2014 World Junior Championship Preview

The 2014 World Jr. Championship begins today.  The rosters are loaded with NHL Draft picks and something we love here at HockeyProspect.com, draft eligible players. Here is a quick look at the tourney ahead.

Canada sits in a Group A with USA, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia.  As far as predictions are concerned we will take Canada to emerge as Group A winners.

Group B includes Sweden, the tournament hosts for this year, plus Russia, Finland, Switzerland and Norway. We like the powerhouse roster from Sweden earning the easy first playoff matchup.

So who are some of the players on these teams? We have been lucky enough to watch many of these players compete in the younger versions of this event, the World Under 17 Challenge and the World Under 18 Championship, which was most recently held in Sochi, Russia last April.

We could probably mention the full roster of players for some teams in this years event, but we will limit ourselves to a few players per team. Here are a some prospects to watch:

McDavid, Connor – Canada – NHL Status ( 2015 NHL Draft)

Connor was selected first overall at the 2012 OHL Priority Selection Draft after being granted exceptional player status. Connor was selected by the Erie Otters out of the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget program and made an immediate impact in the Ontario Hockey League. His continued progress this season has helped his Erie team to the top of the OHL standings.

Connor is indeed an ‘exceptional’ talent, who has very special skating ability. He is able to reach top gear almost instantaneously, and displays unbelievable elusiveness when opponents try to stop him.

His vision is exceptional as he shows the ability to shoot the puck with a lightning quick release but is also is able to complete passes that seem to be impossible. Connor isn’t afraid to go into the corners, although he doesn’t play with a lot of toughness, he is willing to finish his checks here and there, and can escape from corners with the puck. McDavid needs to be monitored at all times on the ice, as he only needs a split second to make something happen.

Defensively he shows a willingness to get back and help out. He has improved a lot in this area this season, he competes when he gets back. Connor is a player we feel may be the most talented player to come along since Sidney Crosby. It is truly a treat to watch him work his magic. If he had been eligible, we think he would have been selected first overall at the 2013 NHL Draft. We also believe he would be an absolute lock to be the #1 overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft if he were eligible this season.

He is developing physically and it’s making him even tougher to deal with this season. Canada will rely on him to contribute on the scoreboard in Malmo.

Reinhart, Sam – Canada – NHL Draft Status (2014 NHL Draft )

Sam Reinhart has continued to dominate games offensively this season. Opposing teams clearly target him. They game plan around him. Despite the attention, he continues to post big numbers, this time in his NHL Draft season.

His playmaking abilities are up with the best players in the league. Opponents really have a difficult time trying to contain him and take away his time and space. He is able to create chances around the net regardless of the tight checking he receives. He is very fast on his skates, and opponents have a difficult time trying to pin him up along the walls because he is so strong and quick on his feet. Reinhart seems to have eyes located in the back of his head. He makes unbelievable behind the back passes, tape to tape. Reinhart could shoot the puck more as he has very good stickhandling abilities and a good release to his shots, but you cannot question his decisions to pass when they always seem to accomplish something.

Reinhart’s play has improved without the puck once again this season. He has shown even more intensity along the walls to win battles for pucks and to get the attack going.

There is no question that Reinhart will be selected in the top few spots in the 2014 NHL Draft, and a good chance it could be at #1 overall. He will have an opportunity to show off his talents to NHL scouts flocking to Malmo this week.

Horvat, Bo – Canada – NHL Draft Status (Vancouver 2013)

Horvat was selected in the 1st round, 9th overall in 2011 OHL Draft by the London Knights and in the 1st round, 9th overall by Vancouver in the 2013 NHL Draft.  We loved Bo’s game going back to Minor Midget and we were impressed with the progression in his game leading up to him becoming a top 10 NHL draft pick.

