2016 World Juniors: Preview

The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Ice Hockey Championships are set to start on December 26th, 2015, or the Canadian “Boxing Day”. The tournament will be hosted by Helsinki, Finland at the Hartwall Arena and the Helsinki Ice Hall. This will be the 40th annual edition of the popular tournament.

This will be the 6th official time that Finland will be hosting the tournament. The last time the World Juniors were held in Finland, was in 2004 in Helsinki and Hameenlinna. This year was special to American hockey fans because it marked the first tournament in which the United States Men’s National Junior Team took home the Gold Medal. The Zach Parise-led Americans won Gold in a 4-3 victory over Team Canada, and the host Finland team earned Bronze. Here is the results of all previous Finland-hosted World Junior tournaments:

2004 (Helsinki/Hameenlinna, Finland)
Gold: United States
Silver: Canada
Bronze: Finland

1998 (Helsinki/Hameenlinna, Finland)
Gold: Finland
Silver: RussiaBronze: Switzerland

1990 (Helsinki/Turku, Finland)
Gold: Canada
Silver: Soviet Union
Bronze: Czechoslovakia

1985 (Helsinki/Turku, Finland)
Gold: Canada
Silver: Czechoslovakia
Bronze: Soviet Union

1980 (Helsinki, Finland)
Gold: Soviet Union
Silver: Finland
Bronze: Sweden

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The largest of the two arenas which will be hosting the 2016 World Juniors is the Hartwall Arena. This one will host all of the Group B matches as the host Finland resides in that group. It will also be home to two Quarterfinals games, both Semifinals games, the Bronze Medal game and the Gold Medal game. The Hartwall Arena has a capacity of 13,506 and is the home of Jokerit – a professional hockey team based in Helsinki who joined Russia’s KHL in time for the 2014-15 season. The facility opened in 1997 and is home to ice hockey, concerts, and theatre. This same building was used in the 2012 and 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championships.

 

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The other arena in Helsinki that will be used for the tournament is the Helsinki Ice Hall. This 8,200 capacity facility is the home to HIFK – a professional ice hockey team in the city that plays in the national Liiga. The Helsinki Ice Hall will be the venue that holds Group A games which includes Canada’s. It will also hold the three relegation games, as well as two Quarterfinals games. Opening in 1966, the facility has had it’s fair share of famous artists come perform in it such as Avril Lavigne, Metallica, Kelly Clarkson, Judas Priest, 50 Cent, KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, and much more.

 

The tournament consists of 10 teams split into two groups of five designated ‘Group A’, and ‘Group B’. The groups are decided based on the previous year’s final results in an attempt to balance the groups. Each team will play the opposing teams in their designated group once for a total of four round robin games. The top four teams will continue on to the playoff round, whereas the last place teams in each group will face off in a best-of-3 relegation round. The winner of the relegation round earns a spot at the 2017 tournament, while the loser falls to the Division I tournament next year where they will be replaced by Latvia who won the 2016 IIHF World Juniors Division IA.

Let’s take a look at each group broken down, team by team.

GROUP A

CANADA

Canada, like Finland and Sweden has competed in every single World Juniors tournament annually to date. Canada will be looking to defend their title as they are coming off of a gold medal victory at the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto and Montreal.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 721,504
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 7,631
Men’s World Ranking: 1

Canada

Don’t expect much World Juniors experience on this Canadian squad. After the Vancouver Canucks loaned Jake Virtanen to Hockey Canada, that made him the fourth returning player from the 2015 Gold Medal squad along with Lawson Crouse (FLA), Joe Hicketts (DET), and Brayden Point (TBL). Canada’s captain for the tournament will be Brayden Point, as Joe Hicketts and Lawson Crouse will serve as alternate captains.

With the exception of Julien Gauthier of the Val-d’Or Foreurs who is eligible for the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, every player on the team has contractual NHL rights somewhere.

The likely starting goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood, will not be available until the third game of the tournament as the IIHF will be honouring his Ontario Hockey League suspension.

Heading into this tournament, Canada is one of the obvious gold medal contenders. There is no excuse for the team to not be prepared, as they played six pre-tournament games. Canada split games in Toronto against the CIS All-Stars with a 5-4 shootout loss and 5-0 shutout respectively. Canada then went to Imatra, Finland to play exhibition games on two consecutive nights, defeating Belarus 7-1 and blanking the Czech Republic 1-0. From there, they traveled to Sweden where they defeated a strong Swedish team in a high scoring 7-6 affair.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. United States – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 28, 2015: vs. Denmark – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 29, 2015: vs. Switzerland – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 31, 2015: vs. Sweden – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall

Group A is clearly the tougher of the two groups, with tournament favourites Canada, Sweden and the United States, along with a Swiss team who has surprised over the last few years and a Denmark squad who made history last year in Toronto. It will be a tough road, but I am predicting Canada to finish 1st in Group A with at least one or two wins needing a forced overtime.

