Alexis Lafreniere must be superhuman. Not just on the ice, but off it, too.
During Canada's embarrassing 6-0 loss to Russia during the World Junior Championship, the projected No. 1 prospect for the 2020 draft went down with a leg injury that left him screaming in pain and unable to put any weight on his left side. Lafreniere missed the next two round robin games, and the question was whether he should bother risking further damage. He missed the selection camp with an ankle injury, after all.
But Lafreniere returned to battle Slovakia in Canada's quarterfinal contest Thursday, recording a goal and an assist in a 6-1 victory and providing an undeniable spark. That's exactly what he's done all tournament. If it wasn't for Lafreniere's four-point night on Boxing Day, Canada wouldn't have come from behind to defeat the United States. He was also Canada's best player against Russia before he suffered the injury. And with his six points in three games, Lafreniere sits third in scoring, due in part to the chemistry he's found with Arizona Coyotes forward Barrett Hayton.
Lafreniere's play has only strengthened his case to be the top selection in 2020, a draft that features one of the deepest player bases we've seen since 2003. But how are other top prospects faring? Let's take a look at the other young stars that have made some noise at the World Junior Championship:
Quinton Byfield, LW (Canada)
He stole the spotlight at selection camp, but Byfield hasn't found the scoresheet in five games. Granted, he's been a depth forward and averaged 11 minutes per game, but Byfield is one of just three Canadian forwards without a point. Byfield hasn't been bad and he's still going to be a game-changer in the NHL, but it's been a quiet showing for the forward projected to go No. 2 in the draft.
Alexander Holtz, LW (Sweden)
Sweden doesn't mind relying on youth to lead the offense and Holtz's production is proof of that. With five points in as many games, Holtz is fourth in scoring for Sweden and has rekindled the fire with longtime linemates Lucas Raymond and Karl Henriksson. A top-five draft prospect, Holtz's game is all about skill. The winger often showcases his quick hands and lethal wrist shot around the net. Holtz was named player of the game against Slovakia earlier in the tournament with a two-goal performance, which included the game-winner.
Lucas Raymond, RW (Sweden)
The other half of the 'Terror Twins' alongside Holtz, Raymond isn't been far behind his linemate, notching four points in five outings. Seen as more of a playmaker and all-around player, Raymond hasn't had an issue hanging with the competition. The world juniors have been a nice change of pace for Raymond, who, before leaving for camp, was playing limited minutes in the Swedish League. He's been given a chance to show his worth on Sweden's second power-play unit and is showing why he projects to be a player who will make his linemates better in the NHL.
Yaroslav Askarov, G (Russia)
It's been an interesting tournament for Askarov, who started as Russia's top goaltender against the Czech Republic but lost control of the crease and didn't get it back until the end of the round robin. Askarov looked comfortable after making his second consecutive start, a 14-save effort against Switzerland Thursday, and it looks like he'll be tasked with taking Russia all the way. Dubbed the 'Dream Killer' for his ability to steal games in international play, this is another opportunity for Askarov to prove he deserves to go in the top 10 of the draft. He's the most hyped goaltender since Carey Price.
John-Jason Peterka, RW (Germany)
Germany is playing for survival in the relegation round, but imagine how the Germans would have fared without Peterka. Through five games, Peterka has scored four of the team's 13 goals, with Dominik Bokk (CAR) scoring another four himself. Peterka has been perhaps the most impressive draft prospect in the tournament, if only because he's had to lead one of the weaker teams through the what might be the toughest group in World Junior Championship history. With Germany one win away from remaining in the top flight for 2021, we'll likely see Peterka – slated to be a 2020 first-rounder – at the tournament next year.
Tim Stutzle, C (Germany)
Whenever Peterka does something spectacular, it's typically because Stutzle did something special moments earlier. An unstoppable scoring force with Adler Mannheim in the German League, Stutzle hasn't had any issue keeping up with the pace set by the tournament's best players with five points in his first five games. Stutzle's best attribute is his knack for setting up the talent around him, which will make him a useful playmaker in the NHL someday. That day might not be far away for the projected top-10 pick.
Lukas Reichel, LW (Germany)
The third piece of the German scoring trio, Reichel has impressed with four points in five games. Don't get it twisted: Reichel isn't a third wheel trailing behind and picking up scraps. He's actually creating a lot of his own scoring chances. He has been one-third of the most exciting forward lines in the tournament alongside Stutzle and Peterka, and Reichel's unique brand of high-end speed and puck smarts has pushed him closer to second-round draft status.
Jamie Drysdale, D (Canada)
Canada's blueline has been its weakness at points, but after overcoming a few rough patches early on, it's clear Drysdale isn't the problem. Drysdale has two assists through five games, and while he has mostly dressed in a seventh-man role, Drysdale played 15:21 against the Czech Republic and was one of Canada's best players in the 7-2 victory. The expectations weren't high for Drysdale as a 17-year-old in the tournament, but the projected top-10 pick will make an NHL team very happy.
Dawson Mercer, RW (Canada)
Mercer wasn't brought in to play an offensive role for Canada and, as the team's 13th forward, he hasn't been used a whole lot in general. He's the only Canadian player with an average ice time below 10 minutes. A projected first-round pick, Mercer has spent the tournament in a defensive role but has, of late, been given opportunities to fill in up the lineup to give others a break. With Canada back at full strength, though, don't expect Mercer to play much going forward.
Simon Knak, RW (Switzerland)
Switzerland had a solid round robin, with scoring concerns seemingly disappearing as they netted 12 goals in their final two round robin games before falling to Russia in the quarterfinal. Despite posting just two goals, Knak was one of Switzerland's sneaky-good players. Projected to go in the third round of the draft, Knak has wheels and a set of hands that make him difficult to strip of the puck.
Jan Mysak, LW (Czech Republic)
Even with injuries to key forwards, Mysak rarely found himself playing important moments. The projected first-round pick averaged just 14 minutes per game and was used in inconsequential situations most of the time despite his high offensive upside. And we're not just talking about potential, either: Mysak is the best U-20 player in the main Czech League with nine points in 26 games and proved he could handle himself against top competition. The Czechs could have deployed him more effectively, but he was instead limited to just two points in five games.
Samuel Knazko, D (Slovakia)
Slovakia severely underperformed, winning its lone game Kazakhstan to kick off the tournament. Knazko had just one assist, but he ran the team's top power play at times and skated against other team's top lines. Slated for the third round, Knazko is a strong skater who, given the opportunity, will be able to produce solid numbers at the pro level. In other exhibition events, Knazko displayed his offensive prowess. Expect more of that in the future.
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