Bo isn’t a flashy player although he is capable of making a few moves and beating defenders. He also has tremendous focus and hand/eye coordination, making him very dangerous in the scoring areas. He has excellent positioning in all three zones, but in the offensive zone he moves around from the front of the net, and sliding off to the side setting up for scoring chances. He’s an excellent forechecker and he competes hard all over the ice. Bo is also very solid defensively. He blocks shots and gets in lanes on the penalty kill. He hurries back in transition and can break up scoring chances. He is smart positionally.

Bo’s game projects well to the NHL level. He will be counted on by Team Canada to provide his solid two-way game and should be a mainstay on the PK. Don’t be surprised if he hits the scoreboard in this tourney more than some may expect.

Eichel, Jack – USA – NHL Draft Status ( 2015 NHL Draft)

Jack started his development with the Boston Jr. Bruins during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons showing his talent and becoming a sure pick for the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Jack possesses good size and is a very smooth skater who controls the puck well and can rush up the ice changing directions on a dime. He shows a high level of offensive awareness reading the play faster than most, resulting in excellent positioning and anticipation for the play going on around him. He isn’t afraid to get in the dirty areas and battle. He has an absolute laser of a shot which he gets off quickly and deceptively. He also has good puck moving ability and can create plays to make everyone on the ice better. Eichel shows a willingness to use his skating ability to get back defensively. He pressures the puck carrier and can take the puck the other way in a hurry.

Due to his late birth date, Jack is not eligible until the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He currently projects to be one of the top picks in that draft and will hope to challenge Connor McDavid for the top spot. He’s already proven to be one of the most talented players we have watched this season. We would rank him second overall to McDavid if they were both eligible this season.

We are confident he will show fans some of the reasons we speak so highly of him as you watch Team USA over the holidays.

Hartman, Ryan – USA – NHL Status (Chicago 2013)

Ryan was one of the hardest working players available in this 2013 NHL Entry Draft and was selected in the 1st round by the Chicago Blackhawks. We are big fans of Ryan and thought Chicago got a very good player 30th overall. Ryan may also be a player on the move to a contender prior to the upcoming OHL trade deadline.

What we like most about Ryan is how hard he works every shift. He plays whistle to whistle and battles for every inch of ice. He is a tenacious forechecker and forces turnovers. He hits hard and packs a lot of power in his physical game. He competes hard in all three zones and will work defensively creating turnovers and ending potential scoring chances against his team.

Ryan is a great penalty killer and does an excellent job getting in passing lanes and sacrificing his body to block shots. He shows good instincts in the offensive zone and is capable of reacting quickly and staying patient with the puck. He has an above average shot and is capable of creating plays not just with puck skills and hands, but also going back to his work ethic and just wanting the puck more than the opposition.

Vrana, Jakub – Czech Republic – NHL Draft Status (2014 NHL Draft)

Vrana jumped up our very early 2014 NHL Draft rankings after an impressive showing in the 2012 World Under 18 Championship in the Czech Republic. He showed fantastic hands that he used to beat defenders and then drive the lane to put a great shot on net. He made great passes all tourney long leading a man with speed into the offensive zone. We felt he took a bit of a step back last year in Sochi at the U18, but played well at the Ivan Hlinka tourney leading into his NHL Draft season this year. Vrana will need to be good this Christmas for his team to play with the big boys in this event. He has a chance to help his NHL Draft stock with a strong tourney. He currently sits 13th overall on our current December rankings.

Pastrnak David – Czech Republic – NHL Draft Status ( 2014 NHL Draft)

Pastrnak impressed us going back to last season with strong showings in both the Five Nations and U18 Tournaments with our scouts in attendance. Pastrnak is a good skater who distributes the puck well. He’s a smart player who impreesed us with quick decision making. He’s made some great cross-ice passes in the offensive zone to find a man far side for great offensive opportunities. He was good on the penalty kill and played a responsible defensive game.

Our scout in Sweden has given us good reports on his game so far this season and David currently ranks 22nd in our most recent 2014 NHL Draft rankings.

