Throughout the years of the World Junior Hockey Championship, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had great success in regards to prospects attending the tournament. Frederik Gauthier, Jeremy Bracco and Joseph Woll all have gold medals, while fans got a real treat watching Rasmus Sandin last year who was a stand out for Team Sweden.
This year, the Blue and White will be well represented again with a few of their top prospects attending the tournament. Like the players above, there’s no doubt that the Maple Leafs prospects will be extremely successful at this year’s tournament. Here are the players to watch out for at the World Junior Championship if you are a Maple Leafs fan.
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Marlies (Sweden)
It comes as no surprise that everyone in Leafs Nation is quite familiar with the play of Sandin. With weeks of speculation of whether the Maple Leafs would loan him for the tournament, the announcement was officially made on Dec. 15.
With a lot of mobility and skill already on the blue line, this should be Sweden’s strength heading into the tournament. With that in mind, Sandin will definitely be relied on to be a top-pairing defenseman and leader for Team Sweden. He had a great tournament last year, recording two goals and two assists in Vancouver and Victoria. His patience and vision is what captivates many fans.
Sandin made a strong first impression with the Maple Leafs at the start of the season. While there were moments where his rookie side started showing, the transition to the NHL level didn’t really seem to hinder him. However, after recording two assists and averaging 12:13 of ice time, he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. While he made the most of his opportunity, the team thought it was best to give him a more important role on the Marlies.
The demotion seemed to be what he needed. Since being sent down, Sandin has been earning top minutes with the Marlies in 19 games this year. The offensive production is there as well as Sandin has produced 10 assists and 12 points.
The Maple Leafs’ first-round pick in 2018 will be taking on more of an important role with Sweden this year, being a returnee on their blue line along with Philip Broberg (Skelleftea AIK), Nils Lundkvist (Lulea HF) and Adam Ginning (Linkoping HC). Like his time with the Marlies, Sandin will look to make an impact being on the top pair for Sweden. Now he will be able to bring that strong two-way play to Sweden’s roster.
Nick Robertson, Peterborough Petes (USA)
The Maple Leafs’ 53rd overall pick from the 2019 draft was off to a great start for the Peterborough Petes. Playing alongside playmaker and fellow Maple Leafs prospect Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Robertson was a top scorer in the Ontario Hockey League before he missed a month due to a broken finger. (from ‘Peterborough Petes lose Nick Robertson to broken finger,’ Peterborough Examiner, 11/08/2019)
Before he went down with the injury, the Petes’ sniper had notched 19 goals and 28 points in 17 games, a 1.65 points per game average and a 1.12 goals per game average. Despite the loss of time, Robertson didn’t show any signs of rust. Upon his return, he recorded four goals and three assists in five games. What’s more impressive is that he’s still fifth in goals in the OHL, including this nice goal where he’s able to locate his own rebound on a bad angle.
This is a good sign for the Americans, as he will be relied on heavily on what is already an impressive group of forwards. He will be given the opportunity to play in a top-six role, which benefits his offensive play-style. Even though he’s known for being a goal scorer, he also has a knack for providing strong two-way play and a keen ability to locate and fight for the puck.
A prime example of this is this goal during the World Junior Summer Showcase.
Robertson is able to force the Swedish defender into turning the puck over. He is then able to break free with his speed and finishes it off with a nice deke to bury the loose puck. His ability to be aggressive on the forecheck and maintaining puck possession is what’s going to make Team USA a threat at this year’s tournament.
Mikko Kokkonen, Jukurit (Finland)
While Kokkonen might be somewhat of an unknown for most Maple Leafs fans, he’s an interesting name for Finland. Especially since it’s difficult for most people to watch games from Finland, this will be the chance for all to see him in action.
Kokkonen impressed in his first year for Jukurit, putting up 19 points in 56 games. That’s a pretty good offensive output for his first season playing alongside men.
Even though the Maple Leafs have been focusing on skill and puck possession, Kokkonen is more known for his defensive game. His smarts and positioning are what caught the Maple Leafs’ eye while they already have an abundance of skill. In addition, his play might benefit that of Team Finland at this year’s tournament, which will provide a great balance in both skill and smarts.
With names like Anttoni Honka and Ville Heinola who can provide the offensive presence, Kokkonen will look to bring his steady defensive play in a depth role. He’s no stranger to representing his country at the international level, winning gold at the U-18 World Junior Championship team in 2018. This might be a really good step for the Mikkeli, Finland native as he looks to continue to improve his game and become a top-four defender at the professional level. If that’s his goal, then he’ll be able to use this as a great experience in his development.
With the smarts and vision from Sandin and Kokkonen and the high-end skill of Robertson, there’s definitely no shortage of talent that’ll represent the Maple Leafs at the World Junior Championship.