A mass of would-be NHL players who shall play in the IIHF World Junior Championships owing to the ongoing lockout will rightly draw their share of attention over the next two weeks. Ditto some of the most regarded prospects for the 2013 entry draft.
Nonetheless, no one should overlook the prospects that would ordinarily constitute the top layer of talent in this tournament.
Almost everyone certainly knows Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dougie Hamilton, Hampus Lindholm, Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome.
But those following the WJC should also take note of the following 15 aspirant NHLers.
Only four different countries have medaled in this tournament―Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States―over the last six years.
If Finland, bronze medalists four times in five years between 2001-02 and 2005-06, is to restore its relevance, Barkov will be its most banked-on pure scorer. He could be the top European among those eligible for the 2013 NHL draft.
MacKinnon’s associate with the Halifax Mooseheads, Drouin is blossoming into a potential top-echelon 2013 draft pick in his own right. There are few ways to put a stamp on that type of emergence than being one of only two 1995-born players on Team Canada.
Other than MacKinnon and Drouin, the rest of the Ufa-bound Canadians have already been drafted―15 in 2011 and five this past year―or, in the case of J.C. Lipon, swung and missed on two tries.
Like Barkov with Finland, Faksa will be one of the top players to watch on a Czech Republic team that is looking to end a protracted medal drought.
The 2012-13 Czech roster will be down one Tomas Filippi and one Petr Holik, who tallied four goals apiece last winter. Faksa and Tomas Hertl, each coming off a selection in the teen-range of last summer’s NHL draft, are thus their country’s only WJC returnees with multiple goals on their tournament transcript.
In the past two decades, dating back to Paul Kariya’s victory as a freshman in 1993, only two underclassmen have won the Hobey Baker Award. Those were Ryan Miller in 2001 and Ryan Duncan in 2007, both as sophomores.
At midseason with Boston College, Gaudreau is making a credible case to keep up a six-year sophomore pattern with an 11-12-23 scoring log in only 14 games. He boasts a nation-leading 0.79 goals per night and five game-clinching strikes.
Better opportunity and better fortune are all but assured this time around for the Anaheim Ducks’ goaltending prospect.
Faksa’s countryman and fellow first-rounder from 2012 will surely be asked to carry a sizeable offensive load for the Czechs. Hertl tied the aforementioned Holik for the team lead with five tournament points and placed third with three goals in the previous WJC.
Three months ago, Lindholm drew this remark from scout Goran Stubb in an interview with nhl.com: “He could very well be the next Peter Forsberg. He’s an excellent skater and great competitor who gives it 110 percent on every shift.”
The potentially lofty comparison to a legend, but more importantly the “great competitor” aspect, will be put to one of its topmost tests in Lindholm’s first World Junior twirl. He will be stepping right onto a Swedish team that is defending a gold medal while trying to advance his own case for a top slot in the next NHL draft.
Along with fellow first-year Connecticut Whale forward Chris Kreider, Miller represents a promising wave of offense to give the New York Rangers more depth down the road. Like Nugent-Hopkins, he is a rare instance of an AHL player still young enough to compete in the WJC, which he will do for the second time.
It is safe to assert that Nichushkin is the best undrafted Russian skater, especially when the ISS ranks him seventh among all 2013-eligible prospects and makes him the only player from his country in their rough first round.
Already drafted WJC veterans such as Grigorenko, Alexander Khokhlachev and Yakupov will naturally be leaned on to overwhelm opposing defenses. But among the less seasoned players, Nichuskin’s skill set will be critical to ensuring sufficient depth on Team Russia’s strike force.
Sure, people know this young goalie as P.K. Subban’s younger brother, but do they know him yet for his exceptional aptitude in the crease?
The surname makes him recognizable enough, but the WJC will be one of the younger Subban’s chances to show a more massive audience why he is his own player. He enters the tournament bearing the OHL’s second-best goals-against average and save percentage at the halfway mark of the regular season.
To a degree, Teravainen’s World Junior storyline can be likened to that of Nugent-Hopkins. This will be his first excursion to the illustrious holiday dance, and he will enter upon pausing an impressive season in a professional league.
Despite appearing in only 19 games for the Oklahoma City Barons, Nugent-Hopkins has tallied an 8-12-20 scoring log in the AHL. Teravainen is tied with Rich Peverley for No. 30 among the top point-getters in the SM-Liiga, many of whom have seen action in eight or nine more games than he has.
Both will be banked on to translate their seasoning among a more mature age group to a noticeable impact in the 20-and-under tournament.
The ninth overall pick in last summer’s draft has been a mainstay in Ann Arbor, Mich. for the last two-plus years, first with the National Team Development Program and now as a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines.
When Trouba’s game is on, there is hardly a missing element. Besides the fact that he has tallied a 5-6-11 log to start his college career, one story in the Winnipeg Sun lists such phrases as “thundering checks,” “nasty side,” “strong puck mover” and “leadership” to describe him.
For all the attention such offensive colleagues and Grigorenko and Yakupov will get, Vasilevski will be looking to duplicate his 2011-12 WJC with a slight alternate ending.
Splitting the Russian netminding duties with Andrei Makarov, Vasilevski took the majority of the workload and went 4-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. Although, Makarov got the nod for the gold-medal game, holding Sweden scoreless until Mika Zibanejad beat him in overtime.
This season, six months removed from his first-round selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vasilevski will again be joined by Makarov in the host country’s goalie guild.