Zacha, Pavel – Czech Republic – NHL Draft Status ( 2015 NHL Draft)

We saw this huge young forward at the U18 in Sochi last April. He got better as the tourney moved along and kept earning more ice as a double under-ager in that event. He showed a high level of poise with the puck and was solid in all three zones. He managed to post 3 helpers in 5 games in Sochi. He’s another intriguing player who will be eligible in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Cernak, Erik – Slovakia – NHL Draft Status (2015 NHL Draft)

Much like Pavel Zacha, Cernak is another very young player who got better as the U18 tourney in Sochi progressed. Checking our scouting reports from the event proved worthwhile, as we had plenty written beside his name.

Cernak was wise beyond his years moving the puck quickly and playing with amazing confidence. He used his huge frame well despite being 2 years younger than his opponents. He will be put in a tough situation in this event playing against even older competition than he faced last spring in Russia. His team will be under even more pressure in the defensive zone than he experienced in Sochi.

We expect Cernak to continue to build his resume as he heads to closer to his own NHL Draft eligible season.

Reway, Martin – Slovakia – NHL Draft Status (Montreal  2013)

Reway was selected 4th at the 2012 CHL Import Draft and Gatineau made a great pick with the small but very talented forward. His biggest assets are his passing skills and vision. He seems to know where his teammates are at all times on the ice. A dynamic and creative puck-handler, he has quick hands and is able to find space where there doesn’t seem to be any. He loves to use his offensive skills to create fancy plays, cross- ice passes, behind the back feeds and risky but spectacular plays. He plays a brand of hockey that is fun to watch for fans, but not always as fun for coaches.

Reway is a quick skater with above-average acceleration. His quick feet gives him great lateral skating abilities serving him well in the East-West hockey he plays. A great powerplay player, he controls the play with ease and shows tremendous poise with the puck before executing a superb pass or getting space for a shot on goal. With the vision he possesses, Reway also has a great sense of anticipation and will takeaway plays by using good positioning or a well placed stick.

Physicality will always be an issue for Reway, with such a small frame it is difficult for him to win 1-on-1 battles effectively and he will always take physical abuse from bigger players.

Reway is a very talented player with elite passing skills, but will need to settle into a more North-American style of game with better defensive smarts and an improved ability to deal with physicality to play in the NHL one day.

Draisaitl, Leon – Germany – NHL Status ( 2014 NHL Draft)

Draisaitl is a big, playmaking forward who sits way up our 2014 NHL Draft rankings at #4 overall. He has unbelievable vision and uses his body well to protect the puck all over the ice and then feeds his teammates with excellent passes. Draisaitl gets a lot of attention from opposing teams, but he has consistently been able to produce points over his year and a half in the WHL.

Draisaitl’s best asset is definitely his playmaking ability. He can thread a pass cross ice with a perfect saucer pass, make a one touch pass to an open player in the slot or make a behind the pass to a streaking teammate down the middle. Draisaitl is very unpredictable, and seems to always be able to find a play out on the ice that generates some sort of a chance for the Raiders. Not many players at his age can make the types of plays he can with the puck, and he seems to read the play a step ahead of everybody else. In terms of goal scoring ability, Draisaitl is definitely a pass first player, but he has shown the ability to finish in tight and quickly releasing the puck around the slot when given the opportunity. He has very good stickhandling abilities and is able to deke by opponents and use his long reach to his advantage.

An area of improvement for Draisaitl would be with his skating abilities. He needs to work on his acceleration and overall speed. He covers a lot of ground with his long strides, but he could be quicker out on the ice to provide another weapon in his game. Defensively, Draisaitl is not bad in his own end. His ability to read the play without the puck improved, and looked like he was adjusting to the physical game of the league well. He could do a better job of being a more physical player and hit opponents off the puck.

Draisaitl impressed us with team Germany in Sochi in April, but this is a tourney in which his team struggles to compete.

