The World Junior Hockey Championship gets going on Boxing Day. Team USA has eight returning players and three players that have played multiple games in the NHL this season, making them the early favourites.
Canada can run four scoring lines and will count on team captain Ryan Ellis to quarterback the power play. Canada has put together a solid team that is very deep and is a contender for the title.
The team to watch out for is the Russians. Team Russia was embarrassed last WJHC when they lost to Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The Russians will want to show they are on the way back up, so expect them to win a medal in this tournament.
Here are 10 players to keep an eye on.
10. Jared Cowen (Canada)
Cowen is probably the player with the most to prove heading into this year’s tournament. Cowen was expected to play a bigger role last year but struggled, scoring only a single point, and found himself sitting on the bench a lot. Cowen was named an assistant captain this year, so watch out for this big defenseman to be a dominant force.
9. Andrej Nestrasil (Czech Republic)
Nestrasil is the highest scoring returning player for the Czechs and should be the team's offensive leader this year. Nestrasil is on pace for a career year in the QMJHL playing for PEI. Nestrasil is a Detroit Red Wings draft pick and will see a couple seasons in the AHL before seeing action in the NHL.
8. Maxim Kitsyn (Russia)
Kitsyn was Russia’s best player at this year's Super Series, where he scored four goals and six points in the six-game series. Kitsyn showed he can handle the physical side of the game and will need to be put up big numbers if Russia is going to medal this year.
7. Ryan Ellis (Canada)
This is the third tournament for Ellis, who has scored seven and eight points in each of the last two tournaments. Ellis is no longer just the power play quarterback and will be counted on for much more now that he is the team captain. This should be a good test for Ellis to show he can be a leader.
6. Nino Niederreiter and Benjamin Conz (Switzerland)
Niederreiter scored six goals and 10 points last tournament, while Conz was named Top Goaltender. Conz and Niederreiter will have to put up similar numbers if the Swiss plan on improving on last year's fourth-place finish.
5. Jack Campbell (USA)
Campbell came into the gold medal game last year partway through the second period and helped secure the championship for Team USA. This year Campbell is playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL but is not playing up to his level. Campbell is 12-9 with a terrible GAA of 3.68 and a low SV% of 0.887. This is Campbell’s team now and will need to be stellar if the States are to repeat as champions.
4. Adam Larsson (Sweden)
This season Larsson will be the go-to player from the blue line for Team Sweden. Last year Larsson scored four points and finished with a plus-three rating.
This is Larsson’s draft year, and he is being talked about as the No. 1 pick, but he is off to a slow start in the Swedish Elite League, where he is on pace to finish with fewer points than he scored last year. The key to remember with Larsson is that he is already playing against men, making him NHL-ready.
Larsson needs a big tournament to secure the top spot at the 2011 NHL Draft.
3. Brett Connolly (Canada)
Many scouts feel that Connolly has the same skill set as Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin and that he would have been right up there last year for first overall if he was healthy. Well, he is finally healthy, and now is his time to show it. Connolly has 22 WHL goals already this season, and a strong showing for Team Canada will prove those scouts right. Connolly should be a 50-goal scorer one day in the NHL.
2. Jeremy Morin (USA)
Morin scored seven points last year for Team USA and will be counted on this year for a lot more offence. Morin has played in nine NHL games this season for the Chicago Blackhawks and scored his first of many NHL goals on December 8th. Morin has all the tools to be an elite goal scorer in the NHL.
1. Louis Leblanc (Canada)
Leblanc is a Quebec-born player who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2009 Draft. Leblanc made the move from NCAA hockey to the QMJHL this season, which should help him grow into an NHL player faster. Leblanc has scored 13 goals and 29 points in 24 games this season and should be a top scorer for Team Canada. Leblanc has the potential to be a point-a-game center in the NHL.