The World Junior Championships are always a special time of the year for hockey fans because it gives everyone a chance to look at some of the brightest young talent from all over the world. It's especially nice for fans of teams with prospects outside of their viewing area who wouldn't get a chance to see these players otherwise. Carolina fans should be very familiar with this tournament as many of their former prospects like Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Brandon Sutter, Justin Faulk and Michal Jordan have all participated in the World Juniors in recent years. The tournament being broadcasted on such a large platform is great for a fanbase like Carolina, who obviously do not get to watch many of their prospects first-hand if they live within the market. Of course, you have to keep in mind that how these players perform in a small sample size isn't indicative of their overall talent and will sometimes lead to certain players having a higher or lower stock value than they did before (see Matt Halischuk), but the WJC is still a great time and a good way for fans to see some of their team's brightest prospects. Plus, who doesn't love a good sports tournament to enhance their national pride? (USA! USA! USA!)
There are not as many Carolina prospects participating in the WJCs as there were in 2008 or 2009 but a couple of their higher end prospects will be playing for clubs who are favorites to win the Gold Medal in Ryan Murphy (Canada) and Victor Rask (Sweden). Murphy was an invite to Team Canada last year but ended up being cut during camp and Rask played on the U-18 Swedish team while being on the U-20 roster but not playing in a game. So, this is the first time that either player will have a shot at winning a gold medal and both are going to be playing critical roles on their respective teams from the sound of things. Unfortunately, these are the only two Carolina prospects who are participating in the tournament but there are plenty of other names worth keeping an eye on, including some who we may see in the Southeast Division very soon.
After the jump, you will find a country-by-country breakdown of each team participating in the tournament and why each one of them is important to watch from Carolina's standpoint, because there is more to this tournament than just your team and home nation's prospects. It's about discovering some of the best young talent from all over the world.
Obviously the one to watch for Carolina is their 2011 first round pick Ryan Murphy, who is currently the captain of the Kitchener Rangers. Murphy making the team was a nice surprise because from what I have been following, he is having kind of a disappointing year compared to the last two seasons. All I have gotten to see of Murphy this year is highlights so maybe he is performing better than his goal & point total indicate. Canada has a few offensive-minded blue-liners on their roster already with Dougie Hamilton and Xavier Ouellet but it looks like they had room for Murphy after all. The team is carrying seven defenseman as of right now so let's hope that he is able to get into the lineup and play significant minutes, which might be difficult when you look at all of the talent Canada has in their defense corps. Including Murphy, Canada has four NHL first round picks in their defense corps and all seven of them are also NHL draft picks.
One of those players is Griffin Reinhart, the New York Islanders first round pick from this year and Keegan Lowe's teammate on the Edmonton Oil Kings. Reinhart was a player who many suspected the Hurricanes would take in this year's draft before they used that pick to acquire Jordan Staal. He is a very skilled two-way defenseman who plays a responsible game at both ends, which is very impressive for an 18-year-old. I suspect that he will be getting big minutes alongside Dougie Hamilton, a Boston Bruins draft pick and one of the top defensemen in the OHL this year.
He is just one of the top players in the CHL on Team Canada this year, as their roster also includes the likes of Brett Ritchie, Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner and Ryan Strome. Huberdeau is a Florida Panthers draft pick and one of the top scorers in the QMJHL while Jenner is the leading goal-scorer in the OHL and a teammate of Carolina prospect Daniel Altshuller in Oshawa. The Winnipeg Jets first round pick from last year, Mark Scheifele will also be part of Team Canada as will the #1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is currently playing for the Oklahoma City Barons of the OHL. There are also two prospects eligible for next year's draft on Team Canada in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, the former being projected to be a top-3 pick.
Canada always features a stacked roster in this tournament because this is where the majority of top players come from and this year is no different. This is my first year following junior hockey, so the words "not fair" came to mind when I looked at Canada's roster earlier today until I realized that it's always like this.
