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2019 World Junior Hockey Championships

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  • 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships

    It is almost upon us! This might be the most excited I've been for this tournament in a while, because the field is so wide open and there could be a level of consistency of competitiveness that I'm not sure we've ever seen. Since the decline of the Czechs and Finns in the early 2000s, for more than ten years there was a clear big four - Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden. But in the past five or so years now Finland has firmly established themselves as perennial contender. And now we seem to be back to a point where there are six legitimate medal contenders, and this year I would even dare say six legitimate gold medal contenders.

    There seems to be a clear first tier, with USA, Sweden and Canada. These three look to be the favorites to win gold and anything less than at least a medal would be a great disappointment. Finland's hockey star is shining so bright and they have been doing so well developing NHL talent that it is going to be their downfall at this tournament this year - as I will discuss, no other country has surrendered as many players to the NHL as Finland this year. Russia will be a wild card, as usual. The Czechs, for the first time in a long time, look like perhaps a legitimate contender; at the very least they should be competitive against the good teams, and should dominate the relegation-tier teams. The Slovaks and Swiss will form a third tier, and then finally Denmark and Kazahkstan.

    I'm going to try to do a ranking and bit of an analysis of each team's roster.
    Last edited by matchesmalone; 12-08-2018, 07:20 AM.

  • #2
    1. USA - My pick to win it all this year. Featuring five returning players, three of whom are first round picks who are putting up big numbers in NCAA this year. All of Josh Norris, Ryan Poehling and Quinn Hughes could be in the mix for end-of-tournament awards. Chalk-full of first and second round picks, and almost the entire roster comes from NCAA. College hockey provides the ideal balance for developing players at this age. On the one hand, junior hockey players only play against fellow teenagers (mostly 17-19) and so aren’t pushed to rapidly grow beyond their capacities, and on the other hand players in European pro leagues get to play against men, but often don’t get enough ice time to develop maximally. NCAA players play against young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 23 or 24, which allows top 18 and 19 year olds to play regular minutes in a highly challenging and growth-stimulating milieu.

    Forwards - A-
    I expect Josh Norris and Jack Hughes will share top center duties. Norris will be the reliable veteran center who will be used in all situations, especially up or down a goal late in games, and matched against other team’s top lines, as well as on the PP and PK. Hughes will be the go-to offensive weapon. I’d like to see Hughes paired with Evan Barratt, who is a natural center, because a young center like Hughes will struggle on draws against 19 year olds on the contending teams; Barratt could share the faceoff burden, and has the offensive capabilities to keep up with Hughes. Oliver Wahlstrom would be the obvious choice to round out that line, as he has played regularly with Hughes for USNDP along with Joel Farabee; perhaps they could even get that line back together, but I just don’t know if Farabee is ready to be a top-six forward at this level. I would imagine Norris and Poehling will form the de facto number one line, and 19 year-old offensive dynamo Jason Robertson seems to be the front-runner to round out that line. The only other forwards who I think are close to locks to make the team are the aforementioned Joel Farabee - a fourteenth overall pick in 2018, off to a bit of a slow start to his NCAA career, but he was a key member of both the 2017 and 2018 U18 teams and so has experience and a winning pedigree on the international stage (gold and silver), and has played with most of the top players on this team – and Jack Drury, who is among the best faceoff-takers in the NCAA right now at 58.5% on over 300 draws, and will play a key role centering the third or fourth line and killing penalties. Will be interesting to see if the undrafted 5’3 Sean Dhooghe will make the team, even if just as the thirteenth forward and powerplay specialist.

    Defense - A
    Reurnees Dylan Samberg and Michael Anderson play on a pair together at UMD, and so I would imagine will stay together to form a sort of number one pair, at least the pair that will play against other team’s top lines. But at the same time, Quinn Hughes is going to be the workhorse number one defenseman and powerplay quarterback. K’Andre Miller is 6’4 and a first round pick in the 2018 draft, 22nd overall, and has 17 points in his first 18 NCAA games – so yeah, he’ll be on the team. Hard to imagine 2018 32nd overall pick Mattias Samuelsson left off the team, but at some point they need a right hand shot or two on this defense.

    Goalies - B+
    Cayden Primeau, only a seventh round pick from 2017, has become a top goalie in the NCAA and seems the obvious choice to start for USA. Spencer Knight, only 17, is one of the most highly-touted American goalie prospects in recent years, maybe even a first round pick in 2019.

