Canadian NHL fans eagerly watch the World Junior Championship each holiday season to get a look at the future stars of their franchises.
This year’s tournament, hosted in the Czech Republic, will give hockey supporters plenty to see as there’s a ton of talent and big names competing for their countries in the 10-day long tournament starting on Dec. 26.
So who are the Canadian NHL team prospects and which country do they play for? Here’s a look:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Rasmus Sandin: The defenceman will most likely be one of the tournament’s stars this year for Sweden and log big minutes. Sandin played in six games earlier this season for the Maple Leafs before being sent to the AHL, where he’s done well. He had two goals and two assists in five games at last year’s world juniors.
Mikko Kokkonen: This tournament could be a good showcase for the Finnish defenceman, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft, but is still unsigned. He has two goals and one assist in 20 games this season for Jukurit in Liiga.
Nick Robertson: Robertson has garnered a lot of attention in the first half of the OHL season for his goal-scoring ability. The American forward missed a month of action with the Peterborough Petes, but still has 23 goals and 12 assists in 22 games.
Cole Caufield: All eyes will be on the Habs’ 2019 first-round sniper, who has impressed many in his first season of NCAA hockey with Wisconsin. There’s no doubt Caufield can put the puck in the net and fans should be able to see a plethora of it at this year’s tournament while he plays for the U.S.
Mattias Norlinder: Canadiens fans will have a close eye on the Swedish defenceman, who Montreal selected with its third-round pick in 2019. He’s unsigned, and has six goals and eight assists in 28 games this year for MODO in Sweden’s Allsvenskan.
Jordan Harris: Harris has produced 13 points in 18 games during his sophomore year at Northeastern University. The defenceman was a third round pick of the Canadiens in 2018 and was being paired with Flyers 2019 first-rounder Cam York during the Americans’ training camp.
Alexander Romanov: Montreal’s 2018 second-round pick has four assists in 33 games this season with the KHL’s CSKA Moskva as a 19-year-old defenceman. He had one goal and seven assists in last year’s world juniors as the Russians claimed bronze.
Philip Broberg: His Sweden coach, Tomas Monten, says Broberg has matured a lot since joining the SHL’s Skelleftea AIK this season. Monten was quick to praise the defenceman on his skating and says the Oilers’ eighth-overall pick from the 2019 draft made the right call by returning to Sweden this season.
Olivier Rodrigue: Hasn’t had a great season in Moncton of the QMJHL this year, but Canadian management love his experience playing for the country on the international stage. Where he will slot into Canada’s three-man rotation remains to be seen.
Raphael Lavoie: Lavoie is a big, skillful right-winger who can be streaky. He flashes elements of brilliance at times, but can leave you scratching your head at others. It’s a big reason why he dropped to the second round of last year’s draft. He will most likely slot into Canada’s bottom six.
Patrik Siikanen: The Finnish forward has plenty of size at six-foot-two, 198 pounds, but hasn’t proved to be a big point producer so far this season for JYP of Liiga with just two assists in 20 games. Perhaps a transition to playing against men his own age will help spark him.
Matej Blumel: The right-winger reportedly turned down an opportunity to play collegiate hockey at the University of Connecticut to instead go home after two years in the USHL. He’s shown he can be productive in the past. Can he do it again on home ice in the Czech Republic?
David Gustafsson: Jets fans will be familiar with Gustafsson as he’s played 22 games this season for the NHL club. His offensive production as a centre has been minimal with just one goal and playing in this tournament should boost his confidence.
Simon Lundmark: Lundmark has split time this year between the SHL’s Linköping HC and its junior affiliate. This is the Swede’s third-straight year playing in the SHL and first appearing at the world juniors.
Ville Heinola: A reigning gold medal winner at the tournament, Heinola will be a key cog on the back end for Finland. His strong play at last year’s tournament caught the eye of Winnipeg, who took him with the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Henri Nikkanen: Like Lundmark, Nikkanen has also spent time at both the pro and junior level this season with Finland’s Jukurit. At six-foot-four, the centre has good size and has been productive at the junior level.
Jacob Bernard-Docker: From the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL to an impressive sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. Bernard-Docker has progressed well over the last year and is on pace to double his point production from 2018-19.
Shane Pinto: Pinto has adjusted to collegiate hockey well since Ottawa picked him in the second round at the 2019 draft. He has 14 points through 17 games with the University of North Dakota and will be playing on a stacked U.S. team.
Lassi Thomson: The Senators took Thomson 19th overall last June and he’s been solid for Ilves in his native Finland during his first pro season. The six-foot defenceman has six goals and four assists in 23 games and will be a key defender for a strong Finnish team.
Vasili Podkolzin: Vancouver is loaded with young talent at this year’s tournament and Podkolzin will be one of the most intriguing names to watch. The Canucks took him with the 10th overall pick at the 2019 draft and the right winger has played in three leagues so far this season. He’s been scoreless in 14 games with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, but after a bronze at last year’s tournament, the Russian will be eager for more in 2020.
Nils Hoglander: Unlike some other of his young Swedish teammates at the world juniors, Hoglander — Vancouver’s 2019 second rounder — has been producing at the SHL level this year. The gritty left winger has six goals and three assists in 19 games to go along with 27 penalty minutes. Could Canucks fans see his physical element at this event?
Toni Utunen: Another returning member of Finland’s gold medal team, Utunen has a lot of experience playing against older players in Liiga for parts of the last four seasons. He’s already matched his career-high in points (three) through 16 games, so there’s signs he may be adjusting to his game.
Karel Plasek: The right-winger hasn’t put up crazy scoring totals at any of his previous levels. However, he’s got one goal and four assists in six games so far this season with the Czech’s under-20 team.
Dustin Wolf: Wolf continues to get passed over at every level — fourth last pick at the 2019 draft — despite his solid performances. He leads the WHL in save percentage with a ridiculous .941 average, although will most likely slot behind Spencer Knight in the Americans’ crease at the world juniors.