 

DENMARK

Unfortunately for Denmark, they appear to be the weakest link in the strongest group of the tournament. Ranking at number 15 in the IIHF world, the other four teams in the group come from the top 7 ranked hockey nations in the world as of 2015.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 4,295
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 26
Men’s World Ranking: 15

Denmark
If the strong opponents going up against Denmark isn’t enough, how about the fact that most of the roster has been draft eligible in previous years or are upcoming draft eligible, but not a single one has been selected.

In net, Thomas Lillie is the only returning Danish netminder from the 2015 tournament. Last year, he didn’t start a game but he was substituted in twice in place of Sorensen. He stopped 43 of 46 shots for a .934 Save Percentage and 3.38 Goals Against Average.

Denmark will be without their leading scorers and NHL prospects Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nikolaj Ehlers. Returning players include the likes of Alexander True and Kristian Jensen.

Denmark played three pre-tournament games this year and all three had the exact same result. Denmark was shutout 5-0 by Sweden in Huddinge, Sweden, 5-0 by Czech Republic in Lahti, Finland, and 5-0 by Russia in Helsinki.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 27, 2015: vs. Switzerland – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 28, 2015: vs. Canada – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Sweden – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. United States – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall

While everybody loves to see an underdog Cinderella story, there is little chance of that happening this year in Group A. Unless Switzerland unexpectedly falls to Denmark, Denmark should undoubtedly finish 5th in Group A and participate in the best-of-3 relegation round. Last year was a Cinderella story when Denmark won their first ever game and avoided the relegation round, but went on to get crushed in the Quarterfinals by an 8-0 score to Canada.

 

SWEDEN

Sweden heads into the 2016 World Juniors as one of the tournament favourites, with one of their expected strongest rosters in years.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 60,089
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 514
Men's World Ranking: 3

Sweden

The Swedish squad is headlined by the Nylander brothers. William Nylander is a 1st-round pick (2014) of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Alexander Nylander, who is playing in the Ontario Hockey League in Mississauga just outside of Toronto, is expected to go in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

There are many returning players from the 2015 squad including Linus Soderstrom, who was the starter in net last season and held a 5-2 record. Other returnees include NHL prospects Adrian Kempe, Anton Karlsson, William Nylander, Gustav Forsling, and more.

Sweden hasn’t earned at the World Juniors since they got silver at home in 2014. In 2015, they surprisingly fell in the bronze medal game to Slovakia, led by fan favourite goaltender Denis Godla.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Switzerland – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 28, 2015:
vs. United States – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Denmark – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. Canada – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall

The top three in Group A could be any combination of Sweden, Canada and the United States and very few would be surprised. With Canada previously predicted to win the group, I would put money on Sweden finishing 2nd in Group A, being able to outlast the United States on the 28th, as well as the Swiss and Denmark, but not Canada.

 

SWITZERLAND

Switzerland will be coming into this tournament hoping for better fortunes than in 2015. In fact, they just barely qualified for the top tournament. Last year, Switzerland lost in the preliminary round in a shootout upset to the Bjorkstrand/Ehlers led Denmark team, placing them last place in the group. This sent them to the relegation round against Germany, where they won both games 5-2  and avoided relegation.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 23,296
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 189
Men’s World Ranking: 7

Switzerland

The Swiss team, made up primarily of Swiss National League A (NLA) players, will be highlighted by two San Jose prospects Timo Meier and Noah Rod, as well as Denis Malgin.

Denis Malgin had the most points on the Swiss squad in Canada at the 2015 tournament with 7 points in 6 games. Returnees Meier and Rod had 6 points a piece last year. Some key losses include Luca Fazzini (7 points – 2015) and Kevin Fiala (5 points – 2015).

2015 starting goaltender for Switzerland, Gauthier Descloux will be returning with his national team.

Preliminary Games (ALl Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Sweden - 9:00am - Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 27, 2015: vs. Denmark - 1:00pm - Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 29, 2015: vs. Canada - 1:00pm - Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 30, 2015: vs. United States - 1:00pm - Helsinki Ice Hall

Despite last year’s surprising trip to the relegation round, it’s highly likely that Switzerland will not make that same mistake again despite tougher preliminary opponents this year. With Denmark in the group, I predict Switzerland to finish 4th in Group A and go on to the Quarterfinals to take on the winner of Group B.
UNITED STATES

After being matched up in the Quarterfinals to Russia and losing last year, the United States look for their first medal since earning gold in Ufa, Russia at the 2013 World Juniors.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 533,172
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 2,400
Men's World Ranking: 5
USA

The American junior team is going to be one to watched, highlighted by the assumed first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft – Auston Matthews. Matthews took an interesting route, deciding to play his draft eligible year playing a year of professional hockey in Switzerland as opposed to Junior A hockey in Canada or NCAA hockey in the United States.