    Ryan Poehling* - Josh Norris* - Jason Robertson
    Evan Barratt - Jack Hughes - Oliver Wahlstrom
    Joel Farabee - Jack Drury - Alexander Chmelevski
    Noah Cates - Tyler Madden - Samuel Walker
    Sean Dhooghe

    Quinn Hughes* - Jack St. Ivany
    Dylan Samberg* - Michael Anderson*
    K’Andre Miller - Ty Emberson
    Mattias Samuelsson

    Cayden Primeau
    Spencer Knight

    This is the only team for which I'm going to try to predict the entire roster. For the rest I'll just do skeleton rosters of locks and near-locks, and then maybe fill them in as announcements are made.

    Award candidates: Quinn Hughes will be among the three or five favorites for top defenseman of the tournament and should be in the mix for MVP. Jack Hughes, Ryan Poehling and Josh Norris could all be in the mix for top forward.

    Players lost to NHL: Brady Tkachuk
    Last edited by matchesmalone; 12-09-2018, 09:10 AM.


    • #3
      2. Canada - Always among the favorites, and last year's returning gold medalists, but with only two players returning from that gold medal winning team. Still more first and second round draft picks than everyone else, although it seems like that gap just continues to close, and in 2018 Canada had just one top five pick (Barret Hayton fifth overall) and just two in the top ten (Evan Bouchard tenth overall). Also, I will continue to lament about the tyranny the CHL runs over Hockey Canada. Evan Bouchard is perhaps the most perfect example. He's obviously too good to be playing in the CHL and already pretty much was last season, and yet he must continue to be a big fish in a small pond because he is ineligible for the AHL, and thus his development will be slowed significantly. Compare a player like Quinn Hughes for the USA, and just watch the difference between the two in this tournament. Bouchard is going to be dominant against lesser competition and other junior players, but will struggle defensively against 19 year-olds from the college and pro ranks. Hughes is going to be on a different level entirely.

      As always, it is next to impossible to predict Canada’s roster, because just about every player on selection camp is a first or second round pick and is putting up huge numbers in junior. So I will make note of the handful of locks, and throw in Ty Smith, Ty Dellandrea and Jared McIsaac, who all played at both of the last two U18s, and so who Hockey Canada knows well and who have a lot of experience on the big international stage. This actually gives me a full seven defensemen, so I dunno, of course they do the camp for a reason and there will always be surprises, but I’m decently confident that Canada’s D will appear exactly as I have it.

      Forwards – A-
      There are a few really high quality offensive weapons here, but there aren’t really any prospects you look at and you’re like, "yeah, that guy is a lock to be a superstar at the NHL level." There are a couple of very weird parallels by position. Vilardi and Tippet, both high picks from 2017, will be physically imposing goal-scoring forces from the right wing. Both big bodies who get to areas and have natural goal-scoring touch. A lot of the same can be said of Brett Leason, but he's not a high pick, and in fact went undrafted last year, but is now having a monster season with Prince Albert of the WHL, to the tune of 28 goals and 61 points in 28 games. The top two centers are both highly skilled offensive weapons who were drafted by Vegas (although Suzuki is no longer Knights property), and the likely 3rd center, Ty Dellandrea was another high pick in the same range as the first two, but a year later. And then on the left wing, you have Canada's two returning players from last year's team. And Likely rounding out the top nine will be 2018 fifth overall pick Barrett Hayton, another big body, a versatile player with a lot of skill and a lot of intangibles. Morgan Frost, Joe Vileno and Liam Foudy all look like good bets to make the team, but who knows. Alexis Lafreniere, the likely first overall pick for 2020 will obviously be an interesting one to watch.

      Defense - A
      As with the forwards, there isn’t really that blue chip superstar on D. Canada just doesn’t have a guy like Erik Brannstrom or Quinn Hughes who is going to play half the game and dictate the pace of play, but does have seven really high quality defenseman who excel at both ends of the ice. Evan Bouchard will likely run the powerplay. Perhaps Noah Dobson and Jared McIsaac would be a good fit together as a shutdown and PK duo. Altogether I have Canada down for five first round picks (even with Nicolas Beaudin left off the team), and one second and one third rounder.

      Goaltending - A
      2017 third rounder Michael DiPietro and fourth rounder Ian Scott are both grade A goaltending prospects.

