Next week the 2020 World Junior Championship begins in the Czech Republic. This year’s tournament features a growing number of draft-eligible players, as well as a number of 19-year-olds who may be close to reaching the NHL.
To get you prepared for the tournament this holiday season, Sam Cosentino picked out three players from each of the competing teams to keep an eye on.
Alexis Lafreniere: Two-layered disappointment from last year’s tournament — finishing sixth and not being able to contribute due to limited playing time — should inspire him to big things in this event.
Dylan Cozens: Plays a speed game and has versatility as a centre or a winger.
Bowen Byram: At his best when he’s allowed to roam like a buffalo.
Cole Caufield: The snipe show never rests. Caufield has 12 goals in 18 games with the University of Wisconsin this season.
Oliver Wahlstrom: A stint back with his peer group should serve him and the Islanders well. Adds another goal-scoring option to a deep U.S. team.
John Beecher: A bit of a surprise pick at the end of the first round of the 2019 draft by Boston, Beecher will prove his worth with speed, work ethic and a well-rounded game.
Jan Jenik: “One of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” said former fellow Coyote prospect Kevin Bahl. Jenik has been held off the scoresheet once all season with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
Jakub Lauko: A speed burner on a big home-ice surface is a dangerous proposition.
Jan Mysak: Will look to solidify his spot in the first round of the 2020 draft.
Alexander Romanov: Could probably play in the NHL right now. Possesses some Shea Weber-like qualities with a good shot and the ability to apply himself physically.
Yaroslav Askarov: He’ll be a story whether he’s Russia’s starting goalie or not. If he plays like he has in previous international competition, the Russians will play for gold.
Grigori Denisenko: A returnee who tied for the tournament scoring lead last year, Denisenko is a year older and a year wiser.
Lukas Raymond: Another speed burner who has high hockey IQ that lends itself to fine playmaking.
Alexander Holtz: Goes hand-in-hand with Raymond. Does everything well from an offensive standpoint and should be good for his fair share of snipes.
Samuel Fagemo: Laid claim to the title of most improved Swede from the start of last year to the end. Another big proving ground awaits at the WJC.
Ville Heinola: Jumped on the scene at this event last year before he got injured. Has NHL games under his belt and thinks the game at that level.
Lassi Thomson: With a great skating ability, Thomson decided to go back home and forgo a second year in WHL Kelowna. He plays with bite and shoots it a ton.
Rasmus Kupari: Back for his third kick at the can, there’s no reason this LA Kings prospect can’t be a dominant player at this year’s WJC.
Moritz Seider: Loaded with leadership and swagger, he may very well be the band leader to an upset or two.
Tim Stutzle: Projected top 10 pick who’s having a great year playing against men in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) and getting plenty of looks on the power play.
Dominik Bokk: This Carolina prospect has been a forgotten player since being drafted 25th overall in 2018. It’s time to get back into the spotlight.
Samuel Hlavaj: Sick numbers (2.14 GAA, .925 save percentage) for the CHL’s top-ranked team, the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix.
Oliver Okuliar: Went back into the import draft after a year in the QMJHL, and he’s been dynamite for WHL Lethbridge with 42 points in 32 games.
Max Cajkovic: Has had one and a half decent years in QMJHL Saint John. He can skate and really shoot the puck, and the big surface for this tournament will serve him well, offering up more time to make decisions.
Kyen Sopa: Smallish right winger has built on a 19-goal first season in the OHL to become a mainstay in the Niagara IceDogs’ attack as a point-per-game producer.
Nico Gross: As nasty a competitor as there is, he’ll be looking to make his third and final WJC a memorable one.
Luca Hollenstein: A returnee in goal always provides comfort. He’s good enough to steal a game or two.
Vladislav Nurek: Will be under siege all tournament, so he has to be at the top of his game when Kazakhstan plays in the relegation round.
Oleg Boiko: Decent year in the MHL (Russia’s junior league) and the experience of playing at last year’s WJC should make him a bigger threat this year.
Andrei Buyalsky: His father (Viktor) was a long-time pro and coached many in this age group, helping them back into the top division. Andrei is a steady performer who won’t dazzle with skill, but impresses with consistency.