Let’s Go!

It is World Junior time everybody, the most wonderful time of year as they say. This year the tournament heads to the Czech Republic and we all know anything can happen when the tournament is in Europe. To kick off our World Junior buildup extravaganza here at Offside Sports we are going to preview both groups in-depth and give you a player to watch on each squad. Due to the Swiss shocking everybody by coming fourth last year, the groups are a bit uneven, but it should make for some fun Prelim games!

USA

Last Years Finish: 2nd

The US is coming off a crushing blow in last year’s Gold Medal Game, but they are returning an absolutely loaded team with some key additions. They will have 2019 13th overall pick Spencer Knight returning in goal. Knight has had an incredible start to the year with Boston College posting a 1.73 GAA and a .940 SV Percentage. Goaltending is always very important in a short tournament like the World Juniors and Knight’s ability to not only keep his team in the game but to also steal a win for his side will be key. The New York Islanders have not made a decision as of yet on if they will be loaning Oliver Wahlstrom to the US for the tournament, but if they do he will instantly become the US most dangerous scorer. Not that they lack scoring, Cole Caufield somehow managed to slip down to 15th overall in last June’s draft and he is showing all the teams who let him drop that was a mistake. Caufield has 12 goals and 20 points for Wisconsin as a freshman so far this year. His shot is already NHL ready and if he gets any time or space in this tournament, be sure to watch for his wicked release. The US is stacked upfront besides Caufield too, Arthur Kaliyev leads the OHL in goals and points with 31 and 62 respectively, they also have the 5th and 9th overall picks from the 2019 draft, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras. Both players are at a point a game as freshmen for Wisconsin and BU respectively. For Leafs fans, watch out for Nick Robertson, the second-rounder in 2019 has had a strong start for the Peterborough Petes and should be a big part of the US offence. 

Caufield (Left) and Turcotte (Right) will look to bring their Wisconsin chemistry to the World Juniors

On the backend, the Americans return two monsters in K’andre Miller and Mattias Samuelson. Both players stand 6’4, 210 and will play the majority of minutes for the US. Miller, who plays with Caufield and Turcotte at Wisconsin, has impressed everyone with how quickly he has developed since being drafted 22nd overall in 2018 as an exciting albeit very raw prospect. His combination of speed, size and skill makes him hard to get around and even harder to defend. The other defenceman that is vital to the USA’s success is Cam York. York was drafted 14th overall last June and although just 5’11 is a very smart, heady player. York has 9 points in 14 games with Michigan to start the year and has impressed with his skating and puck movement.

The Americans have to be considered one of the favourites, if not THE favourite, they can score at will, have big minute eating defencemen and the tournaments best goalie backing them up. If they get Wahlstrom and Bode Wilde loaned to them, it will be for anyone to stop them.

Player to Watch: Arthur Kaliyev

Russia

Last Year’s Finish: 3rd

Russia won 5 in a row to start last year’s tournament before running into the Americans in the Semi’s and having to settle for Bronze. This year they are going to be dangerous yet again. The Russians are returning last year’s Best Defencemen in Alex Romanov as well as the 2019 tournament’s leading scorer, Grigori Denisenko. They have a ton of offence as every Russian team usually does and lack big names on defence, as every Russian team usually does. The most intriguing question surrounding Russia will be their goalie situation. 17-year-old Yaroslav Askarov has been projected by many to be a top 10 pick in this upcoming draft with some having him as high as number 3. Goalie prospects as good as Askarov do not come around very often, the last goalie to be drafted in the top 10 was Carey Price in 2005 and well… he’s okay. Askarov has played once in the KHL this year for SKA St. Petersburg, he saved 23 of 25 shots and got the win. 17-year-olds rarely play in the KHL, let alone goalies, only four have started at least once since the league’s inception and Askarov performed the best out of all four. He isn’t guaranteed the starting job, however, I would be shocked if we don’t see him at least once over the course of the tournament. His numbers in the AHL version of the KHL are strong as well, he has posted a 2.38 GAA with a .922 SV percentage. 

Russia will also look to Vasili Podkolzin to provide an offensive spark for the team. Podkolzin was projected to go as high as 3rd in last year’s draft, but had a poor year and fell down to the 10th spot where he was drafted by Vancouver. There is no denying Podkolzin’s skill, but he hasn’t put up anywhere near the production people expect from him. He hasn’t registered a single point in 14 games so far this year in the KHL and although it is hard for 18-year-olds to make an impact, not a single point? Really Vasili!?! He has put up 8 points in 16 games in the second tier of Russian hockey, but he needs to do more. This tournament should be the perfect oppurtunity for him to show how good he really is. At 6’1 and almost 200 pounds he has the size, he definitely has the skill, now we just have to see him put it all together. 

On the defensive side of things, Russia has a few weaknesses. They also have one of the best defencemen in the tournament in Alex Romanov who will almost certainly log nearly 30 minutes a game. Romanov will be just a few weeks from turning 20 when the tournament starts, already plays regular minutes in the KHL and could be in the NHL as soon as next season for the Canadiens. The 2018 second-rounder isn’t very big, but he has an absolute bomb of a clapper and is a power-play specialist. He is offensively gifted and will be the one starting most of Russia’s breakouts. 

Russia will be good, but their chances at Gold will really depend on their goaltending. If Askarov is up for the challenge then they are as dangerous as any team in this tournament, but if he falters and the other options don’t perform well either then it could be an early exit.

Player to Watch: Yaroslav Askarov 

Canada 

Last Year’s Finish: QF Loss

Safe to say last year was a disappointment for Canada, anytime they don’t make the finals is a disappointment. Last year’s team certainly wasn’t their strongest ever, but it still should’ve gone farther than the Quarters. This year’s team is better though, a lot better. Depending on if they get any more NHL loanees, it could be as loaded as the team that won Gold in 2015, so let’s preview it. 

Obviously, all eyes will be on projected number one pick in the upcoming draft Alexis Lafreniere, I mean the guy has 70 points in 32 games so far this year with Rimouski. Canada will be led by youngsters this tournament and not just Lafreniere, 17-year-old Quinton Byfield will be expected to play a large role as well as 18-year-old Connor McMichael. McMichael and Byfield are 2nd and 3rd respectively in OHL scoring and should be among the top scores in the tournament too. Canada has historically done some weird stuff with their lineup, they tend to leave out skill players for grittier guys and also play their skilled guys in sheltered minutes so it will be interesting to see how coach Dale Hunter uses his players. He tends to play his best players a lot in the OHL so that should excite Canadian fans. Canada will also be loaned Barrett Hayton from the Coyotes which should help their centre depth a lot. Hayton was the 5th overall pick in 2018 and had four points in five games for Canada in last year’s tournament. He hasn’t excelled as of yet in the NHL, but he has shown very promising signs and will be a big player for Canada. Other players to watch out for on the forward end are Dylan Cozens and Ty Dellandrea. Both players are big and skillful and will probably round out Canada’s top 6.

Bowen Byram will be called on to lead Canada’s D core this year. Going back to my point about weird decisions by Canada, one of their weirdest decisions was to barely play Byram’s Avs teammate Cale Makar in 2018. Makar is now one of the best defencemen in the NHL at 21, but I digress. Byram was selected 4th overall in 2019, like Makar and plays a similar style to Makar. Byram can skate like the wind and is at his best when the game is going at a fast-pace. His edgework and passing abilities are both elite already and he can break the game open with a single pass. Other than Byram, two returnees from 2019 will be looked upon to step up for Canada, Ty Smith and Jared McIsaac. Both players were injured to start the year, but have since returned to full health. Neither player made a huge impact last year, but if Canada wants to go far they are going to have to perform this year. The wildcard for Canada here is Noah Dobson. Dobson is in a similar situation to teammate Oliver Wahlstrom, the Islanders haven’t made a decision on whether they are going to loan them to their respective squads. Dobson has played 10 games for the Islanders so far this year averaging around 14 minutes a game. He has impressed especially in his own end. It would be best for his development to play for Canada, he is 7th on the Islanders depth chart and isn’t playing regular minutes. He is in a similar situation to Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin, Sandin started the year with the Leafs, but was only playing 14 minutes a game and was subsequently sent down to the AHL. Sandin was just loaned to team Sweden for the tournament. If Canada does get Dobson they have arguably the strongest top four in the tournament. 

