The World Junior Championships, held annually around Christmas, always honour the spirit of that holiday. There is lots of giving and receiving. And while it used to consist of Team Canada and Team Russia giving the rest of the world no hope at winning Gold, and the other countries receiving throttlings against superior talent, the playing field has evened in recent years. Image

Just as any team can hurt you in round-robin play, a majority of WJC Division 1 countries have improved to the point where any of them can win it all. The future is here, but just which members of Team Belarus should you draft in a keeper league? Whoever you want, if you're in mine.

Canada

Forwards

Cody Bass - Thanks to the inundation of media coverage the WJC receives in Canada, at least one player becomes a national hero for his lunchpailer work. Unfortunately, the hype often grows so great that the 'emerging' player in question never lives up to the expectations placed upon them. Colin Fraser, Maxime Talbot, Jordin Tootoo and Steve Ott come to mind as clutch grinders who, while bona fide NHLers, were all vastly overrated offensively following their respective World Junior performances.

In the only time you will ever see this phrase written in the history of the human race, Cody Bass is the Next One: his leadership, work in the trenches and grit are top notch. He just has no hands or offensive awareness whatsoever.

Upside: Bottom six checking forward.
Production Potential: 15-15-30, 100 PIM and +10.

You can draft Bass in your keeper league if you want. If it values PIM, +/-, faceoff wins and hits, you'd do well. Just don't expect a lot of contributions across the blueline at the NHL level.

Daniel Bertram - On the opposite side of the spectrum, there's NCAA standout and Chicago Blackhawks draft choice Dan Bertram. An obscenely fast bundle of energy, Bertram's hands and shot are top-notch. When placed on a line with fellow college speedster Andrew Cogliano, the only thing faster in the rink will be light. With terrific tenacity and defensive awareness, it will be sooner, rather than later, for this potential future Hobey Baker winner.

Upside: 2nd line energy RW.
Production Potential: 30-25-55, 80 PIM, +5

Codey Burki - Equal parts checker and playmaker, Brandon Wheat Kings pivot Codey Burki will provide Team Canada and the Colorado Avalanche with solid, sometimes spectacular play from the bottom six. His offensive gifts are still developing, but there's no questioning the Winnipeg native's two-way game. A conversion to wing at the NHL level is a strong possibility as Burki's strength and skating are very raw. A solid shot and excellent work ethic complete the package of an above-average defensive forward that can make an impact on the scoreboard as well as on the ice.

Upside: Top-nine two-way forward.
Production Potential: 20-25-45, 60 PIM, +5

Marc-Andre Cliche - Another energy forward for an otherwise one-dimensional roster, one of the greatest-named players in all of sports puts the Cliche in Cliche. Good two-way awareness and a knack for scoring key goals from the right wing, Cliche's NHL future is not on solid ground. He must continue to hone his defensive game as he does not have the extra gear required to score consistently at the pro level. An outside shot at the WJC roster despite being a solid leader, Cliche has a long road ahead but could help form one of the best energy lines in the NHL if teamed with fellows Ranger prospects Nigel Dawes and Brandon Dubinsky.

Upside: Bottom-six energy forward who can play the occasional shift on the top two lines.
Production Potential: 25-20-45, 45 PIM, +0

Andrew Cogliano - Named by the Canadian coaching staff as the best player at the summerCogliano WJC camp, 'Cogs' has quickly gained notoriety since being drafted late in the first round in 2005. At 25th overall, he was something of a Plan B for the Edmonton Oilers, who wanted then-high school standout T.J. Oshie, taken a pick earlier by the St. Louis Blues. The strange coincidence that is the Oilers and Blues always drafting two very similar players and having their fans fight about the difference for years aside, Cogliano has the early leg up on Oshie. While not as well-rounded, and nowhere near as physical, the slight centerman scored five times as many points in last year's WJC, has double as many points in the NCAA (22 in 17 games, Oshie, 11 in 14) this year and will feature prominently on Canada's top line in Sweden. A poor man's Paul Kariya, Cogliano, ranked 64th in the Dobber Hockey's Top 200 prospects list, has a bit of work to do before the NHL comes calling, but the Oilers have unearthed a gem.

