A look at the 10 nations competing at the 2019 world junior championship

A look at the 10 nations competing at the 2019 world junior championship

The top 10 junior hockey nations will face off between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5

The exhibition games are over and Canada is set to defend its gold medal when the puck drops on Boxing Day for the world junior hockey championship

The top 10 junior hockey nations will face off between Dec. 26 and Jan. 5, with Group A playing its games at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre hosting Group B matches.

Here is a look at the 10 teams:

Group A:

Canada

Best finish: 17-time gold medallists.

Last year: Beat Sweden for gold.

Player to watch: Forward Alexis Lafreniere — He will become the first 17-year-old to play for Canada at the tournament since Connor McDavid after being selected by head coach Tim Hunter because ” he doesn’t play like a young player.” He’s already being talked about as a potential No. 1 pick for the 2020 NHL draft.

The Skinny: After an injury to forward Alex Formenton in selection camp, the Canadian squad is left with just one player (Max Comtois) returning from last year’s gold-medal winning squad. Canada’s roster is heavy in Canadian Hockey League talent, with just forward Shane Bowers (Boston University) and defenceman Ian Mitchell (Denver University) playing elsewhere.

Prognosis: Contender to repeat.

Czech Republic

Best finish: Two-time gold medallists.

Last year: Lost in bronze-medal game against the United States.

Player to watch: Forward Martin Necas — The 19-year-old is a veteran at the event as he gets set to participate for the third time. Last year he tied for the tournament lead in scoring with 11 points in seven games, and has transitioned his game this year to North America. The 12th pick from the 2017 draft started with Carolina and is currently with its AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

The Skinny: The Czechs were a young team last year and have up to nine players returning with world junior experience under their belts. It’s been 13 tournaments without any type of hardware as the Czechs haven’t reached the podium since a bronze medal in 2005.

Prognosis: Could surprise in the semifinals for the second straight tournament.

Russia

Best finish: Four-time gold medallists.

Last year: Finished fifth.

Player to watch: Forward Klim Kostin — The 19-year-old St. Louis Blues prospect produced five goals and eight points in five games at last year’s tournament, but went home disappointed. He’s averaged a point per game at every international level he’s played at and is currently being developed in the AHL.

The Skinny: The Russians waited right until the last minute to confirm their final roster and were expected to be heavy in their own talent with a large majority coming from the KHL. Kostin could be the only returning player as well with a high turnover. Last year was the first tournament since 2010 that Russia went home without a medal. Its last gold was in 2011.

Prognosis: Medal contender.

Switzerland

Best finish: Won bronze in 1998.

Last year: Finished eighth.

Player to watch: Forward Philipp Kurashev — The 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect is back in the tournament for a second time and the Swiss will be hoping he can help lead the offence. He has spent the past three seasons with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts and has 43 points in 33 games this year.

The Skinny: The Swiss have struggled in recent years at the event since last playing for a medal in 2010 and will need a combination of things to go right to qualify for the quarterfinals. Their roster is a blend of pros playing in Switzerland, as well as some juniors who have made their way to the CHL, including forward Nando Eggenberger of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

Prognosis: Could find itself playing in the relegation round if it can’t get past Denmark in the group stage.

Denmark

Best finish: Fifth place in 2017.

Last year: Finished ninth.

Player to watch: Goaltender Mads Sogaard — The draft-eligible 18-year-old has had a strong year with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and will be needed by the Danes to steal a game or two. He was part of last year’s squad as the third-string netminder, picking up some experience ahead of his chance to shine.

The Skinny: The Danes went winless in the preliminary round to end up in the relegation round last year and had to beat Belarus to avoid demotion to Division 1A. Denmark’s leading scorer from 2018, Jonas Rondbjerg, returns to help try to pace the offence, while forward Phillip Schultz, who plays for the WHL’s Victoria Royals, is back for a second time.

Prognosis: Could be back in the relegation round if it doesn’t earn at least one victory in round-robin.

———

Group B:

United States

Best finish: Four-time gold medallists.

Last year: Beat the Czech Republic for bronze.

Player to watch: Forward Jack Hughes — The 17-year-old is already considered a difference maker and is ranked to go as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL draft. He’s the younger brother of U.S. teammate Quinn Hughes and spent the majority of his youth hockey in the Toronto area while his father Jim worked for the Maple Leafs before switching to the U.S. development program.

