In just one week, after all the presents have been unwrapped, turkeys have been cooked, and dinner table family arguments have been had, the hockey gods will bestow the greatest gift of the entire holiday season — the 2019 World Junior Championship.
For millions all over the globe, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: two weeks of vegging in front of the television, binging on holiday leftovers, and watching the world’s most elite and highly-touted puck prospects duke it out for gold.
There are a trio of Winnipeg Jets draft picks looking to represent their countries and strut their stuff in Vancouver and Victoria.
Here’s a look at them and what they’ve been up to so far this season.
David Gustafsson: Sweden
Chosen 60th overall, 2018 NHL Entry Draft
Gustafsson, a 6-foot-2, left-handed centre, will be looking to represent Sweden at the U20 tournament for the first time. The native of Tingsryd played for Sweden in the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championships back in April, was second on his squad with seven points, and helped them capture a bronze medal.
Gustafsson, despite being only 18-years-old, already has experience playing against older players — he’s in his second season playing for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League — so facing older players at the WJC wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary for him. This season for HV71, he’s played in 13 games and tallied three assists. Last season, he played in 45 games, notching six goals and six assists for 12 points.
— HV71 (@HV71) December 5, 2018
Elite Prospects calls Gustafsson “an all-substance no-flash type of prospect” and a “hardworking two-way player with good size” who possesses “good reach and hockey sense” and “has shown great role player qualities.”
He would be deployed in a number of different situations on a Sweden squad that’s a legitimate contender for gold again after being narrowly bested by Canada in the 2018 Gold Medal Game.
Dylan Samberg: USA
Chosen 43rd overall, 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Left-handed blue liner Dylan Samberg is looking to play in his second WJC and will likely be a lock to return to the USA squad that captured 2018 bronze in Buffalo.
The six-foot-four, 215-pound Minnesotan is in his sophomore season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and has two goals and two assists in 15 games. In his rookie 2017-18 season, he played in 42 games, putting up a goal and twelve assists while helping the NCAA team win the national championship.
Samberg worked out at the Jets development camp in June and stood out to Cheveldayoff, who described him as “the type of guy that can really excel in today’s game” due to his size, physical game, active stick, and puck-moving ability.
“He’s the type of guy that there’s a lot of excitement about,” Cheveldayoff concluded.
Santeri Virtanen: Finland
Chosen 105th overall, 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Chosen later in the same draft as Samberg and looking to crack Finland’s roster is left-handed centre Santeri Virtanen.
Hailing from Kirkkonummi, the 6-foot-2 forward would be playing in his first U20 tournament if he survives cuts. He previously wore his country’s colours at the 2017 IIHF World U18 Championships, notching two goals and four assists in seven games and capturing silver.
— SaiPa (@Liiga_SaiPa) December 3, 2018
Virtanen is a multi-faceted player that could serve Finland well. He’s been touted by Last Word on Sports’ Ben Kerr as a power forward with soft hands who is sound positionally and dogged on the back check.
“Santeri Virtanen could be a real diamond in the rough for the team that drafts him,” Kerr summated prior to his draft.
Virtanen has spent the 2018-19 season with the SM-liiga’s SaiPa Lappeenranta, where he has five goals and two assists in 29 games. In 2017-18, he played part of the season with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, registering eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in 29 games.
Cheveldayoff is undoubtedly hoping Virtanen will develop as well as the other three Finns he’s selected (Sami Niku, Patrik Laine, and Kristian Vesalainen) since the Jets relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
Who Won’t Be Going: Kristian Vesalainen
Chosen 24th overall, 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Speaking of Vesalainen, the 19-year-old shocked many — both in Finland and North America — when he recently turned down an invitation to join his countrymen for a third crack at a gold medal.
Instead, Vesalainen will remain with Jokerit. He defended his decision, saying, among other things, “I believe it’s better for my hockey, for my future,” to stay with Jokerit and “I’ve heard that somebody in Finland is pissed with my decision. I don’t know why (they’re) pissed. It’s my thing.”
Vesalainen’s been with the Helsinki-based squad since mid-November after he activated a clause in his contract that allowed him to return to Europe if he wasn’t on the Jets’ NHL roster.
At the time, Vesalainen was with the Manitoba Moose, where he’d achieved a point-per-game clip in eight games. He began his season with the Jets, registering one assist in six contests before being sent down.
Vesalainen has five points in his first seven games with Jokerit and was recently named the KHL’s rookie of the week.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.