Upside: #1A centerman.
Production Potential: 25-50-75, 30 PIM, +2

Steve Downie - Blowing onto the scene with a media-friendly attitude, microphone-loving mouth and world-beating skill, OHL standout Steve Downie had his coming-out party in Vancouver in 2006. One of the most charismatic junior prospects to emerge in some time, the offensive dynamo has had his share of ups and Down-ies. Considered too wild for the NHL, it was fitting that Bobby Clarke selected the right-handed right wing in 2005. Several violent on-ice incidents before and during his draft year saw him tumble, but since cleaning up his game, Downie has transformed himself into the most imposing CHL player since Dion Phaneuf. He will be Canada's undisputed leader in Sweden, and should make is NHL debut at the end of this season on try-out. He was and remains a Clarke favorite, and the Flyers feel he is ready to make the next step. A skilled passer and sniper, the 43rd ranked prospect in Dobber's Top 200 will make an impact as soon as he hits the NHL.

Upside: Top-line RW.
Production Potential: 30-45-75, 200 PIM, +5

Angelo Esposito - Lost in the shadow of Sidney Crosby, lanky, jet-wheeled Angelo Esposito had one of the best QMJHL seasons by a 16 year-old in 2005-06, notching 98 points in 57 games. A projected first-overall draft pick for several years, 'Espo' has seen his peers catch up in skill and attention. It doesn't help that the 6'1, 174 lbs centre isn't exactly dominating the Q despite his immense talent and drive. Still Top 15 in QMJHL scoring as of now with 48 points in 27 games, and the youngest player in the top 20 scorers, Esposito may see his draft stock take a fall as more pro-ready prospects take centre stage. The team that drafts him will undoubtedly get a steal, as the youngster's stickhandling, shot and offensive awareness are just shy of making him a generational talent. An additional 20 pounds and a year of development would shoot him into the upper echelon of prospects.

Upside: Top-six forward.
Production Potential: With no added weight and little improvement, 30-45-75. Otherwise, 30-65-95+.

Sam Gagner - The roundabout career path of Sam Gagner has come full circle. The second-highest scorer for the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers as a 16 year-old, the 5'10 centerman showed flashes of talent during the 2005-06 campaign. Since returning from the States after changing a decision to attend the NCAA, the Ontario native has turned those flashes into a steady stream of awesome en route to 60 points in 26 OHL games in a London Knights uniform. To put his numbers in perspective, his 2.3 PPG is higher than Corey Perry's- when the latter was 19 and scored 130 points in 60 games. If he can maintain this rate, Gagner will come up just 32 points shy of Wayne Gretzky's totals at the same age. For now, Gagner is a lock to make Canada's WJC entry. While the pivot has been criticized for being all hands and rush and no defensive game or muscle, he is already outplaying those his own age in Canada by a wide margin. It's very likely he can do the same against the world. With proper training and development, Gagner's potential is that of a star top center in the mold of Jason Spezza, capable of dazzling offense every shift. He is already ahead of Spezza in one vital area: speed, which will ease his transition to the show.

Upside: #1 Center
Production Potential: 25-75-100.


Claude Giroux - What a difference a few inches can make (quiet, significant other). In 2004-05, Montreal native Claude Giroux was playing out the year in the lower levels of Quebec junior hockey, unable to get a sniff at even the QMJHL due to his 5'4 frame. Six inches was all the already talented speedster needed to become a premier prospect. Giroux was plain scary in the middle of adjusting to his growth spurt last season, and still managed to post over 100 points as a Q rookie. Now that he's adjusted, the 48th-ranked prospect on the Dobber Hockey Prospect 200 is second in league scoring, potting 64 points in 33 games. Strikingly similar to fellow Flyers property Simon Gagne, Giroux will likely follow a similar development path and enter the NHL next season. Except at least a Calder finalist performance.

Upside: All-Star LW
Production Potential: 40-60-100.