The Skinny: The Americans have 20 players on their 23-man roster that were drafted by an NHL club with one more (goalie Kyle Keyser) who signed with Boston as a free agent. The majority of the squad is made up of NCAA players or U.S. development team skaters except for three who are currently in the OHL (Keyser, forwards Jason Robertson and Sasha Chmelevski).

Prognosis: Contender for a gold medal.

Sweden

Best finish: Two-time gold medallists.

Last year: Lost to Canada in gold-medal game.

Player to watch: Defenceman Erik Brannstrom — The 19-year-old has put together a strong first half of the season in the American Hockey League despite being one of the few teenagers eligible to play. The 15th pick from the 2017 NHL draft (Vegas) is a returnee and had four points in seven games at last year’s tournament.

The Skinny: The Swedes never seem to be short on blue line talent and this year’s squad is no different even with Timothy Liljegren ruled out with an injury. Defencemen Rasmus Sandin (AHL) and Adam Boqvist (OHL) bring some North American experience on the back end, while Isac Lundestrom is the only player on the roster with any NHL time, playing 15 games with Anaheim to start the year.

Prognosis: Medal contender.

Finland

Best finish: Four-time gold medallists.

Last year: Finished sixth.

Player to watch: Forward Kaapo Kakko — The 17-year-old forward is projected as a top pick for the upcoming NHL draft, with some scouts having him ranked No. 2 behind Jack Hughes. He’s playing this season in the top pro league in Finland and has shown he isn’t afraid to be physical to make plays happen.

The Skinny: The Finns have struggled since winning it all in 2016 and even had to play in the relegation round in 2017, with a victory over Latvia keeping Finland from being demoted. But they got a late boost to their roster with defenceman Henri Jokiharju being loaned from the Chicago Blackhawks. Forward Eeli Tolvanen, who is playing in the AHL, is also back for a third appearance.

Prognosis: Will need a big performance, but has the skill to reach the semifinals.

Slovakia

Best finish: Two-time bronze medallists.

Last year: Finished seventh.

Player to watch: Forward Adam Ruzicka — The Calgary Flames draft pick from 2017 is back for a third time and expectations to produce offence have never been higher for the 19-year-old. He scored 36 goals last season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting and is on pace this year for his second straight season of 70-plus points.

The Skinny: The Slovaks have bowed out in the quarterfinals in each of the last three tournaments after winning bronze in 2015, and will have their work cut out for them again this time around. Slovakia’s roster will have up to eight returning players alongside Ruzicka, including Milos Roman of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, who will also become a three-time participant.

Prognosis: Will have difficulty making it through the quarterfinals.

Kazakhstan

Best finish: Seventh place in 1999.

Last year: Won Division 1A tournament to earn promotion to the top division.

Player to watch: Artur Gatiyatov, who was named the best forward of the U20 Division 1A tournament as an 18-year-old with four goals and three assists in five games, currently plays for junior club Snezhnye Barsy — a feeder team for the KHL’s Barys Astana — in his home country.

The Skinny: Kazakhstan is in the elite group for the first time since 2009, a tournament where it lost all four of its round-robin games and was outscored 46-2 to get relegated down a division. Five different countries have won gold at the worlds since Kazakhstan last appeared. The Kazakhs did, however, beat Canada for seventh place in the 1999 tournament for their biggest win ever at the event.

Prognosis: Any victory would be considered an upset.

Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

A t-shirt designed by Coast Salish artist Bonny Graham (B. Wyse) includes the phrase ‘every child matters’ in a custom font inspired by Coast Salish design.
Chilliwack FC works with Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council on t-shirt fundraiser

The youth soccer organization will sell custom-designed orange shirts, donating proceeds to the SNCC

Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament takes place Aug. 21, 2021.
Buzz building for 2021 Wilma’s Transition House Charity Golf Tournament

The key fundraiser for the non-profit will be held Aug. 21 at the Cultus Lake Golf Course

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 following an assault. (File photo)
Trial underway in February 2020 death of White Rock senior

Ross Banner charged with manslaughter following Five Corners altercation

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read