Toronto Maple Leafs: Fans Have Plenty to Be Excited About in 2013 Junior Tourney
Most Toronto Maple Leafs fans are excited about the kickoff of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships regardless of the year.
However, 2013, has every hockey fan geared up, with the NHL lockout stubbornly dragging on.
This year, four of the Toronto Maple Leafs' prospects are over in Ufa, Russia representing their country and trying to bring a gold medal back to their respective countries.
Most notably, the team's top prospect and their fifth overall pick, Morgan Rielly, is looking to help Canada snap its three tournament gold-less streak.
He'll be playing on Canada's second defensive pairing, as well as the second powerplay unit.
The next most notable Leafs prospect that made the trip to southeastern Russia is the team's first pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Tyler Biggs.
Biggs is looking to help Team USA capture gold and will bring toughness, as well as a scoring touch to the table for the Americans.
Biggs was selected by the Americans after his stellar start to the junior season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
Also making the trip for Team USA is Garret Sparks, Toronto's seventh round selection in the 2011 NHL draft.
While it will be John Gibson who sees most, if not all, of the action for the Americans, the fact that Garret Sparks (who has put together his best season of junior hockey together this year) was even chosen as one of Team USA's three netminders should be encouraging.
Although he was a seventh round draftee, Sparks is already considered one of the Leafs' top goalie prospects according to hockeysfuture.com. Not bad for a guy who was passed on 189 times at the 2011 draft.
Finally, Leafs fans will have a small incentive to try and catch as many of Team Sweden's games as possible, as defenseman Tom Nilsson will take to the ice for the defending champions.
Also a 2011 draftee (fourth round) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nilsson made the final roster for the Swedes and will look to help lockdown opposing attackers, and bring gold back to Sweden for a second consecutive year.
So far it looks as though Brian Burke's efforts at the 2011 draft have proven to be fairly fruitful, with his two first rounders playing impressive junior hockey, and two of his later picks making their respective international clubs for the top international junior hockey tournament there is.
So Leafs fans, be sure to catch as many games as you can over the next few days, and keep an eye on how Rielly, Biggs, Nilsson and Sparks fare.
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