2020 World Juniors: Award Contenders

At the World Juniors — in a short tournament setting — team performance and individual awards often go hand in hand.

So when it comes to predicting the Top Forward, Top Defenceman, Top Goaltender, Top Scorer, Most Valuable Player and All-Stars, the team results have to be taken into account. That means referencing the medal predictions from my 10 Things to Watch article.

With the tournament starting today, I will highlight the potential contenders for those awards and also share insight on breakout candidates and sleeper prospects to watch over the next two weeks.

Top Forward

There are upwards of 30 candidates for this award — counting five from each of the big five nations — so the process of elimination can narrow the field by ranking them from most to least likely.

United States: Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, Oliver Wahlstrom, Nick Robertson, Arthur Kaliyev

Russia: Grigori Denisenko, Vasily Podkolzin, Kirill Marchenko, Ivan Morozov, Alexander Khovanov

Canada: Alexis Lafreniere, Barrett Hayton, Joe Veleno, Connor McMichael, Quinton Byfield

Finland: Rasmus Kupari, Matias Maccelli, Sampo Ranta, Patrik Puistola, Aatu Raty

Sweden: David Gustafsson, Nils Hoglander, Samuel Fagemo, Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz

The winner will almost certainly come from that list of 25 — most likely one of those leading names — but should one of the other five countries stage an upset and go on a run in the medal round, it would presumably be thanks to these forwards.

Czech Republic: Jakub Lauko, Jan Jenik

Germany: Tim Stutzle, Dominik Bokk

Slovakia: Maxim Cajkovic

Switzerland: Valentin Nussbaumer

So many quality candidates, but there can only be one winner . . .

PREDICTION: Cole Caufield, United States

Cole Caufield Canadiens Draft
Cole Caufield is already making the Montreal Canadiens look good for stopping his slide at 15th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. He scored four goals for the U.S. in a pre-tournament game against Germany and that should be a sign of things to come at the World Juniors.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Top Defenceman

There are a dozen realistic candidates — including last year’s award winner from the 2019 tournament — but these 21 defenders could all play their way into the conversation.

United States: Cam York, K’Andre Miller, Jordan Harris, Zac Jones

Russia: Alexander Romanov, Daniil Zhuravlyov

Canada: Ty Smith, Bowen Byram, Calen Addison, Jamie Drysdale, Jacob Bernard-Docker

Finland: Lassi Thomson, Ville Heinola, Santeri Hatakka, Anttoni Honka

Sweden: Rasmus Sandin, Victor Soderstrom, Philip Broberg, Tobias Bjornfot, Nils Lundkvist

Germany: Moritz Seider

Sure, there are other long-shots like Tim Berni from Switzerland and Martin Has from the host Czechs that deserve shout-outs, but the winner should come from that group.

PREDICTION: Alexander Romanov, Russia

Alexander Romanov Team Russia
Russia’s Alexander Romanov could repeat as the top defenceman, having won this award in Vancouver. That would be quite the feat for the Montreal Canadiens second-rounder from 2018. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Top Goaltender

The starting goaltenders have been declared for the most part, though that is always subject to change with one poor performance in this type of tournament.

The favourites for this award are also well known, but there are often surprises at this position, so here are 15 candidates from the outset.

United States: Spencer Knight

Russia: Yaroslav Askarov, Amir Miftakhov

Canada: Nico Daws, Joel Hofer

Finland: Justus Annunen

Sweden: Hugo Alnefelt, Erik Portillo, Jesper Eliasson

Czech Republic: Lukas Dostal

Slovakia: Samuel Hlavaj

Switzerland: Luca Hollenstein, Akira Schmid

Germany: Hendrik Hane

Kazakhstan: Vladislav Nurek

From that list, the top five prior to puck-drop are Knight, Askarov assuming he emerges as Russia’s starter, Annunen, Dostal and Alnefelt if he is able to secure the Swedish crease. Canada’s goaltending is a question mark right now, but Daws or Hofer could also rise to the occasion in contending for this award.

And the winner is . . .

PREDICTION: Spencer Knight, United States

Spencer Knight of the U.S. National Development Program
Spencer Knight has shone for Team USA at the under-18 level and will now step into the spotlight on the under-20 stage.
(Hickling Images)

Top Scorer

This award goes to the top point-getter — not the top goal-scorer, with Caufield the leading candidate for that category — and it will be going to a forward as per usual.

Many of the candidates for the top forward will be in contention again here, but the winner will cement his status as the top draft prospect for 2020.

PREDICTION: Alexis Lafreniere, Canada

Rimouski Oceanic Alexis Lafreniere
Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere, of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic, enters the World Juniors as the favourite to go first overall in 2020 and he’ll be fending off a few challengers during this showcase. (Vincent Ethier/CHL)

Most Valuable Player

The tournament MVP doesn’t always come from the champion team — Ryan Poehling won this award as a silver medallist in 2019 — but I foresee a coin flip between two players from my gold-medallist Americans in 2020. Those being Knight and Caufield.

Drum roll . . .

PREDICTION: Cole Caufield, United States

All-Star Team

The WJC All-Star Team is typically comprised of players from the medal winners and the 2020 edition will be no exception — well, with one exception.

Goaltender: Spencer Knight, United States

Defencemen: Alexander Romanov, Russia; Moritz Seider, Germany

Forwards: Cole Caufield, United States; Grigori Denisenko, Russia; Alexis Lafreniere, Canada

That team features two players from my gold country (United States), two from my silver country (Russia) and one from my bronze country (Canada). Seider is the lone exception as a stud from an also-ran country (Germany).

Moritz Seider Red Wings Draft
Moritz Seider will be all smiles if he makes the All-Star Team and especially if Germany makes it to the playoff round or avoids relegation in their return to the World Juniors. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Well, what do you think of my award predictions? Who do you foresee as the tournament all-stars?