The World Juniors have served as a coming-out party and a career launchpad for several prospects over the years.
That includes players drafted outside the first round, players passed over in previous drafts, and players eligible for upcoming drafts. All of whom were flying under the radar to some degree entering this tournament.
Here are the breakout candidates for each of the 10 countries in 2020:
Assuming everybody knows about Nick Robertson and Arthur Kaliyev — and their potential to once again be a dynamic duo for the Americans as first-round talents taken in the second round — I’ll shine the spotlight on two other 2019 second-round forwards in Shane Pinto and Bobby Brink. This is a very young but very good Team USA and they could play a big part in winning this tournament.
On defence, third-rounders Jordan Harris and Zac Jones are both trending up as puck-movers with mobility. Jones can quarterback a power play too, but Cam York will likely get that role.
Daniil Zhuravlyov and Kirill Marchenko are the two that stand out for me. Zhuravlyov is a complete defender displaying offensive upside in the KHL that Colorado stole in the fifth round in 2018, while Marchenko is a Columbus second-rounder from the same draft who is becoming a scoring machine with all kinds of finishing ability.
Look for fellow forwards Ivan Morozov, Alexander Khovanov and Pavel Dorofeyev to also outperform their draft positions, while Egor Zamula and Egor Sokolov prove they were draft worthy. Zamula has since been signed as a free agent by Philadelphia, but Sokolov will be going through the draft for a third time after twice getting overlooked.
Calen Addison is getting a prominent role on Canada’s power play, so he could turn a lot of heads. As could Jacob Bernard-Docker, who was a first-rounder in 2018 but is not yet a household name as a Canadian kid going the college route.
Up front, Akil Thomas and Aidan Dudas will try to make the Los Angeles Kings look good for taking them in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Raphael Lavoie slipped to Edmonton in the second round of this year’s draft and he’ll be looking to show why most had him projected for the first round.
Nico Daws and Joel Hofer will also be hoping to make a good name for themselves in goal, both entering the tournament relatively unheralded in the hockey world.
Matias Maccelli, Sampo Ranta and Patrik Puistola are three forwards that could take off in this tourney. Their stock is already on the rise, but they could really light it up for Finland.
Justus Annunen could achieve elite goalie prospect status by backstopping Finland to a medal, while Santeri Hatakka and Anttoni Honka could exceed expectations on defence. Hatakka already did that at the Four Nations Tournament in November, earning top defenceman honours there.
Nils Hoglander and Karl Henriksson could play key roles up front, with Albin Eriksson, Nikola Pasic and Jonatan Berggren among the lesser-known forwards that could open some eyes.
Captain Adam Ginning will have an anchoring role on defence and Mattias Norlinder could make the most of his minutes as the projected seventh defender.
Jakub Lauko and Jan Jenik aren’t getting enough hype as third-rounders but could be touted as top prospects by tournament’s end. They will lead the Czech offence, with help from Matej Pekar and Michal Teply, while Matej Blumel and Karel Plasek could come away looking like later-round steals.
Martin Hugo Has will be in the spotlight on defence, while undrafted Libor Zabransky has performed well in age-group tournaments and previously captained the Czechs.
Justin Schutz is an unheralded Florida draft pick — a sixth-rounder — that will be playing a top-six role and also getting time on the top power-play unit. Nino Kinder, Taro Jentzsch and Tim Fleischer could also shine as undrafted forwards.
John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel are first-time eligibles that could be pushing for the first round with impressive performances on this stage.
Hendrik Hane will have his work cut out for him in goal, but that means plenty of opportunity to be a standout.
Oliver Okuliar is in the midst of a breakout campaign in the WHL, leaving for the World Juniors as one of that league’s leading goal-scorers — to much surprise after being twice passed over in the NHL draft. The third time should be the charm for him, especially with a strong showing here.
Fellow WHLer Martin Fasko-Rudas could carve out a decent role for the Slovaks, while Michal Mrazik might emerge as another offensive weapon. On defence, Marcel Dlugos and Martin Bucko have caught my eye at other international tournaments despite going undrafted.
Valentin Nussbaumer is much better than a seventh-rounder and should look closer to a first-round talent in this tourney. Ditto for sixth-rounder Tim Berni, who also turned his share of heads at the 2019 tournament and has a little Roman Josi in his game.
Switzerland has a good returning group, which also includes Nico Gross, Janis Moser and David Aebischer on defence, plus NCAA forward Matthew Verboon, who will be thrust into a bigger role this time around. Gross was a fourth-rounder for the Rangers, but the other three went undrafted and will be attempting to win over the scouts for 2020.
Two more undrafted forwards to watch are Kyen Sopa and Gian-Marco Wetter, who could chip in offensively as newcomers to the World Juniors.
The Kazakhstan mentions have been few and far between in this preview series, but Oleg Boiko and Maxim Musorov are intriguing forwards that should drive the offence for this overmatched team. If Kazakhstan wins a game — in the preliminary round or the relegation round — they will likely have a hand in that victory.
These sleepers are all draft eligible — be it first-timers or overagers — but aren’t expected to be selected in the first round as of today.
