At the time of writing this column the final two games of the preliminary rounds of the 2020 World Junior Tournament will be getting underway shortly. The games between Canada and the hosts, Czech Republic and the game between Finland and Switzerland remain with much to be determined. Canada could potentially finish first or fourth in Group B; the so-called ‘group of death’. We do know that Germany and Kazakhstan will face each other in a relegation round.
While our focus in this article will be on the medal rounds ahead of us, we take a moment at the end of this article to reflect on a German squad that impressed against stiff competition. Derek O’Brien, providing coverage for McKeen's in the Czech Republic, looks at their key players including impressive 2020 NHL Draft eligible prospects.
Our team looks at potential medal hopefuls in the ‘big five’, Canada, US, Sweden, Finland and Russia along with the host country, the Czech Republic; who could surprise in front of the home fans. They profile a player who has surprised to date in the tournament, and a player that is critical to their countries hopes in the unforgiving medal games ahead. If you would like to go deeper on each of the squads, our McKeen’s 2020 World Junior Guide Magazine is available to subscribers and can be purchased here. In last weeks article we provided a World Junior Preview with profiles of a key player on each country that is well worth a read.
Enjoy the article and the rest of the tournament. It always produces some of the best hockey of the season.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s Winter Classic clash between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here!
by Brock Otten
Surprising Player: Nolan Foote
2019 Stats: 15 goals and 18 assists in 25 games for Kelowna (WHL)
WJC Stats: 2 goals and 1 assist in 3 games for Canada
Even with all the talent on the Canadian roster this year (including an NHL player, an AHL player, and the potential top two picks in this year’s draft), Foote has been a standout as one of, if not the best Canadian forward. Most expected him to be a triggerman who could use his top notch shot to be a consistent finisher. That much has certainly been true, as Foote’s shot has been a major asset for Canada, especially on the powerplay. However, his play away from the puck, his decision making with the puck, and his overall effectiveness in all three zones has been a pleasant surprise. His skating has also been better than advertised as he has not looked out of place on the larger ice surface, using his size and reach to close quickly on the forecheck and help establish and maintain possession in the offensive end. The captain of the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019, Foote will need to continue to be a rock for Canada in the face of Alexis Lafreniere’s knee injury. He certainly has a chance to be the team’s leading scorer by the end of the event.
Critical Players: Joel Hofer, Nico Daws, and Olivier Rodrigue
2019 Stats: 1.81 goals against average, 0.937 save percentage in 27 games for Portland (WHL)
WJC Stats: 1.84 goals against average, 0.927 save percentage in 2 games for Canada
2019 Stats: 2.06 goals against average, 0.939 save percentage in 20 games for Guelph (OHL)
WJC Stats: 5.83 goals against average, 0.840 save percentage in 2 games for Canada
The eight times that Canada has won gold in Europe; each time they have had their goaltender named top goalie at the event. Needless to say, when Canada plays on the larger ice surface overseas, they need quality goaltending to win. But Nico Daws struggled in his first two games against the United States and Russia. This led to criticisms of Team Canada’s goaltending yet again. Joel Hofer was much better against Germany on Monday, but it remains to be seen as to whether he is the answer. Additionally, Olivier Rodrigue continues to be scratched as the third goalie, although he is seeing greater reps during practice. Heading into the event, Daws was unquestionably the top goaltender in the OHL with Guelph. Hofer was probably the second-best goalie in the WHL behind the U.S.’ Dustin Wolf. And while Rodrigue’s QMJHL season has not gone quite according to plan, he does have plenty of International experience and success to fall back on. At this point, the hope is that Hofer can continue to play well and take charge the rest of the tournament. History suggests that Canada will need the St. Louis Blues prospect to be a top performer.
