Nothing says it’s the most wonderful time of the year like the World Junior Hockey Championships (right?). With the tournament beginning on Boxing Day in Helsinki, Finland, Vancouver will have prospects representing two countries. Abbotsford, B.C. native Jake Virtanen headlines the Canadian team at this years World Juniors, and the first round pick from 2014 will be joined by the Canucks’ 2015 first rounder Brock Boeser (United States) as Vancouver’s prospects at the tournament.
Here’s a preview of these prospects, and what should be expected at the World Juniors.
Jake Virtanen – Right Wing, Canada
Virtanen was loaned by the Canucks team, a decision made to allow him a chance to get more playing time. The rookie forward has one goal and four points through his first 19 NHL games, and is averaging 9:50 in ice time.
For the 19 year-old Virtanen, who has duel-citizenship in Finland, it should be even more of a special opportunity to represent Canada for the second consecutive year at the tournament. And he likely will be relied on heavily, on a line with fellow 2014 draft picks Brendan Perlini (12th overall) and Brayden Point (79th overall). This trio will likely be the top line for a Canadian team that will hope to repeat as gold medalists.
And for Virtanen, one of four returning players and the only player on Team Canada with NHL experience, the big power forward will take on a major leadership role on the team. The big power forward has had limited opportunities in the NHL this season to show his abilities with the puck, and hopefully his two goal performance in Canada’s exhibition game against Sweden on Wednesday was a sign of things to come.
Brock Boeser – Right Wing, United States
Just behind Virtanen on the Canucks radar is Boeser, the 23rd overall pick to Vancouver at the 2015 NHL draft. Boeser has had a dominant season with the University of North Dakota, helping the team to a 16-2-2 record on the year. The 18 year-old has been an elite producer, with 13 goals, 21 points and a plus-22 rating in 20 games.
Brock Boeser is the first UND freshman to score 13 goals before Christmas since Zach Parise did it in 2002-03.
— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) December 13, 2015
Boeser will get his first crack at the World Juniors in this year’s tournament, on a U.S. team headlined by top prospect Auston Matthews, that will hope to bounce back from a fifth place finish last year. And Boeser will have some familiarity on the team; he’s projected to play on the third line next to UND linemate Nick Schmaltz, who has three goals and 23 assists in 20 games this year. Boeser previously represented Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, serving as the U.S. team captain and recording six goals and eight points in five games, en route to a bronze medal.
For Canucks fans, the preliminary round match up between Virtanen’s Canadian team and Boeser’s U.S. squad on Boxing Day will likely be one of the tournament’s must-watch games.
While the Canucks won’t be heavily represented at this year’s tournament, the quality of their prospects taking part, Virtanen and Boeser, should be fun to watch, and perhaps offer a glimpse of the future in Vancouver.