The Journey: A Look at WJC Preliminary Rosters
Welcome back, avid prospect fans!
I know most of you are still just getting to know me as a writer here on the main site, so this is something you should know about me: More than the draft day, more than free-agent frenzy, and more than basically any other time of year, I love World Junior season. The tournament has always been a bit of a sentimental past-time for my friends and I, much like I’m sure it has been for many of you.
A long before I ever became involved with the Dobber brand, something a group of friends and I would do around this time of year was make friendly bets on which of Canada’s players we thought would make a name for himself at the tournament. It always seemed like there was at least one player, sometimes one from each team that separates himself from the pack or detach themselves from what might have been a lesser assessment. Today I thought we would tie this old idea into a slightly more fantasy related column, and look at which players from five of the camp rosters have are trending in a direction to impress. We’ll also have a look at each roster to get a better idea of what to expect from the tournament come Boxing Day.
The first team on our list is the host country and defending gold medalists, Canada. This year’s edition of the tournament will be held by the cities of Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Both cities are home to their own WHL franchises, although neither are represented on Canada’s final camp roster.
So far, the group is comprised of 34 players, with a portion hailing from each of the three CHL leagues, as well as the NCAA. Gabriel Vilardi, who was also named to the camp roster has played three conditioning games with the Ontario Reign after returning from a nagging back injury – his status remains unknown for the remainder of the year, however the Kings have agreed to loan the 19-year-old to Canada for the tournament.
The Ontario Hockey League is heavily represented at the final camp which begins Monday in Calgary. Notable OHLers include Evan Bouchard, Michael DiPietro, and Morgan Frost.
The WHL and QMJHL despite being more sparsely represented, will likely be sending two extremely valuable players to BC, in Cody Glass and Alexis Lafreniere. The latter who will remain ineligible for the NHL draft until 2020, stands a good chance of being the youngest player to represent Canada at the tournament.
Perhaps the most unrecognized name on the list is Brett Leason. The Prince Albert Raiders’ forward is the only player on the list to have gone through an entire NHL draft in which he was eligible without being selected. His 2.2 points-per-game scoring rate in the WHL exceeds the season-ending rate of any player in recent history including last year’s leader, Alexi Heponiemi.
Of the entire group of 34, only two have prior World Junior experience. Both Alex Formenton (OTT) and Max Comtois (ANA) began the season with their respective NHL clubs, only to be returned to their junior teams after nine and ten games respectively. Both should be considered locks for the final Canadain roster.
The Canadians last line of defense should also prove to be a formidable one. The two favorites to start in goal, Ian Scott (TOR) and Michael DiPietro (VAN) are both highly credible netminders who have begun the year with outstanding results.
My pick to impress: Joe Veleno (DET) – After a less than impressive draft year for the former Exceptional Status pivot, the 18-year-old is off to somewhat of a rebound. He might not lead the Canadian offense, but this should be an opportunity for him to revive some of his former glory.
Keeping things in Group A, The Red Machine is up next.
The Russians invited a full squad of 33 players leading up to the final roster selection. While much of the roster has been outlined by tournaments earlier in the year including the CIBC Canada-Russia series, and the U20 Four Nations tournament there are a few other interesting candidates for the roster.
The final roster will be highlighted by the Ranger’s 2018 first round pick, Vitali Kravstov, who also stands a good chance to wear the “C” for Russia. His recent surge in scoring has him leading the KHL charts among U21 skaters. Of the 33 named to the list, Kravstov will be joined by ten other players who’ve been competing primarily in the KHL this season.
The remainder of the group is comprised of players from two other Russian leagues – the MHL (Minor Hockey League), and the VHL (Supreme Hockey League), as well as the CHL and AHL.
Like Canada, this year’s Russian squad will feature a maximum of two returning players – Blues forward prospect Klim Kostin, and Oilers defense prospect Dmitri Samorukov. Both players have struggled for offensive consistency since coming to North America, but could provide the Russians with a size and strength advantage to alleviate the pressure from other players.
Despite almost the entire camp roster having passed through a year of NHL draft eligibility, only 14 of the 33 are currently claimed by an NHL organization. Besides the three aforementioned players, some of the most interesting drafted players who could be part of the team include defense prospects, Alexander Alexyev (WSH), Alex Romanov (MTL), and forward prospects Grigori Denisenko (FLA), and Pavel Shen (BOS). Each of the four have a relatively solid track record and stand a good chance of making the final cuts. Shen was the focus of recent success when led all players in goals through the six CIBC series games in November. His success, however, wasn’t without the help of undrafted wingman, Stepan Starkov who wrapped up the series with six points in six games. Also a part of the group hailing from the KHL, Starkov showed an immense amount of skill against his Canadian counterparts and should join the Russians in Vancouver.
Just couple of weeks ago Stepan Starkov finished the CAN/RUS Series with one of the best performances in Team Russia history and now he is back in the KHL and is scoring there. Someone to watch out for in terms of the WJC and #2019NHLDraft. pic.twitter.com/WZTf9x6quE
— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) December 3, 2018
My pick to impress: Stepan Starkov – see above.
When it comes to the Scandanavian countries, a smaller, more select group of players were named to the preliminary rosters. Finland in particular listed only 25 players to their initial group, headlined by six draft eligible players between 2019 and 2020.
