With the preliminary roster announcements for the World Junior Championships being made, we’ll take a look at some of the top players to watch for during the tournament taking place December 26, 2013-January 5, 2014 in Malmö, Sweden. We’ll begin with the talent-heavy Team Canada roster.
Jonathan DrouinBarring any setbacks from an injury sustained from a QMJHL game in which he was hit from behind by fellow Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Adam Erne, Jonathan Drouin is expected to lead the way for Canada and is a pre-tournament favorite for MVP. As the video below shows, Drouin has quite possibly the best hands of any player who will be participating in Malmö.
The third-overall pick of the Lightning holds Canada’s hopes in his hands. This dynamic player has game breaking talents and can completely change momentum in a single shift. Coming off of a 105-point season (in just 49 games) with the Halifax Mooseheads, he’ll be a big contributor offensively for Team Canada.
Like Drouin, Griffin Reinhart comes into the tournament with previous World Junior experience from the year before. First and foremost, the defenseman will have to sit out the first three games as he serves the remainder of a four-game suspension handed down by the International Ice Hockey Federation for high-sticking U.S. forward Vince Trocheck in last year’s semifinal.
Reinhart is a big, physical defenseman who plays a sound game. He can also contribute offensively, typically making a strong breakout pass to start the rush. The New York Islanders fourth-overall pick in 2012 has the ability to eat a lot of minutes on the blue line, so his absence will be felt through the early preliminary games.
Aaron Ekblad will be one of the players who will have to fill the void while Reinhart is ineligible. The defenseman is one of the top prospects heading into the 2014 NHL Draft. At this point, he’s considered a near lock to be selected in the top five.
Ekblad is a true two-way defenseman and can make things happen in all three zones of the ice. Given his hockey sense and ability to pass the puck, look for him to quarterback Team Canada’s power play unit. Even though he’ll be 17 when the tournament begins, don’t look for him to be rattled by the big stage. He’s got tremendous poise and confidence.
Sam Reinhart will join his older sibling Griffin to become the third Canadian brother pairing at World Juniors. The forward could very well be the first-overall pick in the 2014 draft. Although he’s a natural center, he’ll move over and play the right wing in the tournament because of Canada’s depth in the middle.
During the selection process Hockey Canada management made a concerted effort to select players with a high hockey IQ. That trend continues with Sam Reinhart. In addition to his intelligence and instincts, he possesses great vision and a good set of hands. As shown by his willingness to move to the wing, the Kootenay Ice forward is a true team player and will do anything to win. For both Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad the World Juniors will provide the stage to solidify their place at the top of the draft.
This list would not be complete without the one some are calling the “next Crosby.” Connor McDavid has for a longtime been penciled in as the first-overall pick of the 2015 draft. Although the world is anxiously awaiting to see the prospect, McDavid is far from a lock to make this team. Because of his late birth year (1997) and Canada’s aforementioned depth at the center position, McDavid may have to pay his dues before making the squad.
One reason why McDavid has garnered so much attention is because of his ability to make those around him better players: a true sign of a great talent. While McDavid currently finds himself sixth in scoring in the OHL, the success of his linemates has been the real story. Connor Brown leads the league in points, while Dane Fox is the top goal scorer.
Other players to keep an eye on: Defenseman Matt Dumba, forward Bo Horvat, forward Hunter Shinkaruk and goaltender Zach Fucale.
As we inch closer to the World Junior Championships, stayed tuned here and follow me on Twitter to stay up to date. I’ll be on the ground in Malmö for the duration of the tournament providing all of the latest news.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.