Zach Werenski, the Blue Jackets 2015 first round pick will be captain of the team.

Another name to look for is Alex DeBrincat of the Erie Otters. After not being selected in a 15-round Ontario Hockey League draft, he was signed as a 17-year old free agent by the Otters and he contributed to a successful season last year along with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. DeBrincat is currently fourth in the OHL in scoring with 56 points in 30 games. Surprisingly, USA Hockey left Connor Garland of the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) off the squad. Garland leads the QMJHL in points with 80 points in 33 games.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Canada – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 28, 2015:
vs. Sweden – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Switzerland – 1:00pm – Helsinki Ice Hall
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. Denmark – 9:00am – Helsinki Ice Hall

There is only one place left that I can predict the Americans to finish after the preliminary round, and that is 3rd in Group A. But this group took forever to place. The Americans finishing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd wouldn’t surprise me, same with Sweden and Russia. Too much talent available. If they do finish third, they would face the second place team from Group B in the Quarterfinals.

 

GROUP B

BELARUS

Belarus returns to the top division of the World Juniors from the Division I tournament for the first time since 2007 in Leksand/Mora, Sweden. The last time Belarus was in the tournament, they finished last place (10th) and relegated with Germany after a 1-0-0-3 record with losses to Russia, Czech Republic, and Switzerland and the lone win coming to Finland. Last year, Belarus went 4-1-0-0 in Division IA where they played Norway, Latvia, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia. Their first place finish promoted them to the top division this year.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 4,851
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 34
Men’s World Ranking: 9

Belarus
Belarus’ entire national junior team is made up of players that have either gone undrafted thus far, and/or are eligible or the 2016 draft despite the likelihood of being drafted into the National Hockey League are low for most.

Belarus participated in two pre-competition games coming into the tournament. In Molodechno, Belarus they played against Dynamo Molodechno in which the national team fell 4-3. Then in Imatra, Finland, Belarus had a rough time in a 7-1 loss to Canada after a 20+ hour bus ride to Finland from Belarus.

Fun fact, the all-time leader in points for the Belarus Men’s National Junior Team is former Montreal Canadien – Andrei Kostitsyn.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern):
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Finland - 11:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 27, 2015: vs. Slovakia - 9:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 29, 2015: vs. Russia - 9:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 30, 2015: vs. Czech Republic - 7:00am - Hartwall Arena

As Belarus is the weakest team in Group B, I am predicting Belarus finishes 5th in Group B and have to compete in the relegation round with the fifth place team from Group A, which I predicted to be Denmark. The winner would earn a spot in the top division in 2017 and the loser will be replaced by Latvia.

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic has not had the best of fortunes over the past few years, as the Czech’s come into the tournament seeking their first medal since earning Bronze in 2005 in Grand Forks/Thief River Falls, USA. Since 2005, the Czech’s have finished 5th four times, 6th four times, and 7th two times, consistently finishing in the middle of the table.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 109,103
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 285
Men’s World Ranking: 6

Czech Republic
The Czech Republic come into the tournament with eight players currently drafted into the National Hockey League, highlighted by Jakub Zboril, Filip Chlapik, and Pavel Zacha.

There are 8 returnees from the 2015 World Juniors. Goaltenders Vanacek and Vladar will be returning, with Stezka making his debut. On defence, Scotka and Masin are the only returning blue liners. But up front at forward, Vozenilek, Zacha, Spacek, and Kase will see action again.

Key losses include David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins) and Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals).

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Russia – 7:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 28, 2015:
vs. Slovakia – 7:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Belarus – 7:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. Finland – 11:00am – Hartwall Arena

Beginning the tournament against a feared Russian team will sure be deflating, as well as an emotional game against their Slovakian rivals next. With Russia and Finland being the likely #1 and #2 in the group, I predict the Czech Republic team to finish 3rd in Group B as the experience of the lineup should be too much for the Slovakians and Belarusians to handle.

 

FINLAND

After winning the gold medal in Sweden at the 2014 World Juniors, Finland absolutely fell apart and finished 4th in their group, and 7th in the tournament just barely avoiding the relegation round at the 2015 World Juniors. This Finland team is going to be one for watch for those who follow National Hockey League prospects and the entry draft. With rankings coming from ISS Hockey, Hockeyprospect.com, Future Considerations, and McKeen’s Hockey, Jesse Puljujarvi is expected to go between 3rd – 5th overall in the first round of the 2016 draft, Patrik Laine is expected to go between 2nd – 9th overall in the first round, and Olli Juolevi is expected to go between 6th – 16th overall in the first round.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 75,871
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 284
Men’s World Ranking: 4

Finland

As previously mentioned, there are at least three players on this squad projected to go in the top 15 in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, with two potentially going in the first five selections. So while this is a clearly very talented roster, it is also very young.

