The projected top-three picks at next June’s NHL Draft in Montreal are due to be on display for hockey fans over the holidays at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Canada leads the group with some intriguing names on display while Sweden should have a pair of players up front who could help their offence.
Here’s a look at the top names who will be available for NHL clubs to select next June and competing at this year’s WJC.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW: He’s been the projected first-overall pick for a long time and could solidify that over the next few weeks if he has a solid tournament. This will be Lafreniere’s second world juniors after scoring one goal in five games at last year’s event. He will be relied upon heavily on Canada’s top line and should be well rested given that his first game in nearly two weeks came in a pre-tournament tune-up against Switzerland. He’s lit up the QMJHL so far this season and will have a chance to shine in the international spotlight.
Quinton Byfield, C: If there’s anyone pushing to topple Lafreniere for top spot in the draft, it’s Byfield. With his big, powerful frame, he’s extremely difficult to play against. Add in his impressive goal-scoring ability and Byfield is a remarkable player to watch. He’s third in OHL scoring with 57 points with the Sudbury Wolves and Canada’s coaches liked what they saw from him during selection camp. He’s likely to slot in on one of Canada’s top two lines and should get plenty of ice time.
Jamie Drysdale, D: Drysdale’s smooth-skating and solid decision making skills earned him a spot on Canada’s roster as a seventh defenceman. He’s been projected to be a top-10 pick at the draft although how much time he plays for the Canadians at the world juniors will depend on the performance and health of others. An exciting, offensive blueliner.
Dawson Mercer, RW: The product of Bay Roberts, N.L., is projected to be a mid-first round selection following a strong first half with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. His crafty hands in front of the net earned him a goal in pre-competition play against Switzerland as he continues to make a case for minutes in Canada’s lineup.
Lucas Raymond, LW: There was some uncertainty as to whether Raymond would even make Sweden’s team at all, but he’s arrived at the tournament with lots to prove. His numbers at the pro level with Frolunda of the SHL haven’t been outstanding, but now he’s got a chance to play against players his own age. He’s a skillful forward and Sweden hopes he can provide some much-needed offence. Projections have Raymond going third overall.
Alexander Holtz, RW: Another young forward with a lot of upside for Tre Kronor. Holtz has good size at six foot, 183 pounds, which he uses to his advantage. A good friend of Raymond’s, Holtz has a nice shot and explosive speed. He’s a first-year pro with Djurgardens IF and played on the same line as Raymond in some tournaments leading up to the world juniors. It could make for an exciting trio to watch when the under-20 event begins.
Anton Lundell, C: There was doubt as to whether Lundell would even play at the tournament after an elbow injury earlier this month had him projected to miss six weeks. He was productive last year as Finland won WJC gold with one goal and three assists and has carried that forward in his second season in Liiga, Finland’s top professional level. Early projections have Lundell being a top-10 pick.
Yaroslav Askarov, G: Askarov is the top goaltender available at the draft with his impressive numbers at every level he’s played at so far. Currently with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg of the VHL, a league below the KHL, he’s got a 2.38 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 16 games. Can anyone say this year’s Andrei Vasilevskiy?
Jan Myšák, LW: Projected as a mid-to-late round pick, Mysak has played this season in his native Czech Republic with HC Litvinov where he has five goals and four assists in 26 games. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino lists him as a good, all-around player.
Jaromir Pytlik, C: A big centre at six-foot-three and almost 200 pounds, who can put the puck in the net. Pytlik has 14 goals and 18 assists in 31 games this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He decided to come to North America to raise his draft stock at the start of January and so far it appears as though it’s paid off.
Tim Stutzle, LW: Stutzle will be one to keep an eye out for this year. He’s projected to be just outside the top-five, but playing in a best-on-best tournament like this one could change the opinions of scouts. He has five goals and 18 assists in 25 games during his first year of pro with Adler Mannheim of the DEL. He has good size and skill and it will be fun to see what he can do for Germany.