There appears to be a three horse race at the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo. Team USA, Sweden and Canada have separated themselves in the tournament as elite teams. All three teams are coming into the tournament with outstanding rosters, full of impeccable talent.
Team USA, the defending champs, appear to be the favourite in the tournament. They have a strong team that’s built from the net out, with a possibility of 8 returning players from last years gold medal winning squad.
Returning goaltender Jack Campbell is expected to anchor team USA. The 11th overall pick of the Dallas Stars is arguably the best goaltender in the tournament. The 6’2”, 180 pound goaltender brings an incredible resume to the team with a Gold medal from the 2010 WJC as well as experience in the Ontario Hockey League and the United States Hockey League.
Despite losing highly skilled defensemen Cam Fowler and John Carlson, team USA will dress one of the best defensive cores in the tournament. The blue line will be led by top prospects Nick Leddy, Derek Forbort and Justin Faulk. Nick Leddy will anchor the power-play while Derek Forbort and Justin Faulk will be expected to play key shut-down roles for the team.
Team USA’s offensive squad arguably has the most experience out of any other offence in the tournament. The Americans offensive squad includes three players that are currently playing in the American Hockey League, with Jerry D’Amigo, Kyle Palmieri and Jeremy Morin. They also have three other returnees in Ryan Bourque, Jason Zucker and Chris Kreider.
Ottawa Senator prospect Robin Lehner will guard the net for team Sweden. Lehner currently plays for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. The 46th pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, is looked upon as the future goalie of the Ottawa Senators.
On defence, team Sweden will be led by highly regarded prospect Adam Larsson. Larsson is a mobile defensemen, that’s been compared to fellow Swede Victor Hedman on several occasions. The 6’2”, 209 pound defensemen was recently rated 1st amongst European skaters in the 2011 entry draft, according to Central Scouting.
With Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson playing for the Edmonton Oilers, Sweden will have to look to another youngster to lead the team. High-end prospect Gabriel Landeskog could be that forward. The 6’0”, 201 pound forward has been on fire with the Kitchener Rangers this year. Landeskog is currently 11th in the OHL in points, with 25 goals and 20 assists, combining for 45 points in 32 games.
Head coach Dave Cameron has preached that Canada will be going into the tournament with a “crash and bang” team.
Like most years, it’s uncertain who Canada’s starting goaltender will be. Both Olivier Roy and Mark Visentin are capable of carrying the team in the tournament. Mark Visentin has been an elite goaltender with the Niagara Ice Dogs, maintaining a .921 save percentage and a 2.30 goals against average. Olivier Roy has been looked upon as the favourite for the starting position. The poised goaltender brings an impressive resume to the team, with four years of Quebec Major Junior League experience, as well as some American Hockey League experience under his belt.
Canada’s defensive squad includes 3 returnees with Ryan Ellis, Calvin de Haan and Jared Cowen. Ryan Ellis and Calvin de Haan will be looked upon to quarterback the power-play, while Jared Cowen will be looked upon to play a key shut-down role. Besides the three returnees, youngster Erik Grudbranson and Dylan Olsen will be looked upon to take on key roles. Florida Panthers prospect Erik Grudbranson is a versatile player that you can expect to see on both the power-play and penalty-kill. While Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dylan Olsen is a player expected to play a key shut-down role for team Canada.
Canada’s offensive squad emanates the “crash and bang” mentality that head coach Dave Cameron has preached. Down the middle Canada will rely on Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Ryan Johansen for goals. All three players are high-end prospects, that play a physical game with a scoring touch. On the wing, Canada will look to Jaden Schwartz, Louis Leblanc, Marcus Folingo and Brett Connolly to lead the way. Jaden Schwartz is a player expected to step up for team Canada. The product of Wilcox, Saskatchewan has been a force with Colorado College this season, putting up 11 goals and 15 assists, combining for 26 points in 17 games.
Whether it comes down to a lucky bounce or an undisciplined penalty the three horse race in the 2011 World Junior tournament will be a close race right to the final minute of the gold medal game.