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Picking the best team from the pool of players in this year's WJC (Special Cage Match edition)

 

If you’re like me then you woke up bleary eyed at the absurd hour of 3:00 AM to watch Canada and Germany kick off the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships. It was a real good time (unless you were rooting for Germany then it was more like this) and not just because Canada won. This was the first time I’d watched a meaningful game of high level hockey since June. Now maybe that’s my fault for having mostly ignored the OHL, AHL and semi-legal streams of European pro-hockey this fall but that’s my prerogative.

 

 

(editor's note - all hyperlinks lead to that player's DobberProspects Fantasy Profile)

 

I’m holding out for the best and the order goes:

1. Olympic Hockey

2. NHL Playoffs

3. World Junior Hockey Championships

4. NHL Regular Season

5. My NHL13 BeAPro Season

And that’s it. There is no sixth option! This isn’t to say that I completely ignore the CHL (or other junior leagues) but I am much more likely to seek out highlights than to watch a complete game. Does that make me the best candidate to write an article about the World Junior Tournament? Maybe not but you can bet I’m all over it anyhow. The main reason: the annual World Junior Hockey Championships Fantasy Pool put on by a couple of DobberHockey forum members each year, which if you didn’t join, I’m sorry but please bookmark this article, make a mental note, leave yourself a sticky or whatever it takes to remember to sign up next year because unlike the NHL we can guarantee it will be back!

This tournament is great because of the unique set of rules it has:

Everyone gets to pick one Captain, 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. You can select any player in the tournament to play on your team with the following exceptions:

1. Captain:

This element of the pool is like a box pool and includes the biggest and most recognizable names in the tournament to prevent everyone from simply loading up on those specific players. You may only select one Captain and often times this decision can be the decision between winning and losing. There are six players eligible to be Captain this year: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg.

2. You may only select up to five players from an individual country:

This element prevents you from simply loading up on players from powerhouse nations like Canada and Russia, etc. Much like the Captain rule, this forces you to look beyond the “name brand” players and look up some dark horses. Frankly, any pool that encourages the selection of “dark horses” is a good one in my books.

3. Scoring:

Scoring is as follows: One point for a goal, one point for an assist, one point for a goalie win, and one point for a goalie shutout. Points only count while the player’s team is still in contention for a medal, which eliminates the chance of racking up points in the somewhat meaningless fifth-place game.

And that’s it! Simple, yet elegant, like a great hockey sweater. (Confession: I absolutely adore Sweden’s Tre Kronor blues.)

Anyhow, that’s the tournament and I couldn’t be happier to be playing fantasy hockey again. I’m so excited that I’ve decided to use this space to outline my decision making processes and this being Cage Match I will do so as a series of battles.

Match One: Captain

This was really simple for me as there were only really two captains worth taking; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. It’s not that the other candidates weren’t worthy or that my Oilers’ bias was altering my judgement (if anything I’m more critical of Oilers players), it’s that these two are simply miles ahead of everyone else. Both are former first overall picks and boast terrifying resumes. The Nuge was an injury away from winning the Calder last season while Yakupov is tearing up the KHL this season.

Simple logic would dictate taking the Nuge because of his extensive NHL and professional experience as well as his being the older of the two. The problem is the Nuge doesn’t really offer any physical advantages over Yakupov at this point so the only other advantages would be the speed at which they process the game and linemates. You could certainly argue that the Nuge will be processing the game at a speed faster than anyone else at the tournament but Yakupov should be right up there given his own pro experience and he just might have an advantage playing on the larger European ice surface, which not only creates space (and therefore time) but also changes up the strategy. No doubt both will be successful but suffice it to say I don’t think the Nuge’s year of NHL experience will put him miles ahead of Yakupov.

So what about linemates then? The Nuge has arguably the best linemates in the tournament: Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele, both 19-year-olds with tournament experience and NHL Draft pedigree. But don’t count out Yakupov’s linemates: likely to be some combination of Mikhail Grigorenko, Alexander Khokhlachev and Yaroslav Kosov, all of whom also have tournament experience and NHL Draft pedigree.

There is a chance that Boone Jenner’s suspension, combined with Jonathan Drouin’s injury could leave Canada with just 11 forwards for the first three games of the tournament, which would be cause for the Canadians to double-shift their best forwards *cough*Nuge*cough* but there is no telling if that would be an advantage.

Either way, my gut tells me Yakupov at home makes for the more enticing option.

Match Two: The Canadian Forwards

With Huberdeau and the Nuge scratched because of the Captain position I had to move on to secondary Canadian forwards. In the running: Drouin, Strome, Scheifele, Ty Rattie, Brett Ritchie, and Nathan Mackinnon.

This was actually a really easy decision. Strome and Scheifele were no-brainers given their prodigious skills, tournament experience and 19-year-old age. The decision to make those my only two Canadian forwards was somewhat difficult though because the options were enticing. Ultimately the injury uncertainty surrounding Drouin and Ritchie made everyone else untenable. I couldn’t possibly pick a guy with an already nagging injury for fear he’d be kept out but I also couldn’t pick a guy like Rattie or Mackinnon who could benefit from any injuries for fear those injuries simply weren’t that important.

There’s also the fact that I need room to select a Canadian defenseman or two and possibly a Canadian goalie as well. Whatever the case 10 forward slots remain.

Match Three: The Russian Forwards

Grigorenko is out due to captaincy and so is Yakupov even though he is my captain so that leaves me with two or three open slots for the four remaining big guns: Khokhlachev, Kosov, Daniil Zharkov and Nikita Kucherov.

Kucherov is a must keep because of his play at last year’s tournament and I’m inclined to favour the experience and talent of Khokhlachev and Kosov as well. Zharkov finishes a distant fourth and out of my lineup because of his age and his disappointing numbers in Belleville this year.

I ultimately take the aforementioned three forwards but more on that later.

Match Four: No Swedish All Finish?

I have to admit, the Swedes look like a real hurting unit this year with 2012 World Junior hero Mika Zibanejad being held out of the tournament by the Ottawa Senators as well as the injuries to top defensemen Jonas Brodin and Oscar Klefbom. There is obviously a lot of talent still there but I am somewhat sceptical and with Filip Forsberg eliminated because of the Captain position there are few options to consider at forward: Sebastian Collberg, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson.

Most of these guys are just a shade too dark to make dark horse material. Rask has questionable offensive upside, so does Karlsson despite his likely presence on Sweden’s top line. Lindholm is a top prospect for the 2013 draft but his youth concerns me. Collberg and Rackell both appear to be good options because of their age and experience at this tournament.

The Finnish forwards look much more intriguing. First off, none of their forwards were included as Captains so everyone is fair game. Secondly, this looks like a very strong squad leaving me with plenty of options. I actually love the Finns and want to take four of their forwards: Alexander Barkov, Markus Granlund, Joel Armia and Miikka Salomaki.

I ultimately settle on three Finns with Armia and Granlund being no-brainer selections given their age and tournament experience and Barkov representing my wild card selection. Salomaki was screaming to be taken given his vast tournament experience and perhaps taking him would have been the “dark horse” decision vs. the well-known Barkov but I couldn’t resist Barkov’s game breaking ability. He’s got the most talent of any Finn and I couldn’t keep him off my roster. Should I have taken four Finns? Maybe but that would have meant just one Swede, which was simply not possible.

The Swedes I kept were Collberg and Rackell for the reasons noted above.

Match Five: The Dark Horse (continued next page...)