Darren Helm - Another crack find by the scouting staff of the Detroit Red Wings, smart, efficient checking forward Darren Helm was just shy of 25 points in his draft year, allowing the Wings to snatch him late in the 2005 Entry Draft. It's debatable whether the Wings knew what they had offensively before his coming out party, but one thing hasn't changed: Helm can backcheck and break up plays better than most defenders in the WHL. For all the burgeoning talent up ice Helm has shown, it will be his contributions in his own end that will make him a strong candidate for both the WJC team and the NHL.

Upside: Marty Reasoner
Production Potential: 10-20-30, +11, 55 PIM


Bryan Little- A plausible NHLer right now, OHL superstar Bryan Little has cast aside any doubts surrounding his skill level and heart. Willing to skate around, through and over anyone and everyone in order to finish or create plays, and with no major holes in his game, there will be Little time left in the OHL for the 72nd-ranked Dobber Hockey prospect. A top six NHL role with a buffet of powerplay time awaits the young centerman in Atlanta.

Upside: Center who finishes top-five in assists year in, year out
Production Potential: 25-65-90


Brad Marchand - Another smaller but greatly hyped offensive pivot, Marchand has had the season most envisioned of the 71st overall pick in 2006. He also has the same problems as were predicted; size, strength and accountability in all three zones. An outside shot to make Team Canada due to the plethora of weapons available in the playmaking department- Marchand's skill set is duplicated in Little and Cogliano- the Bruins will nevertheless welcome the 5'9, 183lbs forward with open arms in three years.

Upside: Second-line center/PP specialist
Production Potential: 20-35-55


Ben Maxwell- A former 'projected' first round pick, when the time came for names to be called in 2006, the North Van native fell to the bottom of the second round and an eager Montreal Canadiens club. Another strong NHL prospect with not so strong WJC chances, Maxwell's development won't be hurt by staying in Kootenay a full season. There, the skinny center can better work on his array of tools and improve on the weaknesses standing between him and the NHL.

Upside: Dependable two-way second liner
Production Potential: 15-35-50


Kendall McArdle - A noted power winger, McArdle hasn't been spectacular offensively since being drafted in 2005, but he's made great strides in every other part of his game and will be at least competent as a physical force with a scorer's touch. Not very big, the grind of the WHL sked has hit McArdle hard, and that is a major concern before the Florida Panthers come calling for the wrecking ball on skates. He will make Team Canada in an energy forward role as players in his mold are lacking.

Upside: Third line hitter who can play on the top two lines
Production Potential: 25-30-55, 150+ PIM


James Neal - Rounding off Team Canada's projected power forwards, 6'2 James Neal provides clutch scoring ability to go along with bone-jarring hits. 16 points 13 games led the OHL's Plymouth Whalers in playoff scoring to go along with 33 PIM. Clearly not out of his element in big games, Neal is a perfect fit for Team Canada. In 27 games this season, the Oshawa native leads Plymouth in goals with 17, and is second in both assists (19) and PIM (61).

Upside: Checking line left wing
Production Potential: 25-25-50, 100+ PIM


O'MarraRyan O'Marra - Former Otter, now Saginaw Spirit, and always mean, Tokyo-born Ryan O'Marra will lead Canada from the third line. And that's no slight. One of the CHL's most well-rounded forwards, O'Marra will be responsible for keeping pucks out of his end while putting it in the other. Team Canada's medal hopes rely on the strong two-way play of its forwards year in and year out, and for this center at least, there will be no worry - in either zone.

Upside: Above-average second line center
Production Potential: 30-45-75, 120+ PIM

Mathieu Perreault - 52 points in 62 games last season. 66 in... 32? So goes the development of QMJHL leading scorer Mathieu Perreault. A mere 5'8 and 151 lbs, and not one to play much bigger, Perreault's calling card is undeniable offense. However, the spectacular failure of similar players like Simon Gamache and Pavel Rosa mean the slight forward's junior production may mean nothing. Then again, in the new game and at the same age, it's entirely plausible Gamache and Rosa would have developed properly. For now, Perreault is the Q's best scoring talent, but his chances of traveling to Sweden are bleak.