Bender, Tim – Germany – NHL Draft Status ( 2014 NHL Draft *)

Bender is another player we got to see in limited viewings last April in Sochi. This year he arrived in the OHL as London worked to replace the loss of import player Olli Määttä. While Bender brings some skill to the ice and has made some smart plays with the puck, he struggles when he has limited time and space, sometimes forcing the puck into dangerous areas. He has also struggled with the physical game in his brief time so far in the OHL.

Bender will need to be very good to give his team a chance in this tourney and also to help him have any chance of being selected as a 2nd year eligible* player in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Wennberg, Alex – Sweden – NHL Status ( Columbus 2013)

Wennberg is a strong 2 way forward who displayed a very good combination of size, skill and hockey intelligence at the 2013 World Junior Tournament. He initially started on the 4th line, but played his way up onto a top 6 role with his consistent effort. This only helped his draft stock last season and helped him become a first round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Wennberg is most effective along the walls. He is strong on his skates and wins a lot of battles for loose pucks. He uses his edges well to quickly change directions to buy himself some time to make a pass or to walk towards the slot and get a scoring chance. He is at his best when playing a physical game and outworking opponents to win battles and be tough to play against in front of the net. Wennberg has very good vision, and manages the puck well. He does not make poor decisions with the puck and allows the play to develop before making a pass. He is able to protect the puck with his frame and drive to the net when possible. He has a good release to his shot, but will need to shoot the puck more to add another dimension to his game.

Defensively, Wennberg plays with his head on a swivel and is very aware of the situation out on the ice. He puts himself in a good position to take away plays from the point. He is tough to play against because of his physical game, and consistently outworks opponents without the puck to help his team win games. Aside from his work with his body, Wennberg thinks the game well, and plays with good confidence and makes quick reads.

Zadorov, Nikita – Russia – NHL Status – (Buffalo 2013)

The first things you notice about Nikita is his skating and his size. He is very good skater and we expect he will continue to improve as he gains more strength. Nikita is also a very physical player who takes pride in finishing his hits. This was an area we saw tremendous improvements last season. Early in the 2013/2013 season, he would chase hits and put himself out of position, making his team outnumbered down low. Now he regularly lets the play come to him, maintaining much better one on one positioning. He will still use his body effectively, but will pick his spots and do it at intelligent times.

Nikita has underrated puck skills and is capable of skating the puck up ice and gaining the offensive zone. Another area he has improved is his puck handling ability. He was hit or miss early last year but now he’s a lot more consistent and intelligent with both his decisions and actual puck skills. He’s effective holding the offensive line and generally can get his shot through from the point with smart shooting decisions.

Nikita has provided some offense at the junior level while playing a solid defensive game making him a valuable defenseman at both ends. He only returned to London a short while ago, but he has been very good since returning from Buffalo. He has already shown signs of taking his offensive game to another level. It will be interesting to watch him in this event, as he told us last season “In Russia, defense play defense.”

Barbashev, Ivan –Russia – NHL Status (2014 NHL Draft)

The top pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, Barbashev quickly established himself as a premium offensive player with the Moncton Wildcats last season. He impressed us in all our viewings last year and deserved a place near the top of our early 2014 NHL draft rankings. He has continued his impressive play this season and currently sits 7th in our December edition of our rankings.

Barbashev has a package of speed, skills and physical abilities. He is a very gifted skater with a good burst of speed that allows him to carry the puck all over the ice and make aggressive entries in the offensive zone. He uses his quick hands to elude players and has shown very good puck skills. He is dynamic with his very strong hands and he also takes dangerous shots on goal. He has also displayed his great offensive hockey sense, distributing the puck and creating superb plays around the net for teammates.

Barbashev is considered a threat every time he touches the puck but he also plays a very interesting game without it. He has taken a liking to finishing his checks and showed he can deliver some very good ones. He is willing to battle through traffic to create plays and crash the opposition’s crease.

