Our annual Boxing Day Tradition is upon us! Our gift? The opening of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, which began yesterday in Ostrava and Trinec in the Czech Republic. Ostrava is the hometown of one Petr Mrazek, who represented his country in the 2012 edition of the World Juniors and is honored on the logo for this year’s tournament.
Every game of the tournament will be aired on NHL Network, the majority being carried live. Click here for the full broadcast schedule.
The group stage games will be split between the two host cities, with the Group A games held at Werk Arena in Trinec and the Group B matchups at the larger capacity Ostravar Arena. The knockout rounds will be shared between the two cities, with the semifinals and medal rounds culminating exclusively in Ostrava.
The group stage games run through New Year’s Eve, then after a day off the knockout round begins January 2, with the gold-medal game set for Sunday, January 5.
Group A is the easier of the two groups, with Sweden and Finland headlining the draw. The two rival countries opened the tournament against each other on Day 1, with Sweden prevailing 3-2 in OT.
- United States
- Czech Republic
The “Group of Death” moniker is typically reserved for World Cup and Champions League draws in soccer, but it certainly applies in this case as well. Group B features perennial powers Canada, Russia and the United States, and also includes the host Czechs. As with Group A, the marquee matchup in this group began the tournament, with Canada topping Team USA 6-4 yesterday.
After a disappointing loss to Finland in the gold medal game a year ago is fresh on the Americans minds, as they look to rebound and finish the job in 2020.
United States Round Robin Schedule
- December 26: vs. Canada (L 4-6)
- December 27: vs. Germany
- December 29: vs. Russia
- December 30: vs. Czech Republic
Player to Watch: Nick Robertson
The 53rd overall pick in the 2019 draft could have a coming out party in the Czech Republic. He will be relied upon to drive offense both at even strength and on the power play for the Americans, who bolster an impressive group of forwards that include Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield among others. Both on and off the puck, Robertson has a motor that never stops, and should endear American fans with his style of play. The Toronto prospect has started the season well in Peterborough (OHL), raising his points-per-game output to 1.59, up nearly a half a point-per-game from his draft year.
Breakout Performer: Arthur Kaliyev
Kaliyev was one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 draft this summer. His slip to the second round (LAK, 33rd Overall) was debated heavily coming off a 51-goal season for Hamilton in 2019. So what has he done to follow up that performance? Put up 31 goals in 33 games to start the OHL season, leading the league by six. The Kings prospect will likely be the trigger man on the USA’s power play, and should get plenty of opportunities to score goals on the international stage.
Canes Connections: Jack Drury - Harvard University
Drury (42nd overall, 2018) returns for his second World Juniors appearance in as many years, likely with a bit more responsibility and ice time from a season ago. He played in all seven games for the Americans in 2019, but didn’t record a point. This season with Harvard, Drury has been hot out of the gate with 10 points in his first 10 games as he looks to build on his 24-point freshman season for the Crimson.
As usual, Canada is stacked with position players, and hungry to return the medal podium after missing out on home ice in 2019. They should be able to score plenty of goals, but will they be able to stop enough shots to take home the gold?
Canada Round Robin Schedule
- December 26: vs. United States (W 6-4)
- December 28: vs. Russia
- December 30: vs. Germany
- December 31: vs. Czech Republic
Player to Watch: Alexis Lafrenière – 2020 Draft Eligible/Rimouski (QMJHL)
After going out on a very short limb as my breakout performer a year ago, Lafrenière is this year’s player to watch - potentially in the whole tournament. His 70 points in 32 games in the QMJHL and franchise changing status as a prospect will have hockey fans watching Team Canada at any chance they get. He’s backed by a lethal forward group, which is a scary thought when you pair him with players of his own ability level. Lafrenière has the potential to be a tournament breaker for the Canadians.
Breakout Performer: Quentin Byfield - 2020 Draft Eligible/Sudbury (OHL)
Byfield is the likely number two prospect in the 2020 draft, so this is a bit of a cop-out as a breakout performer. However, as Lafrenière draws the headlines and is likely the more household name among hockey fans, it’s Byfield who will have less pressure and the ability to shine. The 6-4 pivot is a 2002 birth year and is third among OHL scorers this season as a newly turned 17 year-old.
Since 2010, a European nation has been the last team standing at the World Juniors five times (Finland - 3, Sweden - 1, Russia - 1). With a strong group of prospects emerging from the 2018, 2019 and the upcoming 2020 drafts, expect them again to be in the mix for WJC gold.
Players to Watch:
Lucas Raymond – Sweden – 2020 Draft Eligible/Frolunda
After an injury scare that put him at risk of missing the tournament, Raymond was deemed healthy enough to go for the Swedes, who will rely on his offense even as a 17-year-old. A year ago in the U18’s, Raymond put up eight points in seven games, helping his team to the gold medal.
Nils Hoglander - Sweden - Vancouver Canucks/Rogle BK
One of my favorite players from the 2019 draft, Hoglander is an immensely talented player the ability to pull off the spectacular. He’s the kind of player who will catch your eye in a tournament like this because of type of game he plays. Against Group B defenses, he should be able to have free reign, but it will be interesting to see how his play adapts when Sweden makes the knockout rounds.
Moritz Seider - Germany - Detroit Red Wings/Grand Rapids Griffins
The 18-year-old defenseman has started his career on North American soil admirably with 12 points in his first 28 American Hockey League games. He will be relied upon heavily by the Germans, who face an incredibly tough task in Group B. Making it to the knockout rounds would be a huge success.
Anttoni Honka - Finland
The offensively smooth rearguard returns to the WJC’s after capturing gold a year ago. Honka has been playing full time in Liiga this year (JYP) and has proven to be a valuable offensive commodity, posting 14 points in 31 games.
Lenni Killinen - Finland
Carolina’s fourth rounder from 2018 is a first time WJC player as a 19-year-old, as he has continued to blossom within the Assat program. He will likely be a supporting player for Finland throughout the tournament.
Dominik Bokk - Germany
With the aforementioned Seider, Bokk will look to try and propel Germany to the medal round. The former first rounder who was acquired from St. Louis in the Justin Faulk trade will be one of Germany’s most important players.