The Washington Capitals will be well- represented in the world’s most prestigious junior hockey tournament: the IIHF U20 World Championship, otherwise known as the World Juniors. The Capitals will have five prospects participating in the tournament, representing four different countries.
First, there is Cody Eakin. He was drafted in 2008 in the third round with the 85th overall pick. Captain of the Swift Current Broncos, Eakin would likely be playing for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League if not for his age (he does not meet the minimum age required to play in the league). He was part of the last round of cuts for last year’s team, and his feisty play has finally caught Canada’s attention. He was also one of the final cuts for the Capitals’ opening night roster, and this tournament should be a good measuring stick for where he is developmentally.
Eakin and Team Canada will take on Team Russia first, who boasts two Capitals prospects in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. Kuznetsov, a center, was taken in the first round of the 2010 draft, 26th overall. Last year, he participated in both the U18 tournament and the U20 tournament. In the U20 tournament, he scored two goals and was a +1 with 10 PIMS in six games. Russia would go on to finish sixth. In the U18 tournament, Kuznetsov captained the Russian team. In seven games, he scored five goals with seven assists and was a +8 with six PIMs, helping Russia to a fourth place finish. He is currently playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL in Russia. He is known as a smooth skater with smoother hands, and just may eventually be the Capitals’ answer to their second-line center problem.
Orlov will be representing Washington on the backend. Orlov was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, 55th overall. Known as a puck-moving defenseman, Orlov played in the 2009 U-18 tournament with two goals, two assists, six PIMS and was a +7 through seven games. That Russian team earned a silver medal, losing to USA in the gold medal game. He was also part of last year’s U-20 team with Kuznetsov, where he recorded four assists. He currently plays for Kovokuznetsk Metallurg of the KHL in addition to playing for Kuznetsk’s junior team, where he has found more success. He plans to come to North America once his contract expires in the KHL. Orlov is an offensive defenseman who likes to push the play whenever possible.
The Capitals will be represented on the defending Gold Medal-winning American team by Patrick Wey. While the Boston College defenseman had a rocky year last year off the ice with an alcohol-related incident, he is a rare physical player who also has the skating ability and hands to possibly make it in the pros. He was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, 115th overall. He is currently a sophomore with the Eagles, who won the NCAA national championship last season. Wey will try to help team USA to their second consecutive WJC gold medal.
The final member of the Caps’ organization in the tournament is goaltender Philipp Grubauer of team Germany. Taken in the fourth round (112th overall) of the 2010 draft, Grubauer back-stopped the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires last season. In the OHL playoffs, he went 18-2 with two shutouts, a 2.69 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Last year, he played in the U-20 1B tournament with Germany, going 5-0. That result is what elevated Germany to this year’s World Junior Tournament. The 19-year-old is playing this season with Kingston. He is a large, technically sound goaltender, but he will have to wait his turn while other young netminders in the organization like Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby, get their shots at the pros.
Those are the five Capitals prospects who will be participating in the 2011 World Junior Championships. We likely won’t get a good look at Grubauer because of the lack of talent on team Germany, but the tournament will be a good measuring stick for Eakin, Kuznetsov, Orlov, and Wey. The most epic, international journey in junior hockey begins tomorrow, and we will see then who has improved.