With the NHL’s roster freeze in effect and the 2019 Winter Classic around the corner, there is one other spectacle that will attract hockey fans from around the world. The 2019 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Vancouver, BC will showcase the world’s best players under 20 years old. Last year, Canada took home gold and will be looking for their first back-to-back WJC title since they won five straight from 2005 to 2009.
The biggest attraction of this year’s WJC is that the next two likely number one overall picks will be showcased for the world to see. Jack Hughes, a 17-year-old from the United States and not to be confused with older brother Quinn Hughes who was drafted seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks, is the consensus top pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
As far as the 2020 Draft is concerned, Alexis Lafreniere from Canada is already being touted as the most sought-after prospect since Connor McDavid. Lafreniere currently has 54 points in 31 games for the Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
While there are other exciting prospects to watch in the tournament, it will once again be a slow year for Pittsburgh Penguins fans as this year there is only one Penguins prospect in the tournament. Considering the Penguins have traded away many first and second round picks, it isn’t too surprising that they are poorly represented in the WJC, but there is one prospect who is in for a big role in this year’s tournament, Swedish forward Filip Hallander.
Filip Hallander Will Try to Lead Swedes to Medal
Coming off of a silver medal from last year, Hallander will look to add offensive depth to a Swedish team poised to make another run at the podium. The Penguins traded up in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to select him 58th overall. In July 2018, the Penguins announced that they had signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.
The 6-foot-1 center currently plays on the top line for Timra IK in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) where he has 12 points in 23 games this season and has drawn comparisons to St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen.
Hallander has adjusted his game well to the SHL and has earned the praises of Timra IK’s head coach Fredrik Andersson. From Kaitlyn Dividock of SB Nation Pensburgh:
“I had high expectations for him,” Andersson said, “but I think it has been a really good start for him this season. He works really hard, and has the speed to create great chances. On the counterattack and on the forecheck, he wins the puck. He battles hard. He gets position for scoring chances. He’s played really well for us so far.”
A bigger bodied forward, Hallander has quickly learned to use his size to his advantage by driving pucks wide on the rush. He doesn’t have great top-end speed, but enough to get himself to the right spots on the ice and earn himself plenty of opportunities near the goal mouth.
No stranger to international play, he helped Sweden win a bronze medal at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup last summer when he registered three goals and one assist in five games. Two seasons ago, he won a gold medal with Sweden at the World Hockey Challenge.
Hallander off to a Slow Start for Sweden
Right off the bat, Sweden’s forwards had a lot to make up for without Elias Pettersson, Alexander Nylander and Lias Andersson, all of whom were a part of the Swedes’ silver medal run last year. As a team, Sweden is off to a hot start in this year’s WJC as they defeated their European rival, Finland, by a 2-1 score on Dec. 26, followed by a 5-2 victory over Slovakia the next night. The road won’t get any easier, as Sweden faces the United States on Dec. 29 and then finish the pool portion of the tournament with Kazakhstan on Dec. 30.
While the team as a whole has looked solid, Penguins fans won’t be happy to know that Hallander has been pretty much unnoticeable through the first two games. He has yet to register a point and currently has two penalty minutes and a minus-one rating. It’s only a matter of time before he finds his game in his first WJC, and Penguins fans would like to see him get a bit more ice time, especially on the power play where he can show off his Patric Hornqvist-like net front presence.
If Sweden wants to make another deep run in the tournament, Hallander will need to show some improvement, and as the only Penguins prospect in the field, there will be plenty of eyes in Western Pennsylvania hoping he does just that.