“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”
It is that time of year again when families and friends gather to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s as well as get together to take in some of the best hockey that will be played all year long. Young men, many of whom are future NHLers, full of emotion and high-end skill representing their counties on the big stage of the IIHF World Junior Championships.
The 2019 event runs from December 26, 2018 through January 5, 2019 in Vancouver and Victoria British Columbia and is a must see for any fan of the game.
While we are still a couple days away from puck drop at the big event, and when rosters need to be finalized, we at Draft Prospects Hockey thought it was a good time to give readers a preview of some of the potential 2019 draft eligible participants representing their nations.
If you’ve followed the CHL you have probably heard about the WHL’s Prince Albert Raider center Brett Leason this season. The kid with a heavy shot and solid playmaking abilities who was passed over in two NHL Entry Drafts already and is now tearing apart the Dub at over a two points-per-game scoring rate. Look for the big power forward to utilize his size and strength advantage to jump into a top six role for Canada. While the hype has been palpable with talk of a mid-first round projection by many in the media we feel his play for Team Canada will go a long way to determining if he is seen as a top fifty selection or a later round selection.
A late addition to the Russian selection camp after turning in a dominating performance for Russia at Hockey Canada’s World Junior A Challenge, intense winger Vasili Podkolzin (pictured above) hopes to continue his international success if selected to represent his nation. The elite offensive winger who blends speed, shifty feet, skilled hands, dangerous shot and a complete two-way game would have no trouble making an impact in a top six role however Valeri Bragin Russian coach is well known for not wanting to have younger players in prominent roles at this event.
One other prospect on the Russian camp list that we will be watching closely if he makes the team is Bars Kazan goalie Amir Miftakhov, an athletic, aggressive and positional sound butterfly style stopper, who was passed over last year in the NHL Entry Draft due to his lack of ideal NHL size but in our projection had the skill to be a mid-rounder. He will likely not be named starter, that role will likely be Daniil Tarasov’s a Columbus draft pick, but should see some action and could hear his name called this June especially if he shows the same game he has displayed game after game while playing at home.
The headliner for draft eligible prospects at this event is American pivot and projected top selection Jack Hughes. The small but highly dynamic talent will see significant time in an offensive role for this squad where he can display his all-world skating ability, aggressive offensive mind and electric hands.
In net, NTDP U18 goaltender Spencer Knight is in the mix to see some ice time for the American’s, likely in a backup role since his chance to be the main man in the crease for the U.S. is likely a year from now, and could improve his draft stock by holding his own. We like Knight as a first rounder due to his size, athleticism, mobility and poise between the ears.
Our second ranked prospect for 2019 NHL Draft, Kakko Kaapo (pictured above) of TPS Turku in the Liiga, should see plenty of prime ice and make a big contribution to a solid Finnish U20 squad. He has been absolutely dominant playing against men utilizing his strength, speed and smarts to compliment an impressive array of offensive skills including a goal scorers shot, slick hands and impressive vision. He could be one of the top scorers at the event with the type of team Finland is sending. The rest of Finland’s draft eligible talent resides on the backend.
Safe and intelligent blue liner Mikko Kokkonen of Liiga’s Jukurit team could play a regular role on the backend for the Finns as the steady d-man who can play the stay at home role as well as the puck moving possession game if needed. He moves well, not overly flashy, but keeps his head up uses good stick position and is not afraid to battle for pucks. He will also join the attack but only when he sees it as safe to do so. Kelowna Rocket import Lassi Thomson is an offensive minded puck mover that, if given the opportunity, should boost the power play as well as generate offensive chances five-on-five. He moves with the puck well, sees the ice and makes solid passes to open teammates while also possessing a cannon shot. Defensive coverage might be a reason he would be left off the squad if he is.
Ville Heinola of Lukko has had a solid first season in Liiga and could make the squad as a support defender who sees some power play time as well. The smooth skating two-way rearguard has some offensive capabilities like a strong point shot and impressive puck distribution skills but it is his impressive intelligence that will stand out at this event.
Small puck rushing blue liner Anttoni Honka of JYP in Liiga, and more recently on loan to KeuPa in Mestis, is another draft eligible on the backend who has a chance to make the Finnish squad. He would add an offensive element with his electric puck rushing, skilled hands and ability to generate offensive chances. He has had a rough season so far as he too often was getting outmuscled in Liiga but has a high skill level that cannot be ignored.