Justin Faulk is too old to participate in the tournament so there are no Carolina players representing the United States in the WJC this year. Still, I'm willing to bet that most American hockey fans are watching this tournament to follow and root for their home country so there is no harm in getting to know some of their players. Most of them are currently playing in the NCAA and one of the most notable names from that field is Jacob Trouba of the University of Michigan. He was the Winnipeg Jets first round selection from this year and currently has 11 points in 16 games. He possesses a big shot and is very dangerous on the powerplay because of that. I haven't watched him enough to judge his defensive play so I have no comment on that. I will say that he has been a bright spot for the Wolverines in what has been a underwhelming year for the team. Another one of the top players from the NCAA pool is Johnny Gaudreau, a Flames pick currently playing for the Boston College Eagles. Gaudreau is small at 5 ft. & 6 inches, but he is lighting up the NCAA with 11 goals and 23 points in 14 games.
In addition to Trouba, the Southeast Division will also be represented by Washington Capitals draft pick Riley Barber who is currently a point-per-game player with the Miami Redhawks, Rocco Grimaldi and Vince Trocheck both of the Florida Panthers. Grimaldi has 16 points in 18 games with the University of North Dakota while Trocheck is having a very impressive year with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. The NHL clubs being represented the most for Team USA are the Calgary Flames with three players and Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils with two players a piece all making the team..
A couple other familiar names for Carolina fans on Team USA are Garret Sparks, who is the goalie of Brock McGinn's Guelph Storm, JT Miller and Ryan Hartman of Austin Levi & Matt Mahalak's Plymouth Whalers, Tyler Biggs of Altshuller's Oshawa Generals, Brady Skeji of Mark Alt's Minnesota Golden Gophers and Jim Vesey, who is a teammate of Danny Biega at Harvard University.
The main one to keep an eye on here is Victor Rask, Carolina's second round pick from 2011. He spent some time with the Charlotte Checkers this season before being sent to Calgary of the WHL and he has been tearing it up ever since then with 12 points in 11 games. Rask is looking to play a huge role on Team Sweden as they will win the gold medal for th esecond year in a row, and there is a good chance that Rask will be an impact player given his experience and development. There is a lot of talent on this team, though including a couple high draft picks such as Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks and Filip Forsberg fo the Washington Capitals, both of which were selected in the first round of this year's draft.
The majority of players on Team Sweden are currently playing hockey in their homeland and many of them doing so in the Swedish Elite League, which is the highest level of competition in the country. There are a couple players who traveled overseas to play hockey, though. One of whom is Oscar Dansk, the goalie for the Erie Otters of the OHL and a Columbus Blue Jackets pick. Lindholm is also playing hockey in North America as a member of the Charlotte Checkers former division rivals the Norfolk Admirals. The one who most should keep their eye on, however, is Nick Sorensen of the Quebec Ramparts. He is draft eligible this year and is currently a point-per-game player. A couple other players who are worth noting are Sebastian Collberg, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick who was projected to be a high draft pick this year and Christian Djoos, a Washington Capitals draft pick.
There are only seven players who are NHL draft picks on Team Finland this year, but that doesn't mean there is a shortage of talent. Most of the players on Team Finland are still eligible to be drafted next year and could be in the NHL in a few years. One player who should be in the NHL relatively soon is Teuvo Teravainen, the first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks from this year. He fell a bit in the draft due to being undersized but he is a very talented offensive player and has done pretty well for Jokerit in Finland's SM-Liiga, which is where many of the players in this tournament are playing their hockey this season. A good few of them are teammates with NHL-ers this year including Ville Pokka and Mikka Salomaki who currently play for Karpat, Jussi Jokinen's Finnish club during the lockout.
A couple other players who are NHL picks are Joel Armia, Markus Granlund, Esa Lindell and Olli Maatta, the latter of which is currently playing for the London Knights of the OHL. There are also a few Finnish players such as Mikko Vainonen and Eeut Laurikainen who are playing junior hockey in North America. The rest of the pool is relatively unknown to my knowledge, which is why I love this tournament. The Hurricanes always find good talent from Europe, so I wouldn't be surprised if a player on Team Finland ends up being a Carolina draft pick in the next year or so.
