2020 World Junior Watch: One prospect from each team to keep an eye on - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

2020 World Junior Watch: One prospect from each team to keep an eye on

With the World Junior Championship on the horizon, each of the league's 31 teams will be sending a prospect or two to the tournament. Here's who to watch.
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Petr Kozelek/Piráti Chomutov

Petr Kozelek/Piráti Chomutov

Anaheim Ducks: A stint with the U.S. at the WJC will put Trevor Zegras back among players his own age. The Boston U. center has spent much of his freshman season alongside senior Patrick Curry, five years his elder, and Matthew Quercia, two years older. Zegras has been at his playmaking best.

Arizona Coyotes: Victor Soderstrom is adept at skating the puck out of danger and making quick, efficient passes in close quarters. The Swedish defenseman is smooth, confident and competitive in his second year with the top club in Brynas. He isn’t big but doesn’t shy away from contact.

Boston Bruins: Czech center Jakob Lauko has a ton of experience at 19. The 2020 WJC will be his third already. He won a Memorial Cup in his first and only season of major junior, and now he’s a rare teenage AHLer. He’s a high-motor scorer known for his work ethic. That’s Boston Bruins hockey.

Buffalo Sabres: Hulking blueliner Mattias Samuelsson captained the U.S. at the world under-18s, he captains Western Michigan in college, and he’ll be a leader at the 2020 WJC. He was born into the role. His dad, Kjell, had an 813-game NHL career and has coached in the Flyers’ system for two decades.

Calgary Flames: It’s not a guarantee Dustin Wolf will make the U.S. team behind Spencer Knight, but if he does, the two goalies can talk about GAAs below 2.00 and SPs pushing .940 this season. Knight was taken 13 picks from the top of the 2019 NHL draft. Wolf went four picks from the bottom.

Carolina Hurricanes: A high-risk/high-reward prospect, Anttoni honka has mostly been reward lately, and Carolina believes he makes the plays you can’t teach. The offensive D-man looked great at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan, and he’s been solid playing against men in Finland’s Liiga.

Chicago Blackhawks: Michal Teply’s debut with WHL Winnipeg has gone better than expected, and he’ll be asked to play a starring role on the host nation’s world-junior squad. The 18-year-old Czech winger has been a standout in pre-tournament international play, posting three goals and seven points.

Colorado Avalanche: All the hype around Colorado’s future blueline focuses on Cale Makar, but don’t forget about the smart and skilled Bowen Byram. The No. 4 overall draft pick last June, Byram is expected to play top-pairing minutes and will be integral to Canada’s pursuit of gold in January.

Columbus Blue Jackets: If you designed an archetypal Russian forward, Kirill Marchenko is the blueprint. The right winger has size as well as the offensive skills that make him a load to handle on the rush. He was nearly a point-per-gamer in the KHL farm league before getting called up to St. Petersburg.

Dallas Stars: Chances are Albin Eriksson will be relegated to a depth role on a Swedish squad hoping to get back on the podium at the WJC. The big right winger hasn’t put up many points, but he’s playing against men in the SHL at 19. He could line up alongside fellow Stars pick Oskar Back.

Detroit Red Wings: Moritz Seider, Germany’s star blueliner, was so shocked at Detroit grabbing him sixth overall at the 2019 draft that his whole body trembled. He sure doesn’t look like a reach now. Already 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds at 18, he’s a punishing force as the AHL’s second-youngest player.

Edmonton Oilers: Friends Matej Blumel and Tomas Mazura were drafted one hour and two rounds apart by the Oilers last June and count on each other as a support network. Blumel, a right winger, rebuffed NCAA Connecticut this fall and went home to play with Pardubice in the Czech League.

Florida Panthers: Grigori Denisenko carries the highest expectations of anyone in the WJC, as he led the WJC in scoring for Russia last year. He has the shifty in-tight skills you’d expect from a sub-six-foot forward but plays bigger than his size. He’s so intense he gets into disciplinary trouble at times.

Los Angeles Kings: Where center Alex Turcotte goes, Cole Caufield isn’t far behind, literally and on the scoresheet. Teammates the past two seasons with the U.S. NTDP, the Wisconsin freshmen sit 1-2 on the Badgers’ scoring list. Turcotte, drafted fifth overall this summer, is a superb playmaker.