The Finland team is highlighted by Kaapo Kahkonen, Kasperi Kapanen, and Mikko Rantanen.

Team Finland’s roster consists of 7 returnees. All three goaltenders are new to the World Juniors, but on the blue line Sami Niku is the only one with World Juniors experience. The forwards are a little more experienced with Sebastian Aho, Puljujarvi, Rantanen, Kalapudas, Hintz and Kapanen return to the tournament.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Belarus – 11:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 28, 2015:
vs. Russia – 11:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Slovakia – 11:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. Czech Republic – 11:00am – Hartwall Arena

The Finland Men’s National Junior Team is probably one of the most complicated of the bunch and the hardest to predict. A very young team, but filled with lots of talent. No returning goaltenders and only one defenceman with World Juniors experience, but tons of experience up front. I think that Finland will surprise many and edge out Russia due to Russia’s, even more so, lack of experience and finish 1st in Group B.

RUSSIA

Russia, similar to Canada, Sweden, Finland, and the United States is one of many favourites to win the gold medal. Russia looks to fix the heartbreak after taking silver when losing to Canada in the Gold Medal Game in Toronto last year at the 2015 World Juniors. Internationally, Russia has been on a role. They have earned a medal in the last 5 World Juniors tournaments (Gold – 1, Silver – 2, Bronze – 2), and in 10 of the last 11 tournaments. The only exception being the 2010 World Juniors where the team finished sixth.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 99,172
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 3,003
Men’s World Ranking: 2

Russia

Russia only has three returning players from the 2015 World Juniors. Ivan Provorov (D), Vladislav Kamenev (F), and Alexander Dergachyov (F).

One of the main players to keep an eye on is Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Provorov. While most experts and scouts considered American Noah Hanifin the safest defenceman pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, many mentioned they wouldn’t be surprised if Provorov could be the best blue liner to come from that draft.

Alexander Mikulovich is an example of a 2016 draft eligible player who scouts have their eyes on for the later rounds.

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 26, 2015: vs. Czech Republic - 7:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 28, 2015: vs. Finland - 11:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 29, 2015: vs. Belarus - 9:00am - Hartwall Arena
Dec. 31, 2015: vs. Slovakia - 7:00am - Hartwall Arena

Russia and Finland are likely a lock at #1 and #2 in either order. At this point, it would become a matter of who the lack of experience hurts less. I believe Finland will have an incredible bounce back from last year, and they will edge out Russia on home ice and win Group B. As a result of this, I predict Russia to finish 2nd in Group B.

 

SLOVAKIA

Slovakia is coming off of an incredible showing at the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto/Montreal, Canada where they won Bronze over Sweden and starting goaltender Denis Godla earned goaltender of the tournament honours. Historically, Slovakia has only landed on the podium twice. In Toronto/Montreal, Canada at the 2015 World Juniors where they earned Bronze, and in Winnipeg, Canada at the 1999 World Juniors where they got their first Bronze medal.

Approx. Total Players in Country (IIHF.com): 11,518
Approx. Total Indoor/Outdoor Rinks in Country (IIHF.com): 81
Men's World Ranking: 8
Slovakia

In a key loss, Slovakia will not see the return of their star goaltender of the tournament netminder Denis Godla.

Slovakia only has three returning players. Erik Cernak (D), Christian Jaros (D), Radovan Bondra (F).

Slovakia has four NHL-drafted players. Adam Huska (G – New York Rangers), Erik Cernak (D – Los Angeles Kings), Christian Jaros (D – Ottawa Senators), and Radovan Bondra (F – Chicago Blackhawks).

Preliminary Games (All Times Eastern)
Dec. 27, 2015: vs. Belarus – 9:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 28, 2015:
vs. Czech Republic – 7:00am – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 30, 2015:
vs. Finland – 1:00pm – Hartwall Arena
Dec. 31, 2015:
vs. Russia – 9:00am – Hartwall Arena

With the rest of the group predicted, I predict that  Slovakia will finish 4th in Group B, just avoiding the relegation round and advancing to the Quarterfinals to face the winner of Group A.
Last year, there were five Habs prospects in the 2015 World Juniors. Zach Fucale earned Gold as the starting goaltender for Canada, Martin Reway was a key piece in Slovakia’s Bronze Medal run, Jacob de la Rose and Sweden finished fourth, and Artturi Lehkonen’s Finnish team finished seventh. This year, Habs prospects Noah Juulsen and Lukas Vejdemo were invited to Canada and Sweden’s camps respectively. While they did make it far, they were both in their respective countries final cuts. There will be no representatives of the Montreal Canadiens at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

Despite this, All About The Habs will still be bringing you daily updates through articles released breaking down each day, and posts through our social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

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