favourites, the group could be a great battle but it might be pretty divided between the top two and bottom three.

It may not have the best teams and the most talent but this group will still have competition as teams will look to prove that their system can produce a successful team.

Belarus

The Belarussians are back in the top tournament for another year after winning the Division I tournament last year and earning their way back. That is a major accomplishment for the team as this is the level that they want to play at and a level that they can play at that level. Belarus has a history at this level in the tournament as they are regulars but more often than not this level is a place that they struggle to stay at on a consistent basis. In almost every tournament that they are at on this level, they are fighting to stay out of relegation from the junior to the senior level. This year they arebelstats looking to do the same as they are trying to figure out how to remain in that top level and not find themselves in Division I next year. It is going to be a challenge as it always is with Belarus simply because they don’t have that same pool of talent that so many other countries are working with. They are dealing with a system that is simply not big enough to provide the talent a team needs to win a gold medal in this or any other tournament. Still, they will go into the tournament looking to surprise people and get a couple of wins under their belt to avoid relegation. Like any of these smaller teams, the challenge will always fall on the goaltender to lead them. An entire tournament can be saved on the performance of a goalie and the Belarussians could be looking to a young one this time around. Nikita Tolopilo is only 17 but looks like the most promising prospect in net for the team and could take most of the starts this year. If he can stand up he might be able to help them to the wins that they need to stay out of relegation. In front of him, the team will rely on an older and more experienced group led by Vladislav Yeryomenko. He will try to get involved on the offensive side of the ice as well as the defensive side. Maxim Sushko could also provide some scoring but the depth beyond them is not very good. That is the issue for the Belarussians as they simply don’t have the depth to compete with the best teams. They might be able to take a win depending on who can step up but it will be hard for them to stay out of relegation.

Czech-Republic

The Czech Republic is a country with a long tradition of success in international hockey but their program continues to fall off as the years go on. The Czechs were always among the top teams in any tournament but since Jaromir Jagr’s era left the game it has not been good for the team. That has been a long time coming and the junior team is a perfect spot to see that development. The youngest of the talent in the Czech Republic will always be seen as an indicator of what is to come on the international level. For the last number of years the junior team has been in trouble and unable to really competecrestats despite having a number of big name prospects. They haven’t been able to put it all together and get back to being a competitive team in the World Juniors but are hoping to turn things around. They do have a lot of talent to bring into the tournament and are hoping that the talent can help them get back to the medals. The offensive talent is what is going to get them there as they have a number of very good players including some top prospects in this year’s draft. Martin Nečas and Filip Chytil will lead the group while Filip Zadina and Jakub Lauko are considered two top prospects for next year’s draft. That depth should help them keep up with some of the higher scoring teams in the tournament. What won’t help them will be the lack of defensive talent they have on the team this year. The Czechs have had a history of good defence at the juniors but this year they don’t have the depth they used to have. It will be tough for players like Ondrej Vala and Filip Král to stop the potent attacks of the better teams in the tournament. That could be their downfall as it will put too much pressure on Jakub Skarek to play above and beyond and keep the puck out of the net. The Czechs have talent but they are so strong on one end while being terrible on the other end. It will make things difficult for them to get back to the medals as they might be able to compete in scoring the goals but preventing them is going to be a challenge. They might have just enough to continue to be a middle of the road team but a medal is not very likely for them.

Russia

The Russians are the only other team that can challenge the Canadians for their success in international tournaments including the World Juniors. They are a country that has some of the greatest talents in the NHL and they are constantly among the top teams in the world. If there is one issue for the Russians that seems to keep them back it is a strange attitude that they can sometimes bring to international play. There is a history of the Russians somewhat giving up on the team and not really playing to the best of their ability. They also have a tendency to get frustrated when they can’t play their game therusstats way they want to play it, which leads to undisciplined play. That has sunk them in the past and they have been unable to earn a gold medal since the 2011 tournament. They have been around it for the last number of years always getting a medal but never getting the gold. That isn’t quite acceptable in Russian hockey as the expectation is a gold medal and they will enter another tournament hoping to earn that gold medal. As usual the Russians are heading into another tournament looking at a deep pool of goal scorers to try to overwhelm other teams. Led by Dimitri Sokolov, Vitaliy Abramov and Alexei Lipanov along with one of the top draft prospects this year Andrei Svechnikov the Russians have plenty of scoring depth. That talent has helped them plenty in tournaments before and will do so again this year. On the blue line, the Russians look to another top prospect in Alexander Alexeyev and two draftees Yegor Zaitsev and Dmitri Samorukov to lead the team. They no longer have some of the bigger names they used to which could be an issue for the Russians although the talent is still there. They also won’t have their great goaltending that they have come accustomed two in the last few years. This year they will look to Vladislav Sukhachyov to take the reins and provide that steady backstop this time around. The Russians are bringing another talented team to the Juniors this year and they are certainly going to be a team that will challenge the best. A medal is in their future and a gold could be there but will that motivation issue hurt them again. If they can get over that tendency to fall apart when things don’t go well they will likely be competing for the gold but if not they could be headed for another disappointment.