Team Czech Republic
Much like the Finns, there are only a handful of Czech players in the WJC this year. Although, there is some high-end talent on the Czech team including first round picks Radek Faksa and Tomas Hertl. Faksa is currently playing for the Kitchener Rangers and has established a reputation as a solid play-maker and physical presence in North America. Hertl was the Sharks first round pick from this year and has been nearly a point-per-game player in the Czech league for the last two seasons. Another name NHL fans may recognize is Martin Frk, a draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings who has 39 points in 28 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
An interesting thing I notice with a lot of Czech players is that there is always a good few of them playing junior hockey in North America and this is true with many of the players on the team this year. Mos tof them are playing in the QMJHL, though so I haven't had the chance to see many of them other than Faksa. The one I have gotten to see the most of is David Musil of the Edmonton Oil Kings and he is having an okay year with 15 points in 31 games.
The team with the most invested interest in the Russian is the Tampa Bay Lighting, who currently have three prospects on this team including their first round pick from this year, goaltender Andrei Vasielvski. I'm not sure how he will perform in the tournament but the team has a couple of extremely talented players in Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov who automatically make the Russians a force to be reckoned with in this tournament. Florida draft pick Yaroslav Kosov also made the team as did Penguins draft pick Anton Zlobin, so there is plenty of talent to go around on this team outside of the two stars. I'm not sure if they are as balanced as some of the other squads in the tournament, though.
To my knowledge the only NHL draft pick playing for the Slovaks this year is Peter Ceresnak, a sixth round pick of the New York Rangers in 2011. There are also some players currently in North America on this team in Martin Reway and Richard Sabol but the majority of this roster is unknown to my knowledge. Regardless, a good amount of NHL talent is produced from Slovakia so I wouldn't completely sleep on them.
The only NHL draft pick on Team Germany is Tobias Reider, who was a 4th round selection of the Oilers and he is having a nice season with the Kitchener Rangers thus far, so I would definitely keep an eye out for him. The rest of the team is unknown to my knowledge as most of them are playing in Germany. There are a few who are in North America right now, though including Sebastian Uvira of the Oshawa Generals, Marvin Cupper of the Shawinigan Catarects and Nickolas Latta of the Sarnia Sting. Aside from that, there isn't much I can say about this team.
I'm always interested to see Team Switzerland play because there has been some good NHL talent to come from this country in recent years like Jonas Hiller, Sven Bartschi, Nino Niederreiter and Raphael Diaz. Unfortunately for Switzerland, Bartschi is too old to play in this tournament but there are a couple notable names on their roster like Lightning draft pick Tanner Richard, who is currently playing with the Guelph Storm, and Minnesota Wild prospect Christoph Bertschy. They also have a kid name Eliot Antonelli who stands at 6'6" and weights 230 lbs. Pretty impressive considering he is a 19-year-old. I'll look forward to seeing him and some other relatively unknown talent from Switzerland in this tournament. Those who follow junior hockey or the Finnish league may be familiar with some of these names as a lot of them are playing there now.
The only player on Latvia I am familiar with is Zemgus Girgensons, who was one of Buffalo's first round selections from this year's draft. He was a force in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints but has struggled early on with their AHL affiliate in Rochester. He is still only 18 and will get better, though so I'd expect him to be one of Latvia's best players, especially against some more even competition. The rest of the team consists of players I know next to nothing about. Although, a few of them such as Edgars Kulda and Roberts Lipsbergs are playing junior hockey in the CHL right now so other people may know more about them than I do. The majority of this team plays for HK Riga in their home country, so many of them will be facing new competition for the first time in awhile. I always feel that Latvia gets looked upon as the "pushover team" by other nations due to them getting blown out in preliminary games, so hopefully they put up more of a fight this year.
So there you have it. Here's to hoping that Murphy and Rask have good showings in this tournament and that we as fans get to discover some new talent over the next few weeks.