Sports

Stars on ice: Top players to watch on each world junior squad

Here are some of the top prospects to watch at the 2019 world juniors in British Columbia.

Vancouver, Victoria co-hosting tourney in its return to B.C. for first time since 2006

NHL Central Scouting has Jack Hughes of the United States listed as its top player ahead of the 2019 draft. (Jeff Bassett / The Canadian Press)

After 13 years, the world junior hockey championship is back in British Columbia.

Co-hosts Vancouver and Victoria will split first round games as the tournament gets underway Wednesday in both cities. 

Canada enters the tournament as favourites to repeat as gold medallists following last year's victory in Buffalo, but faces strong squads from the United States and Finland, as well as traditional rivals Russia and Sweden.

It concludes Jan. 5 with the gold-medal game at Vancouver's Rogers Arena. Before then, here are some of the players to watch from each of the 10 participating countries.

Canada

Cody Glass - C - Drafted 6th overall in 2017 by Vegas Golden Knights

Centre Cody Glass, seen here in NHL pre-season action with the Golden Knights, is expected to be among Canada's key players at the world juniors in British Columbia. (Rich Lam / Getty Images)

Alexis Lafrenière - LW - 2020 draft eligible

Canada's Alexis Lafreniere (11) hoists the Hlinka Gretzky Cup following the Ivan Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold-medal game against Sweden in Edmonton on Aug. 11. Canada won 6-2. (Codie McLachlan / The Canadian Press)
  • A potential phenom in the making, Lafrenière will be the first 17-year-old to play for Team Canada since Connor McDavid. He's scored an absurd 54 points in just 31 games for his junior team in Rimouski of the QMJHL and has the ability to emerge as one of the stars of the tournament.

Czech Republic

Filip Zadina - LW/RW - Drafted 6th overall in 2018 by Detroit Red Wings

Czech Republic forward Filip Zadina recorded eight points in seven games at last year's world junior hockey championship in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press)
  • Zadina hit the net seven times in as many games at last year's world juniors and will be among the most talented goal-scorers in B.C. 

Martin Necas - C/RW - Drafted 12th overall in 2017 by Carolina Hurricanes

Czech forward Martin Necas has played eight NHL games with the Carolina Hurricanes. (Petr David Josek / The Associated Press)
  • Necas was the co-leading scorer of the 2018 world juniors with 11 points in seven games and is known for using his skating and stickhandling to create opportunities.

Denmark

Mads Sogaard - G - 2019 draft eligible 

Danish goalie Mads Sogaard is in his second season of junior hockey in North America. (Peter Power/Canadian Press/File)
  • The Danish goalie has had a strong final few weeks of 2018 for the Medicine Hat Tigers, awarded the WHL's goalie of the week honour on Dec. 17. A strong run of play has made him a possible selection at next summer's NHL draft.

Finland

Kaapo Kakko - RW - 2019 draft eligible

Kaapo Kakko has recoreded 20 points, including nine goals, in 27 games while playing against experienced pro players in Finland's top league. (HC TPS/ Twitter)
  • Kakko has the talent to emerge as the star of the tournament. The 17-year-old has both dynamic playmaking skills as well as strong goal-scoring abilities. 

Henri Jokiharju - D - Drafted 29th overall in 2017 by Chicago Blackhawks

Henri Jokiharju will be playing in his second world juniors and is becoming a NHL regular on the blueline for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
  • Jokiharju is known as an offensive defenceman, racking up 71 points in 63 games in the WHL last season. Now more than 30 games into his NHL career with Chicago, he's looking to build on last year's world juniors when he scored four points in five games.

Kazakhstan

Valery Orekhov - D - 2019 draft eligible

Valery Orekhov, 19, is in his second season playing for HC Barys in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. (KHL)

Russia

Vitali Kravtsov - RW - Drafted 9th overall in 2018 by New York Rangers

Vitali Kravtsov is an aggressive power forward Russia will be counting on for goals at the world juniors. (HC Traktor)
  • A six-foot-four power forward who at 18 is already in his third season playing against older players with the KHL's Traktor Chelyabinsk. Capable of setting up goals with his physicality or passing, Karvtsov will be counted on to be among Russia's offensive leaders.

Grigori Denisenko - LW - Drafted 15th overall in 2018 by Florida Panthers

Grigori Denisenko, a Florida Panthers draft pick, is known for his skating and goal-scoring abilities. (Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)
  • Denisenko is a skilled stickhandler and smooth-striding skater with a reputation of being enigmatic but also excelling at international competitions. 

Slovakia

Maxim Cajkovic - LW/RW - 2019 draft eligible

Maxim Cajkovic, seen here in pre-tournament play against Canada, is a prospect for the 2019 NHL draft. (Codie McLachlan / The Canadian Press)
  • Cajkovic excelled at the 2018 under-18 championships with 11 points in just five games. He's a highly-skilled puckhandler who is projected to be a first round NHL draft pick this spring.

Sweden

Adam Boqvist - D - Drafted 8th overall in 2018 by Chicago Blackhawks

Adam Boqvist, seen here in NHL pre-season action for the Blackhawks, averages better than a point per game in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. (Jay LaPrete / The Associated Press)

Isac Lundestrom - C - Drafted 23rd overall in 2018 by Anaheim Ducks

Isac Lundestrom, seen here in NHL pre-season play with the Anaheim Ducks, has played two seasons in Sweden's top league. (Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press)
  • Lundestrom managed 15 NHL games with the Ducks this fall. He's a two-way centre who's shown offensive potential and the skating ability to beat defenders. 

Switzerland

Philipp Kurashev - C - Drafted 120th overall in 2018 by Chicago Blackhawks 

Philipp Kurashev, celebrating a goal during last year's world juniors, is known for his playmaking abilities. (Mark Blinch / The Canadian Press)
  • Kurashev has averaged better than a point a game with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts over the past two seasons. This will be the Chicago draft pick's second world juniors after he recorded three points in five games at last year's event. 

United States

Jack Hughes - C - 2019 draft eligible

Jack Hughes has played his junior hockey with the U.S. National Development Team ahead of the 2019 NHL draft. (Carlos Osorio / The Associated Press)
  • Jack Hughes is the player people are paying to see at this tournament, and his brother Quinn is no slouch either. The draft-eligible centre is expected to be the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.

Spencer Knight - G - 2019 draft eligible

Spencer Knight has committed to play his college hockey with Boston College. (Rena Laverty / USA hockey)
  • Knight will get a chance to backstop a strong U.S. team and is hailed by some scouts as America's best goaltending prospect in a generation.

About the Author

Matthew Black

@TheMatthewBlack

Matthew Black is a B.C.-based writer, producer and reporter. He writes mostly about sports and has worked for CBC in Toronto and Vancouver as well as abroad in London.

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