Goaltending has always been a coin toss for Canada. Some years you get Caatah Haaht (Shoutout Chiclets) and some years you get Mark Visentin. This year there are three options, Nico Daws who has posted a 2.06 GAA and a .913 SV percentage (meh) in the OHL. There is Joel Hofer, Hofer has a 1.81 GAA and a .937 SV percentage (Nice!) in the WHL. Lastly, there is Oliver Rodrigue, Rodrigue has started 20 times for Moncton in the QMJHL and has a 2.79 GAA with a .907 SV percentage. I honestly have no idea who will start for Canada, but don’t expect any of these guys to be the reason Canada wins. Their job will be to just keep Canada in the game and make some timely saves. 

Canada should and will be aiming for a Gold Medal. They have a tough group that should prepare them well for the knockout rounds. They are incredibly talented up front and have a strong enough D core. Their game with the US on the first day of the tournament will be extremely intriguing to watch. Whoever comes out on top should be considered the tourney favourite.

Player to Watch: Quentin Byfield

Czech Republic

Last Year’s Finish: Lost in QFs

The Czech Republic will be hosting its fourth World Juniors this year and the home fans will want them to put out a strong showing. It won’t be easy as they drew the short stick and got stuck with 3 legitimate Gold Medal contenders and a highly-skilled Germany team, but let’s check out their team.

The Czech will not be returning with Filip Zadina or Martin Necas due to them being overage and playing in the NHL, the two players lead them to a 4th place finish in 2018, but disappointed last year. They will, however, be returning the Best Goalie statistically of last year’s tournament in Lukas Dostal. This is a Group full of outstanding goalies and Dostal is one of them. Dostal was fantastic last year for Czechia posting a 1.25 GAA, .956 SV percentage and also added a shutout in five games played. The Anaheim Ducks draft pick has also been one of the best goalies in Finland’s top league this year, he has a 17-1-4 record with a 1.92 GAA and a .922 SV percentage. If the Czech’s are to have success in this tournament, they will NEED Dostal to put on a 2015 Denis Godla type performance. 

Now in no way am I an expert in U20 Czechia hockey, so this isn’t going to be as in-depth a preview, but I do know the Czech’s have some skill. The first player that comes to mind is Jan Jenik, Jenik was picked by the Coyotes in the third round back in 2018 and has lit up the OHL this year. Jenik has 56 points in 27 games so far after posting 30 points in 27 games in half a season for the Hamilton Bulldogs last year. Jenik didn’t make the team in 2019, so he will be looking to make his mark as this is his only chance at the World Juniors. A name that some of you may know is Jakub Lauko, Lauko is one of just 3 players that will be returning from last year’s team and he will be expected to carry the load offensively. The Boston Bruins third-rounder from 2018 is the only player from this Czech side that plays his hockey professionally in North America as of writing. He has 8 points in 18 games for Providence in the AHL and has shown good signs of progression. Lauko had a scary incident just a few weeks ago in the AHL when he was clipped in the head and collapsed on the ice. Lauku was stretchered off, but he did give them thumbs up as he was heading off the ice.

He should be good to go for the tournament and the Czech need him to be. One player to watch for is Jan Mysak. Mysak is projected by most to go in the middle of the first round in the upcoming draft and a big tournament by the forward could see him shoot up the rankings. Mysak has struggled to adjust to men’s hockey in Czechia, but he has still put up 9 points in 26 games as a 17-year-old. Other Czech forwards to look out for are Adam Raska and Jaromir Pytlik.

There will most likely be zero returnees on defence for the Czech. The big minute muncher will most likely be Hugo Has. Has was a fifth-rounder drafted by the Capitals last June and is a big boy standing 6’4. I honestly don’t know much other than about him so. For those of you interested in the 2021 draft class (idk all like 4 of you) keep an eye on Stanislav Svozil. Svozil is an early 2003 baby and is 16! I am not 100 percent sure if Svozil will make the team, but I know that Czechia hockey is very excited about him so that means I am too. Svozil has already played 16 games in the Czech Elite League and again, he is just 16. He excels on the man advantage so look for him leading the power play for the Czech if he does make the roster. 

The Czech will be an interesting team, the home ice should be a big advantage for the young players. Big home support is something that affect younger players more than experienced players and it will also affect the opposing team so they must use it to their advantage. It will be tough for them to make noise in a group as tough as Group B, but if the home side can get a big performance from Dostal and their skill players show up, anything can happen in a short tournament. 