Surprising Player: Trevor Zegras
2019 Stats: 5 goals and 12 assists in 16 games for Boston University (NCAA)
WJC Stats: 0 goals and 9 assists in 4 games for Team USA
The Anaheim prospect and ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft leads all scorers at the tournament as of this writing. The US has produced 17 goals, with six of them coming with the man advantage. Zegras has contributed nine primary assists on the remaining 11 goals since coach Scott Sandelin has surprisingly not used him on the power play. He has shown his creative flair and tremendous vision with some spectacular setups - notably a double spin-o-rama backhand feed to Jack Drury that put the U.S. ahead 3-2 against Czech Republic today. He made an impact despite playing limited minutes in the first two games (around 10 minutes) and earned increased minutes as the tournament progressed. Here is Ryan Wagman’s profile from our WC Guide
“A highly versatile forward who can play anywhere along the line (although he has been strictly playing as a C this year), Zegras is one of the more creative passers we are likely to see at the WJC. Combined with his sneaky speed, his high-end puck skills allow to make anyone he plays with better. Even though BU is once again having a subpar season, that program malaise has not touched the talented freshman, who has posted over one point per game thus far. His passing makes him particularly deadly on the power play, where he has seven extra man assists already. Zegras can also finish, although he has never been a volume shooter, preferring to save his bullets for more impactful moments. When the Caufields, Kaliyevs, and Robertsons of this roster are scoring, there is a pretty good chance that it was Zegras making it possible.” – Ryan Wagman – An excerpt from our WJC Guide
Critical Player: Cole Caufield
2019 Stats: 12 goals and 8 assists in 18 games for University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
WJC Stats: 1 goal and 1 assist in 4 games for Team USA
Montreal’s first round pick in 2019, 15th overall, had been continuing his case as an elite scorer heading into the tournament; leading all NCAA freshmen with 12 goals in 18 games at the University of Wisconsin. One of the highest profile prospects entering the tournament, he stands out as one of the biggest disappointments to date. His game has looked off-kilter and unsure and he has been almost invisible on a line with fellow 2019 first rounders Boston’s John Beecher and Wisconsin teammate Alex Turcotte, the fifth overall pick by Los Angeles. He finally scored his first goal in 3-on-3 overtime in the final game of the preliminary round and the joy of relief in his face was visible - working a terrific give-and-go with Turcotte and finishing on a one-timer. If it heralds a return to form, his production can be a huge boost to the American medal hopes.
“The right winger is a natural goal scorer, who loves to shoot the puck at every opportunity. He does not rely on high end playmakers to set him up (although that helps), nor does he play a peripheral game, as he can create scoring chances on his own and is comfortable taking the puck into the dirty areas, as his hands are quick enough to fool more experienced defenders. As small as he is, you can’t hit him if you can’t catch him. Caufield is an early favorite to be among the goal scoring leaders of the tournament.” – Ryan Wagman – An excerpt from our WJC Guide
By Marco Bombino
Surprising Player: Joonas Oden
2019 Stats: 2 goals and 4 assists in 25 games for KooKoo (Liiga)
WJC Stats: 1 goal and 3 assists in 3 games for Finland
Joonas Oden is somewhat of a late bloomer who really impressed in the Liiga against men at the end of the last season. The winger has a strong offensive skill set and good hockey sense. When those attributes are combined with his great skating ability, it makes Oden an interesting winger with upside. He really needs to elevate his physicality, but his game is trending upwards and he has untapped offensive potential. At the World Juniors, Oden has made scoring plays and smart decisions in the offensive zone. He has also back-checked effectively and worked hard on both sides of the puck. He has pace and urgency in his game which gives him an advantage from time to time. He seems to have good chemistry with Patrik Puistola and Kristian Tanus on the second line. Oden has showcased quick hands and good passing skills as well. Although he could be a tad more consistent, he has elevated his game as the tournament has progressed and is showing why NHL teams should take notice. Finland has only 11 forwards at the tournament due to Rasmus Kupari's injury, so it is very important for the team to have a forward like Oden who creates offense and gives a strong effort from shift to shift. It will be very interesting to see if he can maintain this level of play towards the end of the tournament.
Critical Player: Justus Annunen
2019 Stats: 1.26 goals against average, 0.947 save percentage in 13 games for Karpat (Liiga)
WJC Stats: 1.92 goals against average, 0.946 save percentage in 2 games for Finland
Justus Annunen will continue to be an extremely important player to the Finnish team. He was outstanding in the opening game of the tournament against Sweden as he was the main reason the Finns were able to get a point from the game. He was also very solid in a win against Slovakia. He has displayed very good play reading, as well as impressive reaction speed. His post play has been an asset, too. The Finns have not played particularly well as a team so far, so Annunen will have to keep performing at a high level if they aim to go far in the tournament.
