World Junior Championship: Players to Watch

With the 2019 World Junior Championship already underway, it’s time to know which of
hockey’s best drafted and undrafted prospects to keep a special eye on. Any of these players could possibly appear on any of the 31 NHL teams in the near future. This list will be the top players on each of the 10 teams in the tournament.

Team Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, primarily located in Central Asia, this team appears to be the underdog of the tournament. Not many players appear to be draft prospects on this team as the country hasn’t had a large history of prominent draft picks. The Kazakhstan team has produced just 19 NHL draft picks. One of the more famous of the bunch, goalie Evgeni Nabokov, appeared on three NHL teams.

In their first game against Finland shutout Kazakhstan in a 5-0 landslide. It’s hard to pin-point one player when this team is already going to need more than a team-effort just to survive if they wish to have a long and successful tournament. They aren’t off to a great start, but who knows maybe this team will surprise the hockey world.

Team Slovakia

Another low-key team, Slovakia doesn’t appear to be turning heads this year either, but there is one player that appears noteworthy. That someone is Maxim Cajkovic, who is projected to be drafted in the upcoming 2019 NHL draft. Cajkovic, in the World Under-18 Tournament was second in points scoring four goals, and 11 points overall in just five games which is impressive to say the least. If anyone is going to help give this team a fighting chance it’s him. He could also possibly be a future star in the league, but only time will answer that question.

Team Denmark

Denmark certainly began their journey in this tournament with a bang and not in a good way. In their first game against the reigning champs, team Canada, Denmark was shutout 14-0. Not a great first impression to begin a tournament.

A player to keep an eye on is Vegas Golden Knight’s prospect Jonas Rondbjerg. Rondbjerg, in 133 games played, has scored 21 goals and put up 32 points. He is currently unsigned by Vegas, but shows promise. Scouts say he has a great hockey sense. Other than Rondbjerg, this is a fairly low-ranked team.

Team Switzerland

Team Switzerland has blown up in the media, but not thanks to a well-stacked team, but because of their head coach. Christian Wohlwend doesn’t walk on egg shells when answering questions from the media. Last year he blatantly said that his team stood no chance against team Canada and told his players that.

This year Wohlwend has a more optimistic perspective on his team’s ability to win; he feels his team has grown “more physically, tactically, and individually,” Wohlwend said. A player that falls under that description, and also the player to watch, is Chicago Blackhawks prospect Philipp Kurashev, who has put up some great numbers. In 17 games played in past WJC tournaments both Under-18 and Under-20 he’s put up seven goals and 12 points total, for a poor-performing Switzerland team in past years.

Team Finland

Team Finland is one of the more heavily favored teams in the tournament. Without the fire power in Winnipeg Jet’s star Patrik Laine, Finland will have to rely on some other future stars such as Nashville Predators’ star prospect Eeli Tolvanen, who is viewed as one of the players to watch for in the entire tournament.

Tolvanen will also be accompanied by the projected second overall pick in the 2019 draft Kaapo Kakko (say that 10 times fast). Kakko is well-known for his quality hands and ability to beat goalies with “smarts and skill both on and off the puck,” scout Matias Strozyk said. Team Finland will be very interesting to watch this year and could make a run for the gold medal this year.

Team Czech Republic

Team Czech Republic seems loaded with future NHL stars included the already drafted Filip Zadina, who was drafted sixth overall in the 2018 NHL draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Another name includes one mentioned above in Martin Kaut who, in 64 games played for the Czechs, has tallied nine goals and 17 points. He now plays in the AHL for the Colorado Eagles, the minor league affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, and has put up five goals and 12 points in 26 games so far this season. He is a future star for the Avs and will help them make another run for the Stanley Cup in the near future.

Team Sweden

Sweden is always a fan favorite and you just want to see them succeed. After last year’s disappointing loss to Canada, Sweden will be coming back for another deep run in the tournament, led by none other than a solid defense. With names like Adam Boqvist, Erik Brannstrom and Rasmus Sandin, the Swedes are very stacked in first-round drafted prospects. Unfortunately, they don’t really have anyone ‘big’ up front to score with. Here’s hoping a solid defense can lead the Swedes to victory.

Team Russia

Team Russia always seems to finish very high up in the standings. Already off to a terrific start with two victories and zero losses, Russia seems to be in great shape and no doubt with a solid defense who can also put the puck in the net. As of now they’ve allowed just one goal in two games. Alexander Romanov seems to be the player to watch as many scouts and fans have noticed his ability to move the puck excellently. He’s already got one goal in the tournament, why not add to his resume. He should be an exciting player to watch as well as the Russian team in general this year.

Team USA

Team USA is certainly a team to watch for, but whether or not they can go for gold is another question. With tough competition in Russia, Canada, and Finland, they don’t seem to have as much going for them. However, the clear player to watch is the number one overall projected draft pick in this year’s up coming draft is Jack Hughes.

Hughes has put up exceptional numbers. In just two years for the U.S. National team (Under-17 and Under-18) and the U.S. National Development Team he’s tallied 41 goals, 131 points in just 70 games! It’s no wonder he is projected to be first overall in the 2019 NHL draft. Other names to watch for are Quinn Hughes (Jack’s brother) and Oliver Wahlstrom.

Team Canada

Obviously the best is saved for last. Team Canada is always a team to watch for. In just their first game, they put up 14 goals! They’ve only allowed two goals and have scored 16 total thus far. After a stellar start, a player to watch is Morgan Frost who has scored three goals and two assists for five points total so far and that was just in one game. Another player to watch is Maxime Comtois, Anaheim Ducks prospect who has put up 2 goals and 7 overall points for Anaheim this year and now has 4 goals in the tournament which can’t go unnoticed.

It is turning out to be an exciting World Juniors Championship, but which player will shine the brightest? Who will win the gold medal?

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