Brendan Ross shows his artistic side with a WJC-themed rendition of a famous Christmas song. He also goes into a ridiculous amount of detail previewing the players (with a focus on those who are 2012 draft eligible) and teams to watch at the tournament this year.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be parties for hosting
Beer mugs for toasting
Hockey fans filing through snow
There’ll be gold medal collapse stories,
And tales of the glories of
World Junior Championships long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much patriotic gloating
And hearts will be glowing
When Canada scores ‘n we cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
Alright, alright, The Dean’s List’s attempt at a musical rendition of the famous Christmas carol might be weak at best but the title resonates accurately for hockey fans across the world. The World Junior Championship represents a time for nations (especially Canada) to converge and display their national pride through teenagers donning their country’s colours. Canadians are people who hold great pride in their hockey success and it is likely why Canada places much more emphasis on the outcome of the IIHF World Junior Championship than its competitors. However, this patriotic obsession with hockey success also rewards those countries who are able to beat Canada in these international competitions and there is plenty of national pride to be gained for those countries when that happens.
The annual IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) has been traditionally known as a tournament for 19-year-olds to shine and compete against the best teenage players in the world. The emergence of younger hockey stars is becoming more ordinary in hockey leagues around the world. Hockey is becoming a young man’s game more every year. The National Hockey League has its Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Skinners, Tyler Seguins and Adam Larssons currently starring for their respective NHL teams (all of whom are still eligible to compete in this years’ 2012 IIHF WJHC). Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov (also playing for Russia this year) is tied for first in team scoring as a 19-year-old in the KHL. YouTube sensation Mikael Granlund (Minnesota Wild) sits one point behind the SM-liiga scoring leader with 38 points in 30 games and can still be called a “teenager”. Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) is fourth in NCAA scoring playing for the University of Minnesota. All of these prospects are succeeding in leagues traditionally dominated by older more experienced players. Kuznetsov, Granlund and Bjugstad have all represented their countries in the WJHC’s and will be returning to become vital components of their team’s success this season. In this edition of The Dean’s List, players entering their first IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship will be highlighted as they look to gain experience and draft credibility en route to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Again, the U-20 WJHC is a time where coaches give valuable ice time to the veteran returnees but the following draft eligible players could find themselves forcing the hands of their coaches with their elite skill sets on display in less than ten days. Last season, Adam Larsson was the high scoring skater in the World Junior that was draft eligible. Larsson scored one goal and four points playing for Team Sweden in six games tying him for 32nd overall in 2011 WJHC scoring. Therefore, the task of becoming a standout as a draft eligible player is definitely difficult but these players could just become the exception.
With Mathew Dumba (Red Deer Rebels) getting cut earlier this week from the Team Canada roster, Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips) is the top rated draft eligible player suiting up for the red and white this year. Murray, a smooth skating two-way defenseman, has plenty of international hockey experience as he notched 10 points in last year’s Under-18 tournament. Fortunately, Murray has returned just in time from an ankle injury that has limited him to just eleven WHL games this season (7 points). Murray should see plenty of opportunity in all situations to regain some of the draft stock he may have lost while sitting out with his injury.
Tanner Pearson is on the roster despite him not showing a lot during selection camp. The fact that Pearson is entering the draft the second time around makes his situation unique but Hockey Canada likely chose Tanner as one of the thirteen forwards due to his chemistry he has had with Mark Schiefele in Barrie. The Dean’s List is not clear on where Pearson fits exactly but it’s unlikely that Pearson sees a regular shift with the Winnipeg Jets’ first rounder at even strength (unless Huberdeau cannot play). Tanner may be utilized on one of the powerplay units as he has shown to excel this year in the OHL with the extra man. Pearson has scored 26 goals and 66 points in 30 OHL games this season for the Barrie Colts and leads all OHL forwards with 25 powerplay points. Truthfully, Canada will likely use Tanner Pearson sparingly throughout the tournament but Pearson has a lot to prove to scouts so look for him to be hungry for ice time.
Notable 2012 Draft Eligible Players Cut: Mathew Dumba, Cody Ceci, Phil Di Guiseppe
Martin Frk has finally suited up in his first games of the QMJHL season after being sidelined with a concussion. Frk was actually a contributing member of the Czech Republic team last year as a 17-year-old. The strong feisty winger finished second in team scoring on last year’s team with three goals and six points in six 2011 WJHC tournament games. Last year was a coming out party for Frk as he fared well in both the Under-18 and Under-20 World Championships. Frk has a lot to prove after missing so much time to injury so expect him to turn his game up a notch once the puck drops for the WJHC. The Halifax Moosehead forward has just one goal in six games since returning to action.