      Max Comtois* - Cody Glass - Gabe Villardi
      Alex Formenton* - Nick Suzuki - Owen Tippet
      Barret Hayton - Ty Dellandrea - Brett Leason

      Jared McIsaac - Noah Dobson
      Pierre-Olivier Joseph - Evan Bouchard
      Ty Smith - Ian Mitchell
      Jacob Bernard-Docker

      Michael DiPietro
      Ian Scott

      Award candidates: Pretty much anyone. Comtois, Glass, Vilardi, Tippet could all very easily be in the running for top forward. Maybe Bouchard or Dobson could be in the mix for best defenseman. And whoever starts in net for Canada will have a good shot at being named top goalie.

      Players lost to NHL: Nolan Patrick, Michael Rasmussen, Robert Thomas
      Last edited by matchesmalone; 12-09-2018, 06:49 PM.


      • #4
        3. Sweden - Don't be at all surprised if Sweden takes gold, and be surprised if they don't medal. Most of the team plays in SHL, the third best league in the world, but mostly in the bottom half of rosters.

        Forwards - B-
        The only real weakness on this team. But still as good as or better than most teams in the tournament. I would say the odds are good right now that first round pick Isac Lundestrom, 23rd overall by the Ducks, will be loaned by Anaheim to Sweden. No first rounders in this forward group beyond Lundestrom. Two returnees at forward, Fabian Zetterlund and Lundestrom.

        Defense – A+
        When you even happen to have the perfect mix of left and right shots. Led by 2017 first rounders (15th and 17th respectively) and World Junior returnees Erik Brannstrom and Timothy Liljegrin, but Sweden’s world class defense doesn’t end there. Adam Boquist went 8th overall to Chicago in 2018, and Nils Lundkvist and Rasmus Sandin went 28th and 29th, respectively. Very rare that you see a team other than Canada with five first round picks on its defense core in this tournament. And the rest of the defense will likely be rounded out by 2nd round picks Adam Ginning and Filip Westerlund. On paper this is a group as good as any we’ve seen at this tournament in a long time.

        Goaltending – B+
        Most likely Samuel Ersson and Olle Eriksson Ek, a pair of 2017 5th round picks, will be the two goalies for Sweden, although undrafted Adam Ahman is putting up excellent numbers as a starter in Allsvenskan this year. Regardless who makes the team and who starts, there is no real stand-out all-star goalie like the Swedes have often had in this tournament, but there are a number of capable options.

        Isac Lundestrom* - Emil Bemstrom - Fabian Zetterlund*
        Filip Hallander – Jacob Olofsson – Johan Sodergran
        - David Gustavsson -

        Erik Brannstrom* - Timothy Liljegrin*
        Rasmus Sandin - Adam Boqvist
        Adam Ginning - Nils Lundkvist
        Filip Westerlund

        Samuel Ersson
        Olle Eriksson Ek

        Award candidates: Erik Brannstrom would have to be considered the favorite to win defenseman of the tournament.

        Lost to NHL: Only Rasmus Dahlin.
        Last edited by matchesmalone; 12-09-2018, 09:09 AM.


        • #5
          4. Russia

          Forwards - B+
          Led by a trio of first round picks, Vitali Kravtsov (9th overall 2018), Klim Kostin (31st overall 2017) and Grigori Denisenko (15th overall 2018), this could be the deadliest line of the tournament if all three play together.

          Defense - B

          Goaltending - A-
          One of the highest drafted 19 year old goalies in the tournament, Daniil Tarasov (86th overall 2017) put up pristine numbers last year in Russia's top junior league (MHL), and now this year in Russia's second pro league (VHL).

          Grigori Denisenko - Klim Kostin* - Vitali Kravtsov
          Ivan Chekhovich - Stepan Starkov - Nikolai Kovalenko
          - - Kirill Marchenko

          Dmitri Samorukov*
          Ilya Morozov
          Alexander Romanov
          Alexander Alexeyev

          Daniil Tarasov

          Award candidates: Klim Kostin and Vitali Kravtsov could both be considered among favorites for top forward, and Daniil Tarasov would have to be one of the favorites for top goalie.


          • #6
            5. Finland - lets start with this:

            Players lost to NHL: Miro Heiskanen (3rd overall 2017), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (3rd overall 2018) , Jusso Vallimaki (16th overall 2017), Henri Jokiharju (29th overall 2017), Eeli Tolvanen (30th overall 2017).

            It looks like Urho Vaakanainen (18th overall 2017) and Eemeli Rasanen (59th overall 2017) will miss due to injury, and the Finns are hopeful Joni Ikonen (58th overall 2017) will be ready in time, but he hasn't played hockey this season after June knee surgery, and seems highly doubtful.

