The end of December brings great things. The holiday season, the promise of a new year, and for hockey fans, two of the most exciting weeks of the year: the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) U-20 World Junior Championship.
The all-teenager tournament has become a holiday season staple for hockey fans eager to get a taste of the next wave of talent making its way toward the NHL. (Want to feel old? This year’s tournament is the first to feature players born exclusively after 2000.)
Three Bruins prospects will be featured in this year’s tournament – John Beecher and Curtis Hall of Team USA, and Jakub Lauko of the host-nation, the Czech Republic. Here’s a look at what each player brings to the table.
John Beecher, Forward, United States
Beecher is the youngest Bruins prospect participating in this year’s tournament. He’s also the highest draft pick featured for Boston after being selected 30th overall by the Bruins in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The Elmira, New York native is off to an impressive start to his freshman season at the University of Michigan. He leads the Wolverines with five goals in 16 games and has added four assists for a total of nine points, despite missing a pair of games due to injury.
Beecher and his and fellow American/Bruins prospect Hall are both forwards with considerable size. In fact, the two are the tallest forwards on the American roster. Both stand at 6-foot-3, with Beecher (209 pounds) outweighing Hall (196 pounds).
Beecher, who can play on the wing and at center, tallied one assist in Team USA’s 6-4 pre-tournament win over Sweden. He’s a smart player who makes good use of his size on both ends of the ice. And while he isn’t the flashiest player out there, he combines his hockey-IQ with his size for dependable two-way play. Additionally, Bruins fans who miss the “Big Bad Bruins” style of hockey will likely enjoy the physicality in his game.
Beecher has previously represented the United States twice on the international stage. He earned a Bronze Medal with Team USA at the 2019 U-18 Championship, as well as first place with the US at the 2017 U-17 World Hockey Challenge.
While he still needs quite a bit of development before he’ll be in Black and Gold, the upcoming tournament should be a good test for the Bruins’ most recent first-round pick.
Curtis Hall, Forward, United States
Hall, a sophomore at Yale University, was drafted by the Bruins with the 119th overall pick (fourth round) of the 2018 draft. His father, Mike Hall, actually had a brief history with the Bruins organization – he played six years of professional hockey that included a short stint with Boston’s AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, during the 2000-01 season.
Boston’s fourth-rounder recorded 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 24 games during his freshman season, but has already surpassed last season’s goal total. He leads Yale with six goals in the Bulldogs’ first nine games this season, with one assist as gravy on top. Like Beecher, Hall has also missed a couple of games this season because of injury.
Hall did get on the scoresheet in the United States’ first pre-tournament game against Sweden, burying a wrist shot from the high slot to begin a comeback victory against the Swedes. He also potted one goal in five games for Team USA at this year’s Summer Showcase.
The United States will look to reach the podium for the fifth tournament in a row, coming off of a silver medal performance at last year’s tournament.
Jakub Lauko, Forward, Czech Republic
Lauko, who’s in the midst of his first season with the P-Bruins, was a question mark to participate in this year’s tournament after suffering a scary injury a few weeks ago that resulted in him being stretchered off the ice. Fortunately, the 77th-overall pick from 2018 has recovered from the incident and was cleared to play – which is especially sweet considering the tournament is being held in his home country.
The 6-foot, 170-pound forward was one of the Bruins’ more anticipated prospects heading into this season after an impressive preseason performance with Boston. As a teenager, the Bruins could’ve assigned Lauko back to Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (where he helped lead the Huskies to a Memorial Cup Championship last season), but opted to keep him in Providence to continue his development.
The injury has limited Lauko to just 18 games, during which he’s tallied four goals and four assists with Boston’s AHL affiliate. But having recently returned from injury, the tournament back at home offers Lauko an opportunity to find his game once again before returning to the P-Bruins.
His biggest asset is his lightning-quick speed, which he showed off with a nasty goal against the Flyers during the preseason.
In addition to his speed, Lauko offers promising talent in the offensive zone and has demonstrated a knack for finding the back of the net. He can play at the center position but generally lines up on the wing.
This year’s tournament marks the 19-year-old’s third appearance at the U-20 World Junior Championship. He’s tallied three points in 11 games over the past two U-20 Championships, although he’s totaled 11 points in 24 career games with the Czech Republic U-20 squad across all competitions. He’ll be one of the most-watched players for the Czechs this time around given his experience and ability.
The tournament kicks off on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, with Lauko and the Czech Republic taking on Russia in Group B’s opening game. Beecher, Hall, and the United States will open the tournament against rival-Canada the same day. All three Bruins prospects will also be on display together on December 30, when the United States and the Czech Republic square off.
All the 2020 World Junior Championship Team Information:
*Links to come throughout December
Czech Republic — Team Preview — Roster
Germany — Team Preview — Roster
Kazakhstan — Team Preview — Roster
Russia — Team Preview — Roster
Slovakia — Team Preview — Roster
USA — Team Preview — Roster
Roster Breakdowns by NHL Team