(Original Article by Missy Zielinski)
With the National Hockey League (NHL) dismantling more than half of their regular season thus far due to the lockout, a few unexpected faces will make appearances at this year’s 2012-13 World Junior U-20 Championships (WJC) being hosted in Ufa, Russia. The tournament that begun early Wednesday morning and runs through January 5, when the gold medal game will be played, doesn’t just feature 2011’s top draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the 2012 top draft pick Nail Yakupov, but some other leaders out of this year’s draft class as well as draft eligible to keep note of.
As today’s games have all finished, each team in the tournament has now played at least once (Latvia and Germany have each played twice) and will continue the round robin part of the tournament until they’ve played each one of the teams in their pool (10 teams have been divided into two pools of five – ‘Pool A’ and ‘Pool B’) before moving on to the next rounds of the tournament next Wednesday (Jan. 2).
Here’s my player-to-watch list to guide you through the up-and-coming prospects in the world of hockey team-by-team:
Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is in this year’s WJC simply by the fact that he’s a junior by birthdate only. The 19-year-old center playing for Team Canada has already accumulated five points in the 2012-13 WJC with one goal and four assists. For Nugent-Hopkins an exemplary start may be due to the fact that he was cut by Team Canada at age 17 while with the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels in the 2010-11 season.
During his rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-12, Nugent-Hopkins dished out 18 goals and 43 assists (52 points) in 62 games and was a part of the 2011-12 NHL All-Rookie Team. Nugent-Hopkins is currently playing for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Oklahoma City Barons, tallying 20 points in 19 appearances.
Team Canada, who’s already achieved their first win in the tournament early Wednesday morning (a 9-3 victory against Finland), doesn’t only feature Nugent-Hopkins, but a well-seasoned roster including: Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon and Malcolm Subban.
Nineteen-year-old Huberdeau, the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers has contributed three points already (one goal and two assists). Fans can expect to see great scoring and playmaking skills from this crafty left winger who attributed to nine points during last year’s WJC with one goal and eight assists (nine points) in six games.
In his current stint with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) Saint John Sea Dogs, Huberdeau has 45 points (16 goals and 29 assists) through his first 30 games.
Next on the docket for Canada, Winnipeg Jets center and right-winger Scheifele, whose two goals helped secure Canada’s first win of the tournament. The seventh overall draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Scheifele’s a dominant forward in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and should be able to help Canada cruise through the red robin round of the tournament with the playmaking and goal-scoring ability he exudes.
A member of the OHL’s Barrie Colts, Scheifele has an impressive 21 goals and 27 assists (48 points) in 29 games this season.
The highly sought after and arguably the top eligible draft prospect Nathan MacKinnon is also a representative for Canada in this year’s tournament. Showcasing his skating abilities and puckhandling, MacKinnon has already added one helper during this year’s WJC.
The 17-year-old is currently skating for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL and ranks fifth in the league with 52 points (22 goals and 30 assists) in 30 games.
Finishing off Canada’s roster is goaltender Malcolm Subban.
Subban, the brother of Montreal Canadien’s defenseman P.K. Subban, was just named Team Canada’s starter after his tournament start on Wednesday by achieving a 3.00 goals-against average and a .893 save-percentage despite stating that he was ‘nervous’ in his debut.
The 24th overall pick in the 2012 draft class serves as the netminder for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls and boasts a 2.17 goals-against average and a .932 save-percentage in 26 games, good for second in the OHL behind the Kitchener Rangers’ Franky Palazzese.
The defending-champions began right where they left off from the 2011-12 WJC with a 4-1 win against the Czech Republic Wednesday morning.
Captain of team Sweden and the 11th overall draft pick for the Washington Capitals in the 2012 Draft, winger Filip Forsberg tallied a goal in the win, equaling his point count from last year.
For Forsberg the tournament will allow the highly-skilled, two-way player to grow as he shows off his impressive stick handling abilities and creativity during this year’s tournament. Currently the 18-year-old is playing for Leksand of the Swedish Allsvenskan league where he’s managed nine goals and 10 assists (19 points) during the 2012-13 season.
Playing their first game early this morning, two notable players skating for the United States in the WJC this year include 18-year-old center/left winger Alex Galchenyuk and 18-year-old defenseman Seth Jones.
The Montreal Canadiens pick in this year’s draft (3rd overall), playmaker Galchenyuk is sandwiched between fellow tournament-goer Ryan Strome and the London Knights’ Seth Griffith for second in the OHL in points (62).
As a member of the Sarnia Sting, the American-born Galchenyuk is also tied for first in the OHL in goals with 27.
Another prospect drafted by the Capitals in this year’s draft, Riley Barber has already gained attention from scouts in Game 1 of the tournament. Skating on a line with top prospect Galchenyuk and Miami University teammate Sean Kuraly, Barber helped lift the US to an early lead with three points (one goal and two assists) after just a little over one period in today’s 9 a.m. contest against Germany.
The right winger represents the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) on this list and has 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) for the RedHawks in 18 games.
Escaping with a victory with a 3-2 overtime rally against Slovakia on Wednesday, this year’s top prospect Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko represent Russia this year.
Edmonton Oilers top prospect Yakupov showed off his offensive ability and good hockey sense as he dished out nine assists in seven games during last year’s WJC.
While skating for the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk this season, Yakupov has seen playing-time in 22 games and contributed 18 points.
Finishing out the list is 19-year-old center Mikhail Grigorenko, the 12th overall pick by the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres during this year’s draft. Grigorenko should be able to show off his playmaking ability and puck skills as he’s done during the 2012-13 season with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. Only two points behind Canada’s MacKinnon in points in the QMJHL with 50, Grigorenko scored two goals and added three assists for Russia in the 2011-12 WJC.
Canadian-born Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Reilly are two faces to watch for from the blueline. Drafted fourth and fifth overall (New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs) in this year’s draft, respectively, Reinhart and Reilly both played in their first game for Canada on Wednesday.
Finnish-born Aleksander Barkov is considered a top prospect in the 2013 draft class and is currently playing for Tappara Tampere of the top Finnish League. At last year’s World Junior’s Barkov tallied one goal and three assists (four points) in seven games.
Blueliner Seth Jones represents the USA this year and should be an offensive threat if his performance can match his offensive output during the 2011-12 WJC-18 tournament, where Jones accumulated eight points (three goals and five assists) in six games for Team USA.
A member of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, Jones has shown off his athletic ability and solid offensive and defensive capabilities during this season by dishing out eight goals and 20 assists (28 points) in 31 games.
2011-12 World Junior Championships Results
In last year’s WJC Sweden beat defending-champion Russia 1-0 in overtime for their first title in 31 years, while Canada missed the finals for the first time in 11 years after losing to Russia in the semifinals. Canada beat Finland in the bronze medal game, 4-0, extending their medal streak to 14.
Finland’s fourth-place finish was their best finish since 2006 and the United States ended up in the relegation round for the first time since 1999.
Washington Capitals prospect and Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 13 points were good enough for the tournament’s most valuable player as he tallied six goals and seven assists in seven games.
For Full Schedule/Results: