The Journey: World Juniors – January 6

Brad Phillips

2018-01-06

Year after year the focus of the World Juniors is typically on the highly touted and/or high draft pick prospects such as Elias Pettersson, Cale Makar, Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt to see just how dominant they can be against the rest of the best in their age group. But every tournament a handful of players come out of relative obscurity that make people sit up and take notice. Here are three such players.

 

Libor Hajek – TB, 2016 round 3, #37 overall

In a tournament filled with high-end offensive defensemen like Adam Fox, Makar, Dahlin among others, it should come as no surprise that the leading point getter among d-men through the quarter-finals is…Libor Hajek??? Yes, that’s right. After being cut from last year’s team, the Czech defender has made his one and only WJC showing a memorable one. He’s tied for fourth in tournament scoring with seven points and is in a four way tie with Mittelstadt, Martin Necas and the aforementioned Dahlin for the tournament lead in assists with six. Hajek also leads his countrymen in plus/minus with a plus-five mark. This isn’t the type of play we’ve come to expect from the Tampa Bay selection as he doesn’t have a history of producing at an elite level.  

 

Playing for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, Hajek put together two extremely similar statistical seasons in his first two years in North America with stat lines of three goals, 23 assists, 76 penalty minutes, and a minus-19 in 69 games in year one and four goals, 22 assists, 81 penalty minutes, and a miuns-17 in 65 games in year two. Neither of these Blades teams were particularly strong however. Through the first half of this year with a slightly stronger squad, Hajek has almost surpassed his previous career offensive bests. He has already doubled his previous best goal total as he’s found the back of the net eight times and has added 16 helpers. He’s focussed on shooting the puck more this season and numbers don’t lie, it’s been a smart decision. Hajek has a ten point lead over the next highest scored defender on the Blades. A smooth skating defender with good size, the Czech has put himself in the mix for tournament all-star team honours.

 

Jonas Rondbjerg – VGK, 2017 round 3, #65 overall

There wasn’t a whole lot to be positive about from Denmark’s performance in Buffalo this year given the fact they’ve been outscored by a margin of 30-7 at this point, but Jonas Rondbjerg’s showing has been encouraging. Turning 19 in a couple of months, Rondbjerg is a grizzled veteran of this event as he’s competing in his third edition of the tournament. Through the four group stage games and the first game of the relegation round, the Dane has factored in on five of Denmark’s seven goals, scoring once and adding four assists. Granted three of those points came in a 5-4 comeback victory over Belarus in the relegation round. But still, it’s the best performance by a Vegas Golden Knight drafted prospect in World Junior History!

 

Back with his home club, Rondbjerg suits up for