Player to Watch: Stanislav Svozil (If he doesn’t play, Jan Mysak)

Germany

Last Year’s Finish: Weren’t in the tournament 😦

Germany is in the midst of somewhat of a golden era with their national team. Of course, Leon Draisaitl is tearing the NHL apart, but they also have more than a couple of exciting, highly-skilled, modern prospects. After winning promotion last year they will be looking to not be immediately relegated and that shouldn’t be too hard of a task considering how poorly things look for Kazakstan. But if they can make a shock run to the medal round, that will go a long way for German hockey’s development and it should inspire a new breed of young German’s to put aside cleats for a pair of hockey skates.

Leading the charge for the new German Renassaince (yup that is what we are calling it) is 2019 6th overall pick, Mortiz Seider. Seider will be one of the most anticipated players to watch at this year’s tournament due to many seeing him being taken 6th by the Red Wings as a reach. Seider is doing everything he can to show that him being taken at 6th wasn’t a reach, instead, it was just more Stevie Y magic. Seider was incredibly impressive at the 2019 World Championships playing against the World’s best (for the most part) and has been playing very well in his first year in North American hockey. Seider has 12 points in 27 games for Grand Rapids in the AHL and has been turning heads everywhere. Wings fans would honestly probably rather watch Seider and the Griffins over the Wings this year so he has been getting a lot of notice. Seider is already an extraordinary skater and it is so impressive to see how technically strong he is at just 18. He is a large human at 6’4 and his mix of size and smarts make him a mature defender already. Safe to say I am very excited to watch this guy play because I haven’t actually seen him play live yet. He will play A LOT for Germany so it will be hard to miss him and if Germany can somehow make the Quarters I can see him and Rasmus Sandin duelling it out for the Best Defenceman of the Tournament award. 

I cannot wait to watch Seider (pictured) play.

The Germans are as loaded upfront as any newly promoted team has been in recent memory. They are led by 3 17 year old’s and a 2018 first-round pick. The 3 youngsters, Tim Stutzle, John Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel are all projected to go in the early round of the 2020 draft. Stutzle has been projected to go as high as fifth by some and is ripping up Germany’s highest league. Stutzle has 23 points in 25 games and is statistically having the best-ever season by a 17-year-old in league history. Stutzle will most likely centre JJ Peterka who is a deadly goal scorer. Peterka is also projected to go in the first round in 2020, but is more likely to be in the early ’20s. In 2018-19 Peterka scored 45 goals and 94 in 48 games playing for the Red Bull U19 team. He can also do this

So yea that is where my analysis of him is going to stop… The third German youngster is Lukas Reichel. Reichel isn’t as highly touted as Peterka or Stutzle, but I have been really impressed with the season he is having. Reichel has 15 points in 24 games for one of the weaker teams in the DEL (German top league) and has taken real strides overall. The 17-year-old could do with adding some weight as he is just 170 pounds, but he is only 17 so he’s got time. He has a good shot and from the highlights I’ve seen I have been especially impressed with his skating. The last, but certainly not least player that is apart of this group of forwards in Dominik Bokk. Bokk was picked 25th overall by the Blues in 2018, but was traded to the Hurricanes before the season started apart of the deal that sent Justin Faulk to the Blues. He has struggled to make an impact in the Swedish Elite League this year, but as an 18-year-old he put up 23 points in 47 games in the same league. Bokk is highly talented, he has sweet hands and a shot that can trouble any goalie. The Canes are very high on him and are keeping him out of any trade talks. Bokk will be the oldest player on this Germany team and will be looked upon to lead the youngsters through the ups and downs of such a big tournament.

I can’t wait to watch this German power play, Seider up top with Reichel, Bokk, Stutzle and Peterka flanking him will be as deadly as any power play in the tourney. There is a big chance I am overhyping the hell out of this team, their depth just isn’t anywhere near good enough and they get pounded every game, Buuuuut that isn’t fun to think about so. If you want skill and goals then watch this Germany team every chance you get, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

Player to Watch: Moritz Seider (Very interested to see if Reichel can improve his draft stock too 🙂

If you want to learn more, check out this very insightful video!

The World Juniors man, nothing like em. It always is a fun tournament, but I think this one should be one of the better ones in recent memory. We will have full predictions coming on Christmas so watch for that :). 

Go Canada!

Editor’s note: Oliver Wahlstrom has been loaned to the US, so they just got even better.