Mueller, Mirco – Switzerland – NHL Status ( San Jose 2013)

The development of Mueller throughout last season was intriguing to track. He certainly showed potential with his hockey intelligence with and without the puck, but his biggest flaw was the lack of physical play, particularly around the walls and in the slot. He was often pushed around easily, and played much smaller than he actually was. However, he greatly improved that area of his game, made him one of the biggest risers prior to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. San Jose selected him 18th overall. While we liked him, we had Mirco ranked much later at 40th overall. We were not totally sold on his NHL PP upside and he struggled at times making good decisions with the puck when he was under heavy forecheck pressure.

Defensively, Mueller is difficult to play against. He has such a good stick, that opponents have a tough time doing anything when they are on his side of the ice with the puck. He will quickly knock away pucks, and keep everything to the outside. His gap control is very good, and he is able to give opposing forwards very little room because of his great skating abilities. Mueller possesses very good speed for his size, and has nice, quick feet to stick to opponents along the boards.

Mueller will most likely play a ton of minutes in this tournament and his team will rely on him to shut down the best players on opposing teams. If he’s not good, the Swiss will have an enormous task to progress deep into the event.

Honka, Julius – Finland – NHL Draft Status ( 2014 NHL Draft)

Julius has worked his way up through JYP’s U16 and U18 teams and spent all season last year with the U20 team. He also put together a strong performance at the 2013 IIHF U18 Championships. This season he has been a star in the WHL after being selected in the 2013 CHL import draft. He has been a player we have really enjoyed watching going back to the Four Nations event last season in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Julius isn’t the biggest defenseman, but he makes up for it with excellent skating ability and a very high level of hockey sense. Julius is an excellent puck rusher who always seems to choose the right option on the rush either to pass the puck off or take the puck deep into the offensive zone. He makes very intelligent decisions with the puck, and very rarely ever misplays it. He pinches in from the point at the right time making him dangerous during sustained pressure.

Despite his size and offensive abilities, he’s surprisingly strong defensively. His ability to read the play in his own zone is very strong which helps him maintain consistent ideal positioning. He is more than willing to battle in the corners and considering his limited size, he wins a surprising amount of battles. Last April in Sochi, we even watched him go right after 2013 Dallas 1st rounder, Valeri Nichushkin, who towers over him.

Honka’s hockey sense and puck skills have him way up our 2014 NHL Draft rankings, currently sitting 19th overall. We look forward to getting updated height and weight measurements as this season moves along. He will get plenty of minutes for Finland and will have plenty of opportunity to help build his already rising draft stock.

Ristolainen, Rasmus – Finland – NHL Status ( Buffalo 2013)

Ristolainen is an aggressive offensive defenseman who always looks to push the pace whenever he gets the opportunity. He loves to take chances with the puck, and provides a good presence from the backend offensively with his size, hockey sense and puck skills.

Defensively, Ristolainen is physical and has some nasty in his game along the boards, and he maintains an excellent gap off the rush. He is very aggressive in the neutral zone, and does not give opponents a free pass to gain the blue line. He uses his stick quite effectively, and is able to knock away pucks on a consistent basis. Ristolainen does a good job of knowing what is happening around him at all times, and puts himself in solid position again and again to be a factor without the puck.

Ristolainen is a good skater. He does not possess great top end speed, but he uses his edges so well to maneuver through traffic and carry the puck easily. He makes quick starts and stops to stick to opponents well in the defensive end, and does a good job of angling players to the outside and ensuring that they do not get a lane to the net off the rush. His feet allow him to look so smooth out on the ice and also allows him to do all the things that he does every game.

Offensively, Ristolainen has good vision with the puck and makes smart decisions with the puck time and time again. He also has a very good shot from the point, which allows him to be unpredictable in the offensive zone. He has slick hands, which he displays time and time again when he carries the puck up the ice through defenders.

We were high on Ristolainen last season, ranking him 9th overall for the 2013 NHL Draft. The Buffalo Sabres selected him with the 8th overall pick.

For full rosters, schedules and updated information on the 2014 WJC, visit the official website.

– Selections of this article have been taken from our 2013 NHL Draft Black Book