“Annunen has been excellent for Kärpät in the Liiga this season and has performed admirably with the U20 national team as well. A butterfly goalie who demonstrates a calm and laid-back style in the crease, he constantly remains collected and focused. His post play is very good, he is difficult to beat with wraparound attempts and he seals the post effectively. He reads shooters well and flashes a quick glove on high rising shots from time to time. He has pretty good quickness, yet his overall skating ability could use some work. But he shows a strong positional angle style and cuts down angles efficiently. On the downside, his puck handling skills require improvement. He stops pucks properly behind the net, but most often lets his defense do the rest as far as moving the puck is concerned. Annunen's play so far on the season indicates that the Colorado Avalanche have a special talent in their hands.” – An excerpt from our WJC Guide
By Jimmy Hamrin
Surprising Player: Nils Hoglander
2019 Stats: 6 goals and 3 assists in 19 games for Rogle (SHL)
WJC Stats: 3 goals and 3 assists in 3 games for Sweden
Nils Hoglander has always been a skilled forward and he surely showed that when he scored a Lacrosse-goal against Finland. The thing that has impressed me with Hoglander though isn’t the flashy plays, it’s how he has taken the role as a topline forward. He has been dynamic and a driver for his line, including being the playmaker that top scorer Samuel Fagemo needs. Hoglander works hard and creates with skill, tenacity and hockey sense. Playing in the much weaker group, Sweden and Hoglander will have face tougher tests ahead, but so far, he has been one of the best forwards in the tournament.
“Hoglander keeps taking forward steps in development. Last season he scored 14 points in 50 games and was the last player to be cut from the WJC roster. This season he will be one of the top line forwards on this team and has nine points in 19 games in the SHL. If you only watch highlights, it is easy to be excited by Hoglander. He has a knack of scoring beautiful and creative goals. His all-around offensive game still needs some work though. Hoglander is an intense and elusive forward with strong balance and great hands. He will need to get better at playing at different paces. He lacks the hockey sense to drive a power play and lacks the size to be a strong checking player. The combination of aggression, intensity and highly skilled puck handling is exciting to watch and the WJC setting with high pace and high skilled hockey will suit him well.” – an excerpt from our WJC Guide
Critical Player: Philip Broberg
2019 Stats: 0 goals and 4 assists in 24 games for Skelleftea (SHL)
WJC Stats: 0 goals and 0 assists in 3 games for Sweden
Edmonton Oilers 8th overall pick Philip Broberg needs to step up in the games ahead. Broberg is a player that will need time before he can play in the NHL but in this tournament his timing has been off. He has been on the ice for too many scoring chances against defensively and been a threat offensively on too few occasions. His role on the team is that he doesn’t play power play, but he plays the PK. I’d like to see more strong offensive rushes and effective shutdown plays with his big reach and skating skills. He also needs to play more patient with and without the puck in both ends of the ice.
By Alessandro Seren Rosso
Surprising Player: Kirill Marchenko
2019 Stats: 3 goals and 3 assists in 15 games for SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
WJC Stats: 2 goals and 4 assists in 4 games for Russia
At his second WJC, Marchenko started slow on the score sheet, but he played well for the Russians, creating scoring chances and skating hard, trying to play for the team. In the game against Germany, his efforts were finally awarded as he scored his first goals of the tournament. He exploded for five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in the final game against Germany to stave off elimination. Marchenko is having a very good season in the KHL and he is continuing his strong play at the WJC, confirming his steps forward. If he keeps on improving his game, it will be hard to contain him in the medal round considering the good chemistry he has with his teammates.
Critical Player: Alexander Romanov
2019 Stats: 0 goals and 4 assists in 33 games for CSKA Moskva (KHL)
WJC Stats: 1 goal and 3 assists in 4 games for Russia
Romanov started the tournament as the reigning best defenseman of the tournament and his game has continued at a very high level this year. The Habs prospect has taken on a leadership role, playing very well and despite a physically robust game, he has yet to earn a single penalty at the World Junior Tournament. The Russians need Romanov to play the same tight defense in the playoff round to have a chance at another gold medal game under Valery Bragin.
“A player who gets awarded Best Defenseman honors as a one-year underage needs no introduction. In spite of his age, Alexander Romanov is a lock on CSKA’s lineup in the KHL. His average time on ice increased, and he plays more physically and generally safer in his own zone. He doesn’t often get on the scoresheet, but that’s not his role – however, considering his level, it’s expected that he will appear more often in the stats, last year he scored 8 (1+7) points in seven games. Romanov is one of the best d-men of the world of his age group, and he is expected to patrol the blueline for the Motherland in most of the key situations.” – an excerpt from our WJC Guide
By Derek O’Brien
Heading into this tournament, it was anticipated that to have success at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship on home ice, the Czechs would need goaltender Lukas Dostal to steal games for them and big performances from skilled wingers Jan Jenik and Jan Lauko. Well, Lauko’s tournament lasted only six seconds and, while Jenik played well for two and a half games, he was lost against the Americans and his season might be done. As for Dostal, he was definitely on in the team’s opening-game victory over Russia but didn’t play against the United States and his status for the duration is unknown.