The Kitchener Rangers have become like the Detroit Red Wings of the Ontario Hockey League with their ability to find talented imports from Europe. With Gabriel Landeskog departing, Kitchener selected Czech-born forward Radek Faksa 22nd overall in the CHL Import Draft. Faksa has not disappointed the tri-city fan base becoming the teams most consistent forward over the past few months. Radek Faksa has surpassed fellow teammate Matia Marcantuoni as the team’s top rated draft eligible player on most scouting lists. Skating at 6-foot-3-inches and over 200-pounds, Faksa has provided the Rangers with great size and he currently sits as the top OHL rookie scorer with 33 points in 31 games. Team Czech Republic will certainly welcome Faksa as one of their go-to scorers and the World Juniors gives him the chance to elevate his draft stock more this year than he already has (which is saying a lot). Faksa began the season as an unknown among most scouts but Radek has now forged his way into first round consideration on almost all scouting lists.
The Dean’s List has yet to view this last draft eligible Czech forward but Tomas Hertl has been making enough noise that we will be paying close attention to him. The word on the street is that Hertl has been damn impressive playing for Slavia in the Czech league and his nine goals and 15 points in 23 games (3rd in team scoring) confirm this buzz. Unfortunately, Tomas Hertl is currently sidelined with an injury that could keep him out of action.
The London Knights have leaned heavily on first year defenseman Olli Maatta and Team Finland likely utilize that same game plan. Maatta took a few games to get his feet wet on North American ice but the big Finn (6’2”) has been improving substantially over the first few months of action and his confidence is really building. Olli brings a strong two-way game and his defensive awareness certainly stabilizes his team’s blueline but Maatta has also shown flashes of underlying offensive abilities too. The Dean’s List expects Maatta to leave his mark on the World Junior Championships as Finland gives him more responsibility and could encourage the budding blue liner to do a little more exploring offensively.
Finland’s other 2012 draft eligible player is Ville Pokka – another defenseman looking to be drafted within the first couple rounds of next year’s entry draft. Pokka and Maatta teamed up as underage defensemen for Finland in last year’s World Under-18 Championship and they left a very good impression on NHL scouts. Since the Under-18 tournament, Pokka’s draft stock has dropped slightly as he was once considered a candidate for first round selection but has slipped to the second round by most scouting services. Pokka brings a steady all-around game with strong passing skills. Team Finland will likely utilize Pokka on the second unit and it is an opportunity that will allow him to improve his draft stock – especially if he earns time with Finland’s improving forward units that include Wild prospect Mikael Granlund, Red Wing Teemu Pulkkinen, Predator Miika Salomaki and Sabres Joel Armia.
Olli Maatta has one goal and fifteen points in 32 OHL games posts an impressive plus-14 rating. Pokka, the Karpat defender, has tallied two assists in sixteen SM-liiga games.
The notable Latvian 2012 draft eligible forward is the captain of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and owns one of the most interesting names in his draft class - Zemgus Girgensons. With ten goals and twenty-four points, Zemgus Girgensons sits tenth in USHL scoring and has his team second in the Eastern Conference. Gary Suter (9th round, 180th overall in 1984) is Dubuque’s most notable alum and at next year’s NHL Draft Girgensons will become the team’s highest drafted player. Girgensons has been climbing the draft rankings over the past few months and he is quickly becoming a favourite of The Dean’s List. Girgensons is almost guaranteed to become a first round selection next June and playing for his native country of Latvia will certainly provide him with an opportunity to showcase his skills. “Zemgus Girgensons” might be a difficult name to pronounce but with his power forward style of play and incredible work ethic his opponents have been finding it even more difficult to contain him. Latvia will ride Girgensons as their “horse” throughout the tournament and scouts will develop a better understanding of what this young man can offer. The Dean’s List has Girgensons as a top 10 forward in the 2012 draft class but the University of Vermont commit has climbed as high as second on a few rankings so there are some huge fans of his out there.
The defending World Junior Champions will be icing another offensive dynamo of forwards. Russia’s leading scorer Kuznetsov (Washington) returns and will be joined by two emerging Russian superstars heading the 2012 NHL Draft rankings. Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting) and Mikhail Grigorenko (Quebec Remparts) are the top ranked forwards for the upcoming NHL draft and there is a real possibility that they become the first and second overall picks. There is much debate over which Russian will become the first overall pick but the 2012 World Junior Championship provides an opportunity for each to turn his game up a notch.
Yakupov has been nursing a back injury for the past month and his status for the tournament was in question but his competitive attitude and will to win will certainly prevent him from missing this tournament. Yakupov has the explosiveness and scoring ability to break a game wide open and in a short tournament like the World Juniors the Sarnia Sting sniper could become the difference maker for a stacked Russian roster. Yakupov loves to score and hates losing even more making him a nightmare for teams facing him this holiday season. The Tatar superstar displays his elite puck handling, skating and sniping abilities on a nightly basis and is the most dynamic player of the 2012 draft class.