Upside: PP specialist in the Mike Comrie mold.
Production Potential: 15-50-65, -10

Tom Pyatt - Well, at least he won't take forty years to develop. On the other hand, Tom Pyatt doesn't have anywhere near the potential of his brother- though that may not matter if Taylor never fulfills it. In either case, the younger of the Pyatts is coincidentally the safest. He'll never lead a team in scoring, and he doesn't have the frame at 5'11 to dominate games physically, but Tom's positional play and defensive acumen are exceptional. The Rangers have plethora of bottom-sixers, but Pyatt may prove to be the best of them.

Upside: Energy winger with solid offensive instincts
Production Potential: 25-25-50, +5

Devin Setoguchi - What a funny thing hindsight is. This time last year, teams were ruing missing out on Devin Setoguchi. Initially very underrated, the Sharks moved up to nab up 8th overall in 2005 and the 6'0 sniper responded with a big-time 83 points in 2005-06. Now, the natural goal scorer has fallen by the wayside, potting an underwhelming 20 points in 25 games to go with a -6 rating. For the soon-to-be-twenty-year-old, much, much more was expected. Rumours of homesickness following a trade from the Saskatoon Blades to the Prince George Cougars don't excuse an off year that will ultimately cost Setoguchi a spot on Team Canada. The potential for greatness is still there, but is at this point suppressed.

Upside: Top-six sniper
Production Potential: 35-35-70

Chris Stewart - One player who is meeting the challenges of high expectations is Kingston Frontenac and 169th Dobber ranked prospect Chris Stewart. A leading scorer on any other squad, the 6'1 228 pound power forward has had to take on a more defensive role on a unit with scoring stars Cory Emmerton and Bobby Hughes. The first choice in 2006 for the Avalanche, Stewart has taken his ice time and run - or skated- with it, putting up a relatively impressive -1 on a line that is a collective -15. He's also bulled his way to 31 points and 50 PIM in the first 24 games of the season. This combination of skill and size should be enough on its own to win Stewart a checking line spot on Team Canada.

Upside: Adam Deadmarsh
Production Potential: 30-35-65, 180+ PIM

John Tavares - Consider this: the OHL's leading scorer is not eligible to be drafted until 2009. With a legit shot at 65 goals as a 16 year-old, phenom John Tavares is on pace to banhizzlefy the OHL career goals mark. Yes, banhizzlefy. There is simply no word for how much of a Tavares distance the Oakville native will have between himself and Peter Lee, who holds the record with 213. 45 at 15, 65 at 16, 80 at 17 and 90 at 18 means 280 goals for young Tavares. Lee would have had to have played six seasons in the O to match it. 300 goals is even within reach, an unheard of accomplishment. And that's without the effects of puberty and possibly adding another two or three inches of hei... okay, but enough looking ahead. I'm running out of underwear. Tavares is the best at putting the puck in the net in all of the CHL, with Bossy-esque ability. In fact, 300 goals would put Tavares just 9 off of Bossy's QMJHL career total. It's clear that the youngster belongs with the best in the world.

Upside: Hall of Fame goal scorer
Production Potential: 60-60-120

Jonathan Toews - Last but nowhere near the least or anything one could conceivably consider the bottom, heart and soul talent Jonathan Toews will center one of Canada's top two lines, now and in the future. Forget giving 110%. The NCAA's best all-around player gives ten times that, and that's on an off night. There's simply no scoring on him or stopping him from scoring against you. Toews is the type of player teams win championships with, and he'll start fairly young.

Upside: All-star captain center
Production Potential: 35-55-90

Projected Team Canada Lineup

Tavares-Toews-Little
Giroux-Cogliano-Bertram
Pyatt-O'Marra-Downie
McArdle-Bass-Stewart

Helm

Parent-Staal
* Bourdon-* Letang
Russell-Franson

Price
Irving

*- Denotes NHL experience


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