With a smaller preliminary roster, less cuts will be necessary for the Finns who’ve drawn heavily from their native professional Liiga, however, there are also several notable players not named to the roster that could sneak in on a later date. Winnipeg prospect Kristian Vesalainen who is currently playing for Jokerit in the KHL has not been confirmed as available for the tournament and would be an excellent addition to the Suomi squad. Predators’ top prospect, Eeli Tolvanen who has been competing with the farm club in Miluwakee until recently would have also been an excellent addition were it not for his emergency recall to Nashville. The two omissions from camp do not necessarily dictate whether or not they will be a part of the final roster, simply that their participation is not mandatory.
As mentioned above, this group is comprised by a majority of Liiga players, which are highlighted by names such as Alexi Heponiemi (FLA), Rasmus Kupari (LA), and Niklas Nordgren (CHI).
They’ve also recruited from a small group of players competing overseas in several NCAA conferences, as well as the WHL and OHL. The most notable of players whose primary competition has come on North American ice is goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (BUF) who will be joining Heponiemi and Kupari as the only returning players from the 2018 tournament.
In addition to the experience that the Young Lions will likely bring to the tournament, they will also likely roster one of the youngest overall groups in Vancouver. 2019 top-prospect, Kappo Kakko headlines the under-agers, and will bring an immense amount of speed and skill to the team… and yes, he will be on the team.
My pick to impress: Rasmus Kupari (LA) – As much as I’d love to have Nordgren in this spot (I’ve been a big fan of him for a while), I don’t think he’ll receive the same kind of opportunity that Kupari will. Kupari is bound to stick with his Karpat linemate, Alexi Heponiemi throughout the tournament, which will provide him with the appropriate stage to demonstrate their success, and bring his name to another level of recognition.
The Swedes stuck with a similar sized roster as their neighbors to the east, inviting a total of 25 players to their preliminary camp.
Perhaps the most formidable looking defensive group heading into the tournament, Sweden’s top-6 will almost certainly feature a pair of Leafs prospects, in addition to some combination of three other former first round picks. Timothy Liljegren (TOR) and Rasmus Sandin (TOR) have both been competing with Toronto’s AHL affiliate, the Marlies and are likely to join the team as a pair. Neither have had a great opportunity to focus on offense since becoming professionals, but this tournament should be a great opportunity for us to gauge their development in peer-to-peer competition. Besides the Leafs duo, the group of Erik Brannstrom (VGK), Adam Boqvist (CHI), and Nils Lundkvist (NYR) will make the team’s blueline a force to be reckoned with.
As with the Finns, Sweden has drawn a high percentage of their roster from the local top and second tier leagues, the Swedish Hockey League and the Allsvenskan.
Besides the talented defense group that the Swedes are likely to put forth, the roster selection appears to be quite wide open. Several B+ type prospects such as Filip Hallander (PIT), Emil Bemstrom (CBJ) and Lucas Elvenes (VGK) are likely to be a part of the group which don the three crowns, with the remainder being left to a critical camp selection.
That group consists of two 2019 draft eligible players who have both spent the majority of their seasons competing in the SHL. Nils Hoglander and Samuel Fagemo could each make a significant impact on their draft stock if they find success in Vancouver, which, given the lack of forward depth is a reality.
My pick to impress: Emil Bemstrom (CBJ) – A former fourth round selection, Bemstrom has brought his game to a new level as a rookie in the Swedish Hockey League. Until recently, his name wouldn’t have been recognized outside of hyper-focused prospect circles, but there is a high probability that is about to change.
For today, last but not least, and only because they were last to announce their preliminary roster, the Americans!
Led by 17-year-old Jack Hughes, the American preliminary roster appears to be relatively top-heavy across the board. A formidable forward corps will likely be what the Americans rely on if they hope to have success at the tournament, however the selection of their role players will also be important. They’ll be drawing from a group of 29 familiar faces, 17 of which have participated in some form of the USNDP. Aside from Jack Hughes, only one other current member of the Program was invited to camp – goaltender, Spencer Knight.
The Yanks are likely to have upwards of six former first round NHL draft selections on their roster including Jack’s older brother, Quinn (VAN). The pair are sure to have a high level of chemistry on the transition, which could make the Americans all the more dangerous.
The elder of the Hughes boys is likely to be joined by K’Andre Miller (NYR), Joey Keane (NYR), and Dylan Samberg (WPG) to form a strong top-4 on the American’s blueline.
Up front, the former USNDP dynamic duo of Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee should link up again to rekindle their old magic. While Wahlstrom’s 2018 hasn’t exactly been kind to him, Farabee has been excellent for Boston University, and could wind up being one of the States’ most relied upon players. From north of the border, the Niagara Ice Dogs forward, Jason Robertson (DAL) should prove to be another offensive catalyst for the red, white and blue. Since being traded to Niagara from Kingston, the 19-year-old has contributed on 14 goals in his first five contests.
My pick to impress: Sammy Walker (TBL) – Shortly after I started writing on the Tampa page for Dobber Prospects, the Lightning selected Walker in the 7th round of the draft. He’s on the smaller side, and until recently had only competed against a vastly different competition than his peers. He’s contributed consistently at the University of Minnesota as a freshman, but an opportunity to translate that to the World Junior level would certainly elevate his status.
As a bonus, here’s the NHL ownership distribution of all players participating in the five camps of the countries listed above. Undrafted players who have not been eligible for a draft are not included.
That’s all I have for this week! Let me know what you think of my picks, as well as what yours are on Twitter @olaf1393
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