If the draft were held tomorrow, they wouldn’t crack the top 31, but some of them could be knocking on that door following this tournament should they excel on the international stage. Others are just hoping to catch the eye of scouts and play their way onto the radar for the later rounds.
Here are the sleeper prospects for each of the 10 countries in 2020:
Parker Ford was passed over in 2019 — the lone undrafted player on Team USA — but the attacking forward is producing as a college freshman and could be one of the top overagers for 2020. This tournament could certainly be a coming-out party for him too.
Maxim Groshev will likely have a limited role for Russia, but the budding power forward is trending towards being a top-100 pick and it is quite the accomplishment to be representing Russia as a first-time eligible since Valeri Bragin typically brings an older team to the World Juniors.
As for the Russian overagers, forwards Nikita Rtishchev and Egor Sokolov, defenceman Danila Galenyuk and goaltender Amir Miftakhov all fit the bill as sleepers for the time being. Sokolov has become a known commodity among junior hockey followers in North America as one of the top goal-scorers in the QMJHL, but he is still a foreign name to the average NHL fan who might be tuning in to this tournament.
Nico Daws has broke out in the OHL — he has arguably been the best goaltender in that league to date this season, thus earning an unexpected spot on Canada’s roster — but this is a chance to help solidify his draft stock. Or, conversely, to hinder his soaring stock to a certain extent.
Some scouts already see Daws as a second-rounder and one of the top overagers for 2020, but others are taking a wait-and-see approach — putting a fair bit of weight on his performance in this tournament. In the big picture, he’s still a sleeper outside of Ontario.
Dawson Mercer has done enough through the first half of the QMJHL season to be considered a consensus first-rounder entering this tournament, but he could crack the top 15 by climbing Canada’s depth chart and chipping in offensively.
The undrafted forward trio of Kristian Tanus, Joonas Oden and Eemil Erholtz could factor into the offence and be factors in Finland’s title defence and potential to medal again. Tanus, in particular, has the talent to be a catalyst and has established chemistry with the aforementioned Puistola.
Peetro Seppala is another sleeper of sorts — having twice gone undrafted — but he is projected to serve as the seventh defenceman with little opportunity in this tournament.
Sweden has two undrafted forwards named Linus — last names Nassen and Oberg — and also a second Gustafsson in Hugo, who is much smaller in stature and status than the second-rounder David. I honestly don’t know what to expect from those three overagers — Hugo Gustafsson, Linus Nassen and Linus Oberg — but I’ll be sure to give them a good look.
The host Czechs are loaded with first-time eligibles, including forwards Jan Mysak, Jaromir Pytlik and Adam Raska, plus defencemen Simon Kubicek, Radek Kucerik and Karel Klikorka. Goaltender Nick Malik also made the roster as the third-stringer but isn’t expected to get any playing time.
Scouts will be watching this team closely with an eye on the 2020 draft — to see how those six prospects fare against older competition. The Czechs are young but should be competitive with the home crowd cheering them on.
John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel aren’t really sleepers in the eyes of draft enthusiasts — and Tim Stutzle certainly isn’t, as a potential top-five pick — but they are ranked outside the first round for the most part. I have them as second-rounders but could see either or both cracking the top 31 by starring at the World Juniors.
Germany has real sleepers among their overagers in Nino Kinder, Taro Jentzsch, Tim Fleischer and Yannik Valenti. I have also heard good things about Jan Nijenhuis as another overager, so I’m looking forward to watching him as well.
Unfortunately, Maximilian Glotzl and Simon Gnyp were controversial cuts on defence. Both are on the radar for 2020 — Glotzl as a first-time eligible and Gnyp as an overager — but this showcase could have boosted their stock.
Samuel Knazko, who is developing in Finland, and Marko Stacha made the cut for the Slovaks as first-time eligibles on defence. Knazko is a mobile puck-mover capable of running their power play, while Stacha is more of a stay-at-home type who posted an impressive plus-5 rating over four games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer.
Shockingly, the Slovaks cut first-round candidate Martin Chromiak, who is one of the youngest prospects in the 2020 draft class but seemingly could have been a top-six forward as a 17-year-old in this primarily 19-year-old tournament.
Those five overagers mentioned as breakout candidates — Okuliar, Fasko-Rudas, Mrazik, Dlugos and Bucko — are also sleepers heading into the World Juniors.
There is some overlap for Switzerland as well — with Moser, Aebischer, Verboon, Sopa and Wetter meeting the sleeper criteria — but the first-time eligible of note is forward Simon Knak. He has made a smooth transition to North America in getting off to a productive start with WHL Portland and will now try to make an impact for his national team. Knak is a top-100 candidate for 2020 and could be a riser coming out of this tournament.
Artyom Korolyov is a first-time eligible defenceman — born just five days after the cutoff for the 2019 draft class — and it sounds like he should have a fairly significant role for Kazakhstan. This tournament will be a big challenge for him and his teammates, but it is also a big opportunity for Korolyov to get the scouts’ attention. Likewise for the overagers like Boiko and Musorov.
Well, what do you think of my breakout candidates and sleeper prospects? Did I miss anybody that we should be keeping an eye on?
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.