            Despite everyone missing, this could still be a pretty formidable team, with a very young and impressive forward group, and on paper the best goalie in the tournament. They will have four returning players, but will also be a very young team throughout, with five 2019 draft eligibles and one 2020 eligible at camp. Kaapo Kakko is the consensus number two pick for 2019, and Anton Lundell will be a very high pick in 2020.

            Forwards - A-
            Kristian Vesalainen may end up being the best player in the tournament. Aleksi Heponiemi (40th overall 2017) scored 118 points in 57 WHL games last year at 18, and this year is a near point per game player in SM-Liiga. So is 2018 20th overall pick Rasmus Kupari. That's a pair of top centers about as good as Canada's, but with the benefit of playing regular minutes in a top pro league. Rounding out the top six will be Kakko, Lundell. and 2018 35th overall pick, Jesse Ylonen.

            Defense - C
            Missing four first round picks to the NHL or injury, this defense is almost entirely bare of NHL draft picks. Oskari Laaksonen (89th overall 2017) will be about the lone bright spot on the D core. Four 2019 draft-eligibles are trying out on defense for Finland; at least three are pretty much locks, and it wouldn't be a shock if all four make it, considering most of the other prospects trying out are undrafted.

            Goaltending - A
            As the highest drafted 19 year-old goalie in the tournament, and Finland's returning starter from last year, Ukko-Pekka Luukkunen would have to be considered, on paper, the best goalie in the tournament by some margin.

            Kristian Vesalainen* - Aleksi Heponiemi* - Kaapo Kakko
            Anton Lundell - Rasmus Kupari* - Jesse Ylonen
            Sampo Ranta - Aarne Talvitie - Niklas Nordgren
            - Santeri Virtanen -

            Mikko Kokkonen - Oskari Laaksonen
            Ville Heinola - Anttoni Honka

            Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen*

            Award candidates: Vesalainen will be a favorite for top forward and MVP. Heponiemi could very well be in the mix for top forward as well. Despite Luukkonen's qualifications, it is hard to imagine him winning any awards with the defense that is going to be in front of him. For this team to have any chance at winning anything, they're going to have to play a very strong team defense, and Luukkonen is going to have to go beast-mode.
            Last edited by matchesmalone; 12-09-2018, 07:01 PM.


            • #7
              Man.. great work Kevin! I always look forward to these analyses and they definitely get me pumped for the tournament.

              Call me a homer, but looking at your roster projections, I see Canada winning again. That Swedish defense is ridiculous though. Imagine they still had Dahlin too?!


              • #8
                Thanks man! Haha yeah it was kinda hard to justify giving Canada the best grades and then not having them ranked first. I just think the experience, between the returning players, and the higher level of difficulty the American players are accustomed to, will be the difference.

                The Czechs will be the last somewhat in-depth analysis I'll do, and for the last four I'll just do short summaries.


                • #9
                  Alexis Lafreniere is looking to join Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid in some exclusive company. Lafreniere seeks to become only the sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Crosby and McDavid are on that list, along with Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros and Jay Bouwmeester.

                  I think he makes it.


                  • #10
                    Yeah I'd be a little surprised if he was snubbed. But we've seen some close calls before. Remember when a 16 year-old John Tavares was cut from team Canada? I remember being pretty shocked about that at the time. The first player granted exceptional status, there was a ton of hype around him at that time. His second year in the OHL, he went to WJC. He had only just turned 16 in September, and he was cut. He went on to score 72 goals and 134 points in 67 games that season. That's two points per game for those counting. Granted, he was a full year younger than Lafreniere now is. Seguin was cut the year he went 2nd overall.

                    But yeah if I was a betting man, I'd take Lafreniere making it. Lavoie is a tighter call.


                    • #11
                      Canada cuts Lavoie, Dellandrea and a couple of defensemen. Hm, I really thought Dellandrea would make it.


                      • #12
                        Formanton is now out of the equation due to a knee injury.


                        • #13
                          Fuck. That double sucks. A big blow to team Canada but also this would have been great for his development.


                          • #14
                            QF Canada v Finland live stream (currently showing Sweden/Switzerland):


                            • #15
                              So Sweden was upset by Switzerland and then Canada was upset by Finland. This marks the first time that Canada doesn't medal on home soil, and this will be their worst ever finish in the tournament. Their highest possible rank is 5th.