Sweden

The Russians may be the clear favourites in this group but the Swedes are right behind them as one of the top teams in the entire tournament. They have been that way for a long time too as the Swedes have had some down periods where the talent wasn’t there but it has been a while since a Swedish team didn’t have some big names. That has been the case in the last few years as the Swedes have been one of the teams that everyone looks to as a clear favourite and a team that should always take a medal. They have become a team with a lot of questions though as the Swedes have become a team knownswestats for having a mental blockage. Their fight just doesn’t seem to be there in the last few years as they can always seem to win a medal but never get there. Last year they simply could not get up for the bronze medal game leaving them without a medal and a fourth-place finish for the third straight year. Something is off with these teams as they just don’t have what it takes right now to win medals despite their talent. They enter another tournament with plenty of talent and most of it will come from their blue line. That is where Rasmus Dahlin will play and will be one of the most watched players in the tournament. He is expected to be the top if not one of the top picks in the draft and his ability to move the puck and skate is becoming a signature of the Swedish defence. Alongside Timothy Liljegren and Erik Brännström, the defence is in good hands with a mix of great defensive play and offensive talent. That good defence should help Filip Gustavsson in net although he has not had the best season and needs to be better. The level of their defence is so good that it often doesn’t allow their offence to really be seen for what they are. They will have plenty of talent there as well with Lias Andersson putting up great numbers in the SHL and Alexander Nylander playing for his country as one of the few players with a taste of the NHL. The Swedes have a lot of talent on this team but talent has never been their issue as they are far more concerned about the attitude they bring. If they can figure it out they can easily be one of the best teams in the tournament and win a gold but that seems tough for them lately leaving doubt that they can get a medal this year.

Switzerland

The Swiss are another team that never seems to have the talent to compete with the best teams in the tournament despite their long hockey tradition. Despite a number of great players that have come through the program the Swiss are not a team that can find their way to the medals consistently. Yet they are also a team that rarely has to fight to stay in the top tournament as relegation isn’t really a major concern for them on a consistent basis. They are a team caught in the middle as they are not a medalling team or a team that will play in relegation. They are not good enough to be considered a great teamswissstats among the best but also not a team fighting to stay making them a true middle-of-the-road group. Every year they try to get out of there and they can’t seem to do it finishing around the middle every time. The goal is the same this time around as the Swiss are trying to get out of that middle spot and trying to find a way to compete for a medal. It will be a challenge without the best player to come through the Swiss system in years as Nico Hischier is too valuable in the NHL to let play in the World Juniors. The Swiss will need to move on without him and they will look to a group approach to do that as there are still a number of talented forwards for this team. Philipp Kurashev has put up 34 points in the QMJHL this year while Nando Eggenberger is likely to be taken early in the second round of the 2018 draft. The group is deeper than just these two and they may be able to put up points to challenge some teams. The defence is rather small, which is not usual for the Swiss, but they are an experienced group that could bring that much-needed maturity to the blue line. Even then it could be interesting to watch one of the younger members, Tim Berni who might be able to do a little of everything for the Swiss. The defence will need to be good as the goaltenders are not very experienced with Matteo Ritz and Philip Wüthrich have been a part of the tournament but have rarely played while a part of the tournament. Meanwhile the third goalie, Akira Schmid is only 17 and will be getting his first test of the U20 tournament. The Swiss are good but once again might not be good enough and so they will stay in the middle getting to the playoffs but not much further.

Prediction:
The group is not the most competitive and it doesn’t feature the same amount of great teams as Group A but the battle will be good. At the top, there are two clear favourites to take the group title as Sweden and Russia will likely fight for the title. The Russians just look deeper than anyone else in the group and they will take the title with the Swedes coming in second. The next battle will be further down as Switzerland, Czech Republic and Belarus could all finish somewhere in the final three. Switzerland has the talent to beat out the rest of them while Belarus seems to be set to finish in last place leaving Czech Republic in the middle of them.

groupb-prediction

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