Top draft-eligible players at the 2019 World Junior Championship

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Canada's Brett Leason looks for an open man. (Chad Hipolito/CP)

Every year the World Junior Championship brings high-tempo, high-skill hockey featuring some of the best under-20s players in the world. Most of the best players you’ll see have already been drafted into the NHL as this is mostly a tournament for 19-year-olds, but for those younger players who haven’t yet heard their name called on the draft floor, the WJC forces them to elevate their games against top competition in front of NHL scouts.

Here’s a closer look at the top draft-eligible players who will be appearing at this year’s tournament.

Team Canada

Player name, Pos. (Sportsnet’s 2019 NHL Top-31 Draft Prospect Ranking: December)

Brett Leason, W (30) — A 19-year-old player who has already been passed on twice at the NHL draft, Leason has made a meteoric rise in the 2019 draft rankings with his extremely strong start in the Western Hockey League. On the scoresheet in 30 consecutive contests to begin the season, Leason has scored more points (64) in his first 31 games this year than he did in his first 125 of his career (51). Leason’s path is eerily similar to Pittsburgh Penguins and former Team Canada World Junior winger Tanner Pearson, who was taken 30th overall in 2012 by the Los Angeles Kings after he was also passed over two draft years.

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  • Team USA

    Jack Hughes, C (1) — All eyes will be on the consensus No. 1 overall pick. His electrifying hands, playmaking ability, and edgework could make the American centre one of the more dominant players at the 2019 World Juniors, despite being just 17 years old. If you haven’t met him already, get ready, because he’ll no longer need any introductions after this tournament.

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  • Spencer Knight, G (28) — Probably the best goalie available in this year’s draft class, the 6-foot-3 American’s strong positional play and calmness in goal as a 17-year-old has caught the eyes of NHL scouts around the league. The only goalie currently projected to be taken in the first round, Knight will likely back up Montreal Canadiens 2017 seventh round pick Cayden Primeau in the American net.

    Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

    Team Finland

    Kaapo Kakko, W (2) — The 6-foot-1 right winger continues the recent Finnish trend of producing high-end talent that gets picked early on draft night. The 17-year-old is a few years younger than the rest of his teammates on TPS Turku, and is already competing against men in the Finnish Liiga — similar to the path that recent top picks Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Miro Heiskanen, and Mikko Rantanen all took. Kakko has lightning-quick hands, a big frame to protect the puck and excels in reading the game offensively.

    Team Sweden

    Philip Broberg, D (17) — Renowned for his skating ability this 6-foot-3 Swedish defenceman is the beneficiary of a Timothy Liljegren injury that will keep the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect out of this year’s tournament. While the loss of Liljegren will undoubtedly be a hit to this Swedish team, Broberg’s ability to break the puck out on the back end will help set the tempo for his team’s offence, and that may be enough to fill Liljegren’s void on arguably the tournament’s best defensive group.

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    Team Denmark

    Mads Sogaard, G (unranked) This big goaltender will be hard for scouts to miss. Towering over others at 6-foot-7, Sogaard has the ability to steal games for Denmark as he’s shown a number of times this season for the Medicine Hat Tigers, posting a terrific 2.39 GAA and .931 SP in his first season in the WHL. There always tends to be one goalie who has a coming out party at the WJC, and Sogaard will have ample opportunity to shine on a weaker Danish team.

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