Canucks World Junior Candidates

Over the years, the World Junior Hockey Championships have become a tradition for hockey fans, especially in Canada. When Christmas is over and the gifts have been unwrapped, it’s ready for hockey. The tournament usually provides excitement and a glimpse of future NHL stars. J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, and others have participated and have had success in the annual tournament.

So now we get to see what other prospects can make a name for themselves and continue their journey to the NHL. Here’s a look at some Canucks prospects that could be gracing your screens this holiday season.

Nils Hoglander, Rogle BK (Sweden)

The Canucks have had a very good track record when it comes to Swedish born players. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have another one on the cusp of making the NHL. Ever since Nils Hoglander was drafted high in the second round in 2019, he has shown why he could be one of the steals of that draft.

Playing for Rogle BK in the Swedish Hockey League, Hoglander already has six goals early on, which is two shy of the total he scored all of last season. If he continues this pace, he will hit career highs that could propel him into the NHL as early as next season.

Nils Hoglander Vancouver Canucks Draft
Nils Hoglander, Vancouver Canucks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If he makes the team, which is almost a guarantee given his play this season so far, it will be his first World Juniors. Known for his creativity, work ethic, and soft hands, he will probably be one of the centerpieces of Team Sweden’s attack as well.

Toni Utunen, Tappara Tampere (Finland)

At the ripe age of 19, defenceman Toni Utunen has already made quite the name for himself on the international stage. He had an overtime game-winner against Team Canada that eliminated them from last year’s World Juniors as well as a gold medal. He then scored another two goals in the Summer Showcase earlier this offseason. If he can continue this type of offensive production, Team Finland is in good hands on the backend.

Team Canada Michael DiPietro Team Finland's Toni Utunen and Aarne Talvitie
Team Canada goalie Michael DiPietro lies on the ice after allowing the winning goal as Finland’s Toni Utunen and Aarne Talvitie celebrate. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Utunen will once again be a key player for Team Finland in his last year of eligibility. Known primarily for his stout defensive game, he could be counted on to provide offence considering his performance in last year’s tournament. Playing for Tappara Tampere in Finland’s Liiga, he has not scored a goal this season and has only three points. But offence is probably not what he will be tasked with, even though he did just that last year.

Related: 2020 WJC Team Finland Preview

Expect him to be a solid presence providing leadership and experience from the blueline. He probably will be named captain of Team Finland for this year’s tournament.

Vasily Podkolzin, SKA St Petersberg (Russia)

Vasily Podkolzin has had a frustrating season so far in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Supreme Hockey League (VHL) and Youth Hockey League (MHL). Getting shuttled between three leagues is never fun, and he’s seen plenty of it. The KHL doesn’t value NHL development, so when he finally got up to the best league in Russia, he never saw a lot of ice time.

Podkolzin is talented, there’s no doubting that for a second. But so far this season, he hasn’t been able to show it very often. That’s why I’m sure he was happy when he got the call to represent Russia in the annual Canada-Russia Series in North America. He didn’t rack up the points but showed us why he’s going to be a force in the NHL when he finally gets there.

He played in last year’s World Juniors accumulating three points. He was noticeable then and will be counted upon to provide more of the same this year. Considering he wore an A in the Canada-Russia Series, he probably will be part of the leadership group in the World Juniors too. The hope will be that his eventual return to the KHL will allow him to build momentum before appearing in this year’s tournament.

Karel Plášek, Brno Kometa (Czech Republic)

The Canucks took a flyer on Czech forward Karel Plasek in the sixth round of this past draft, betting on the upside of the slight forward. He has had a decent season so far putting up four points in 22 games. He has a lot of international experience, suiting up for his country every year going all the way back to before he was 16. So it’s almost a no brainer that he could be part of the roster this year.

Related: 2020 WJC Team Czech Republic Preview

Plasek may never play a game in the NHL, but he will continue to be a fixture for Team Czech Republic. He plays with a lot of speed and is already a veteran of the international stage. Like most players blessed with speed and a lack of size, he has a high work ethic. He is also great defensively, which will make him an asset on the penalty kill for the Czechs.

Focht and Woo Overlooked

Surprisingly, Carson Focht was not on Team Canada’s selection camp roster despite a strong season so far with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. He currently has 24 points (15 goals, 9 assists) in 24 games. He has slowed down since the beginning of the season but still should have warranted a look by Team Canada’s brass in camp.

2020 IIHF World Junior Championship

Related: 2020 World Juniors: Who Makes Fisher’s Team Canada?

Defenceman Jett Woo was not on the roster as well, even though many pundits thought he was a lock when projecting the team in the offseason. The slow start to the season may be the reason for this as he only has 15 points in 27 games, which puts him on pace for a 37 point season. This would be a far cry from his career-high of 66 points set in 2018-19.

But as Hitmen head coach Steve Hamilton explained,

I think he’s a hell of a player…I think it was probably a natural transition in his life, the only environment he’s known in junior has been Moose Jaw so he plays a different role here. He doesn’t play probably the 30 minutes a night that he was used to. That’s been situational differences, that’s all. But he’s a huge part of our team.

The difference seems to be that he’s counted on to be a two-way defenceman, rather than just somebody focused on offence. It’s unfortunate that Team Canada didn’t feel the need to include his skill set on the team. Regardless, Canucks fans will still get to see him at the end of the season with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. His upside is high, and I believe he will make the NHL someday. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.