Frolunda winger Samuel Fagemo, a natural goal scorer, should hear his name called early in June after being passed over in last years draft and he should have a great World Junior tournament for the Swedes. He has the quick feet and creative hands to gain separation and the shot to beat goalies who give him any openings to shoot for.
Rogle winger Nils Hoglander (pictured above) has shown very well this season in the SHL producing offense by quickly darting in and out of traffic with the puck, fighting for possession and being opportunistic. He handles the puck well, plays bigger than his size would indicate and displays a quick shot release which he will hope to utilize for the Swedes.
Puck rushing blue liner Philip Broberg was added to the selection camp after an injury to Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Timothy Liljegren and it is unknown what type of chance he has to make the squad as he is one of three defenders vying for the final two spots but the big AIK defenseman would add an offensive element if he did. He uses his feet and reach to make an impact at both ends.
CZECH REPUBLIC Tappara U20 defenseman Martin Hugo Has will be one to watch as a strong skating two-way defender who can add stability to a puck rushing blue line partner who might play a more risky puck rushing game in an effort to generate offense. The big blue liner plays a calm and smart game getting into lanes with his frame and stick in his own zone but can also add to the offensive cause with a booming shot, decent breakout pass and wiliness to join the attack when it is safe to do so. SLOVAKIA The Slovaks are typically not a powerhouse team at this event with draft talent few and far between. The top draft eligible prospect in the Slovak camp is Saint John Sea Dog winger Maxim Cajkovic who has not been as impressive as many had hoped as the top selection in the CHL Import draft. He has always impressed however while playing for his nation at previous events and the hope would be that he could add some speed and offensive skills for the plucky Slovak team if he makes the Boxing Day roster.
Shawinigan Cataractes center Valentin Nussbaumer (pictured above) will likely see a prominent role as the Swiss look to him to provide some offensive production for what looks to be an overmatched team in that department. He will be the one asked to use his slick hands to gain the zone and control the puck on the power play. He is slippery and elusive on his feet, but also competitive and willing to use his body, and able to put the puck in the net when he gets a chance around the slot. He has a chance to improve his draft stock with a solid performance for his country as he has struggled to consistently impress on a weak Shawinigan squad. Once seen as a first round candidate, we like him in the late second or early third round at the moment.
Winger Nando Eggenberger, of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, was passed over in the previous draft after many thinking he was going to be an early-round selection has a chance to improve on his dismal World Junior performance from a year ago when he was scoreless and had one of the worst performances on the entire 2018 Swiss squad. He is a big body who moves well and has a solid shot, the knock is his creativity and hockey sense. He still has the potential to be a mid-to-late round option for a team needing depth.
Niagara IceDog right winger Kyen Sopa has a chance to drastically improve his status for the 2019 NHL draft with a strong performance for the Swiss. He is a short but stalky two-way winger who can score goals and breakup chances all on the same shift. He moves well, has impressive vision, shows solid aggressiveness on the forecheck and will make an impact on both sides of the puck.
Massive puck stopper Mads Sogaard (pictured above), who is currently playing in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers, will likely see the most rubber in the tournament as the starter for Denmark. He has a chance to really impress scouts and fans alike with his fluid mobility, quick reflexes and ability to make the big save at the right time to keep his team in a game. The butterfly stopper has looked exactly like the type of stopper every NHL team is looking for as his natural six-foot-seven frame covers the majority of net but he still has the flexibility and athleticism to stretch out and make those desperation saves is needed.
Lastly, although not participating in the Vancouver or Victoria games, we want to bring attention to a prospect from German that helped his country earn promotion to next year’s top IIHF World Junior Championships after winning the Division 1 Group A event earlier this month.
Big and mobile defenseman Moritz Seider (pictured above), Germany’s captain for the U20 national team, played like a man amongst boys. He contributed to all aspects of the game, posting impressive offensive numbers, seven points in five games and was a physical beast using his solid six-foot-four frame to separate opponents from pucks and knock their butts to the ice in many instances. We like him as a top round prospect and he only cemented that view of his NHL upside with this impressive performance.