Minnesota Wild: The slow start to Matthew Boldy’s college career has been a concern, and the versatile American center could use a strong WJC to kick-start his season. He was prolific in U-18 competition last year, netting 12 points in seven games en route to his No. 12 draft selection.

Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Romanov could be the steal of the 2018 draft. At 18, he won best defenseman at the 2019 WJC and cracked the prestigious CSKA Moscow squad in the KHL, a league that prioritizes veterans over kids. His KHL contract expires this year, and the Habs aim to lure him in.

Nashville Predators: Massive 6-foot-4 Egor Afanasyev wasn’t considered a lock ahead of the season, but the left winger’s point-per-game pace in the OHL has turned heads, and his selection to the Russian outfit for the Canada-Russia series is an indication he’ll land a depth role.

New Jersey Devils: One of Canada’s most valuable weapons at the WJC will be defender Ty Smith. A returnee from last year’s disappointing squad, he’ll get more chances to join the rush under the new coaching staff. Smith can pile up points from the blueline and got a long look from the Devils this fall.

New York Rangers: Though he did see time in the NHL this season, Oliver Wahlstrom was sent to AHL Bridgeport to round out his game, and that was good news for Team USA. Wahlstrom helped earn silver at the WJC last year, and his offensive capabilities would be a boon for the Americans.

New York Islanders: Caught up in the WJC flu virus last year, K'Andre Miller couldn’t keep food down for two days and basically just slept. But he still helped the U.S. to silver, and the two-way D-man is aiming for gold this year. The Rangers think Miller will be able to go up against top lines in the NHL one day.

Ottawa Senators: Lassi Thomson's WHL team, Kelowna, wanted him back since they host the 2020 Memorial Cup. But Ilves of the Finnish League offered a top-pair role, power-play time and playing against men. Thomson liked that path best for his development. He’ll be a key cog on Finland’s blueline.

Philadelphia Flyers: Team USA needs a power-play quarterback, and Cam York is the top candidate. The NTDP alum is a freshman at Michigan, where he has been piling up points when not hampered by an ankle injury. A healthy York would bring top-notch puck-moving skills and smarts to the U.S. blueline.

Pittsburgh Penguins: While competition for spots on Canada’s blueline will be fierce, Calen Addison has a good shot at landing one. He’s once again tallying nearly a point per game with WHL Lethbridge and his mobility is an asset. He isn’t big, but Addison doesn’t back down from puck battles.

San Jose Sharks: Despite more than a point per game in 200-plus OHL outings over four seasons, defenseman Ryan Merkley isn’t a lock for Canada’s WJC squad. But with a strong showing at the Canada-Russia series and OHL London coach Dale Hunter in his corner, Merkley is reopening some eyes.

St. Louis Blues: Colten Ellis’ injury and play at the World Junior Summer Showcase didn’t help his case for Canada, which leaves Nikita Alexandrov as the best bet among Blues prospects. He’s a depth pivot for Russia, but the 19-year-old has a deft scoring touch that could be an asset.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Take Adam Foote’s ferocity, add a forward’s scoring touch, and you get his son Nolan Foote. He honed his game growing up against older brother Cal, a fellow Lightning draftee. With Canada going for gold and Kelowna hosting the Memorial Cup, it could be quite a year for Nolan.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Robertson was born three months premature and clinging to life. He persevered, and his hockey path has been similar. He is one of major junior’s smallest players, yet the winger has ignited the OHL at a goal-per-game pace. He’ll be a treat to watch for Team USA on the big ice.

Vancouver Canucks: A lacrosse-style goal with Rogle in the Swedish League the same week Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov did it in the NHL launched Nils Hoglander to must-see status. The super-skilled, competitive winger is an exceptional stickhandler who is still working on his 200-foot game.

Vegas Golden Knights: Ivan Morozov spent last year’s WJC on Russia’s third or fourth line, but he’ll be a more active participant this time around. A solid center with good two-way skills, Morozov has been splitting time with all three teams in St. Petersburg’s system, most notably on the farm team.

Washington Capitals: While center Connor McMichael is a strong candidate for Canada, the Czechs really need Martin Hugo Has for their blueline. Big and defensively responsible, Has has been playing in Finland the past few seasons and has mainly faced pro competition this year.

Winnipeg Jets: Ville Heinola surprised by making the Jets out of camp, but a reassignment to Finland opens the door for the 18-year-old blueliner to take on a top-four role with the defending gold medallists. His poise and decision-making will see him skate against the other teams’ best.

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