Tonight in Kelowna, British Columbia, Russia and Sweden battle it out in the first pre-tournament game for the upcoming World Junior Championship. This tournament, made up of under-20 players from around the world, is one of the premiere international competitions in the world of hockey and brings with it plenty of intrigue. NHL fans in particular get a glimpse of the next wave of superstars, often before they’re even drafted. That’s no different this year, where the tournament will feature several exceptional talents scheduled to go in the 2019 or 2020 entry drafts.
Last year, Canada defeated Sweden in a memorable final game to secure the gold medal on Tyler Steenbergen’s first goal of the tournament. St. Louis Blues forward Jordan Kyrou led the Canadians in scoring with ten points in seven games, while Ottawa Senators prospect Drake Batherson scored a team-leading seven goals. Colorado Avalanche fans got a look at two of their own top prospects in Cale Makar and Conor Timmins, while newly minuted Philadelphia Flyers starting goaltender Carter Hart was the star in net. Amazingly, only a single player will return from that team for Canada in Max Comtois as most of the others have either aged out of the tournament, are dealing with injury or were withheld by their NHL teams.
Canada isn’t the only medal favorite though, as several other countries are bringing explosive lineups of their own. The discussion has to start with the United States, where Quinn and Jack Hughes are set to be the talk of the tournament. Quinn, the elder brother and a defenseman selected by the Vancouver Canucks seventh overall in June, is having an outstanding sophomore season at the University of Michigan and is expected to turn pro afterwards. Jack, the younger and a center, is expected to go first-overall in the 2019 draft to whoever wins the lottery.
Finland has the presumptive second-overall pick playing for their group in Kaapo Kakko, but also got some great news today when Henri Jokiharju was loaned from the Chicago Blackhawks. Jokiharju should be a difference maker for the Finnish team, who also should be strong in net with Buffalo Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Sweden doesn’t have the firepower up front of some previous years, but is an absolute powerhouse on defense even without the injured Timothy Liljegren. The five-man offensive units should be more than strong enough with the likes of Erik Brannstrom and Adam Boqvist jumping into the rush.
The Czech Republic got some great news when Filip Zadina was cleared of injury, and after getting some experience at the AHL level he should be even more dangerous this time around. Russia meanwhile will bring another strong mostly 19-year old group to Vancouver, and have some AHL experience of their own in Klim Kostin who was loaned by the St. Louis Blues.
In all, this should be another outstanding tournament filled with exceptional talents. Cast your vote below on who you think will win the whole thing, and then tune in on December 26th to see it all kick off.
[Mobile users click here to vote]