Surprising Player: Libor Zabransky
2019 Stats: 2 goals and 9 assists in 29 games for Sas-MJ (WHL)
WJC Stats: 3 goals and 0 assists in 3 games for Czech Republic
Perhaps the biggest player for the Czechs so far has been defenseman Libor Zabransky. Currently on his third WHL team in three seasons, the undrafted Zabransky is the captain of this team and has been a leader at both ends of the ice exactly when the team has needed one. He was the captain of largely the same group of players two seasons ago in the Hlinka Memorial Cup and U18 World Championship, and the players all look up to him. Strong at both ends of the rink, Zabransky likes to shoot the puck and has 13 shots on goal and three goals in three games. The quarterback of their power play, he scored a power-play goal in the team’s late comeback attempt against Germany that fell just short, and snuck in from the point on a 5-on-3 in the first period against the Americans to give the team a 2-1 lead in a game they desperately needed a point from and got it.
Critical Players: Lukas Dostal and Lukas Parik
2019 Stats: 2.59 goals against average, 0.914 save percentage in 13 games for Spokane (WHL)
WJC Stats: 3.80 goals against average, 0.907 save percentage in 1 game for Czech Republic
If Dostal isn’t able to play going forward, the guy that needs to step up and play shut-down goaltending becomes Lukas Parik. The Los Angeles Kings prospect was thrust into the fire in the USA game and came up big, stopping 39 of 43 shots in an overtime loss. The Czech coaching staff was more than happy with his effort and he will start again in the last group-stage game against Canada. If the Czechs make it to the playoff round – and at this point it looks likely they will – they will probably be facing opponents with more offensive firepower than they have left, and goaltending will be that much more important. On offence, more of the load falls on the shoulders of Michal Teply. Teply has produced so far with four assists in three games, but with his favorite shooter out of the lineup – linemate and childhood friend Jenik – it will be interesting to see how effective he is going forward.
Finally ... Germany impresses in return to tournament
2019 Stats: 1 goal and 11 assists in 12 games for Grand Rapids (AHL)
WJC Stats: 0 goals and 4 assists in 4 games for Germany
2019 Stats: 5 goals and 18 assists in 25 games for Adler Mannheim (DHL)
WJC Stats: 0 goals and 3 assists in 4 games for Germany
2019 Stats: 1 goal and 3 assists in 23 games for Rogle (SHL)
WJC Stats: 3 goals and 2 assists in 4 games for Germany
Germany has been an incredible story at the World Juniors so far. Everyone was excited to see their exciting lineup of talented young players and they haven’t disappointed, beating the Czechs and giving very respectable battles against the USA, Canada and Russia. Unfortunately, the Germans are heading to the relegation round but they’re certainly not one of the two worst teams in this tournament – they’re just victims of landing in the “group of death”.
The Germans can piece together two solid lines, but they’re really led by the triumvirate of defenseman Moritz Seider and forwards Dominik Bokk and Tim Stutzle.
Seider is really what makes the Germans tick. Through three games, he’s averaging 26:28 per game – that leads the tournament and is over six minutes more than anyone else on the team – and is not only the best defensive player on the team but also the catalyst of the offense and without him, Germany’s skilled forwards don’t get the puck nearly as often. Most of Germany’s offense in the tournament has come from its power play, of which Seider is the quarterback.
Tim Stutzle is Germany’s best playmaking forward. The 17-year-old is averaging nearly a point per game in the professional DEL and projected to be a top-10 draft pick, and his performance so far at the World Juniors will only improve that. On Germany’s vaunted power play, he has owned the half-wall, and moves the puck well with Seider.
Dominik Bokk is the team’s sniper. Bokk and John Peterka are the only two players on the team with more than one goal but they’re different types of shooters. While Peterka tends to drive hard to the net, Bokk picks the corners with his deadly wrist shot and has also shown very good puck-moving ability that has worked well with Seider, Stutzle et al.