While Grigorenko does not possess his country mate’s razzle and dazzle style of play, Mikhail plays a strong puck possession game that NHL teams covet. Grigorenko has had little difficulty adjusting to the North American game and has shown that he belongs at the top of the 2012 draft class. The biggest question is whether Grigorenko can maintain a high compete level in such a short and intense tournament. NHL scouts will be watching these two Russians closely throughout the two weeks and it may be an opportunity for them to separate themselves from each other. The Russians could potentially ice a top six roster that features a line of Yakupov/Namestnikov (Tampa Bay)/Kuznetsov (Washington) and Gusev (undrafted)/Grigorenko/Kucherov (Tampa Bay) that dominated the Subway Super Series. Scary!
Yakupov currently sits second in OHL scoring with 20 goals and 51 points (in 25 games) despite missing eight games due to injury. Grigorenko is among the QMJHL scoring leaders with 25 goals and 58 points (in 36 games) placing him fourth in league scoring.
Notable 2012 Draft Eligible Players Cut: Nikolai Prokhorkin
Beyond the Russian duo of Yakupov and Grigorenko, The Dean’s List is most excited to see the Swedish trio of Filip Forsberg, Sebastian Collberg and Pontus Aberg hit the ice in Alberta. Filip Forsberg has established himself early on as a top five forward in the 2012 draft class with the lethal combination of his speed, skill and hockey intelligence. As expected, Sweden is represented with a deep forward group highlighted by several NHL draft picks including Johan Larsson (Minnesota), Johan Sundstrom (New York Is.), William Karlsson (Anaheim), Victor Rask (Carolina), Joakim Nordstrom (Chicago), Ludvig Rensfeld (Chicago), Rickard Rakell (Anaheim) and Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa). With those names on the roster, Forsberg, Collberg and Aberg could find it difficult to earn valuable ice time unless they leave a strong impression in pre-tournament action.
The eldest of the three 2012 draft eligible, Pontus Aberg has been lights out playing for Djurgården as he sits fourth in team scoring with seven goals and fourteen points competing against men. Aberg has been excelling and as a result the hard working scoring winger has climbed in each edition of our draft rankings. At the past Ivan Hlinka Tournament Aberg formed great chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Victor Rask and if Sweden decides to re-unite this line Aberg could be one of the top 2012 draft eligible scorers in the entire World Juniors.
Plenty of debate has surfaced on which Swede will be selected first and Sebastian Collberg’s name always comes up. Collberg is a player that scouts feel has very good “upside” and while he may not be as physically ready as Aberg or Forsberg, Collberg’s offensive weaponry is just as dangerous. As with most young players in the Elitserien League, Collberg does not see much ice time playing for Frolunda and it is reflected in his offensive output. However, the young winger is gaining valuable experience that many current NHL stars had to go through themselves. Collberg is a versatile forward and will likely be utilized as Sweden’s thirteenth forward. Besides his upside, scouts have been impressed with Collberg’s quick accurate shot and his willingness to enter high traffic areas despite his smaller frame (5’11”, 174 lbs.).
Defenseman Jacob Trouba is the lone draft eligible player at the USA selection camp as the Americans invited back seven 1992 born blueliners plus 2013 draft eligible skater Seth Jones. USA Hockey has not confirmed their final rosters for the upcoming WJC tournament so Trouba could find himself waiting to represent USA but The Dean’s List feels that Trouba has a good chance of becoming the seventh defenseman. With Jarred Tinordi (Montreal), Jon Merril (New Jersey), Derek Forbort (Los Angeles) and Adam Clendening (Chicago) all likely returning to represent the stars and stripes, Jacob Trouba will be battling with 2013 draft eligible Seth Jones as the only underage player on this squad. Trouba is a physical defenseman with good offensive instincts and he would provide versatility on the American’s blueline with his ability to play strong at both ends of the rink. Trouba, 6-foot-2-inches, can be a difficult defender to play against and he’s currently among the top defenseman in the 2012 draft class.
The 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship is shaping up to be a doozy (as usual) and the players mentioned above have earned an opportunity that many other 2012 draft eligible do not have to showcase their unique skillsets to eager NHL scouts. The Dean’s List anticipates that his year’s WJC is unique as several 2012 draft eligible players have the opportunity play key roles for their country and that opportunity rarely occurs with the depth of nineteen year old talent. Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Martin Frk, Radek Faksa, Zemgus Girgensons, Olli Maatta, Filip Forsberg, Pontus Aberg and Ryan Murray are names that should receive plenty of opportunity over the next few weeks. The prospect junkie in all of us patiently awaits the start of this energized tournament and it is a chance for hockey fans across the world to learn the names of the NHL’s future stars.
*The list of players above does not include 2013 draft eligible players (or later). Also, it does not include those players passed over in previous years but still eligible for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft (exception: Tanner Pearson is included)