It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the holiday season comes the U20 World Junior Hockey Championship. No matter your team allegiance, the World Juniors are a great time for watching hockey. It provides the opportunity to catch up on the future of the NHL. For Habs fans, it allows the opportunity to watch Canadiens’ draft picks, and luckily this year the Habs are well-represented.
Since winning five gold medals in a row from 2005-2009, Canada hasn’t seen the top of the podium. Team Canada has won two silvers and a bronze in the four most recent tournaments and was held off the podium last year for the first time since 1998. With a new coach, Brent Sutter, and a new team, Canada hopes to reclaim its spot on the top of the podium. Canada is in Group A, the weaker of the two groups, consisting of the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, and the USA.
Goaltending has certainly been suspect for Team Canada. The Habs very own, Zachary Fucale looks to change that. Between being the 36th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, a MasterCard Memorial Cup winner, and an Ivan Hlinka Tournament Gold Medal, Fucale certainly has the pedigree to be that game changing netminder. However, he won’t be handed the starter’s job as returnee and Detroit Red Wings prospect, Jake Paterson provides stiff competition. There’s no doubt that Paterson has struggled at times with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, but Zachary Fucale has gone through ups and downs as well. Luckily for Fucale, he seems to only be going through “ups” recently, whereas Paterson hasn’t had quite the same fortune. Fucale has been pulled just once this season and currently has 19 wins, good enough for first in the QMJHL, with the the third-placed Halifax Mooseheads. Fucale currently has a 0.907 save percentage, good for the ninth best in QMJHL, and a 2.51 goals against average, second in the QMJHL.
The recently traded Charles Hudon will also represent Canada. At last year’s tournament, Hudon was one of the eight locks to make the team, but a back injury forced him to withdraw from the tournament. Canada went on to finish fourth. At the 2013 Subway Super Series, Hudon played on a line with third overall pick, Jonathan Drouin, and the QMJHL’s leading scorer in Anthony Mantha. Hudon scored twice and added a pair of assists in the two games. Following a slow start to the season, Hudon has been on fire since the Super Series, posting 17 points in nine games. Hudon will more than likely be a utility player for Team Canada, as his skill and strong two-way game allow him to play anywhere in the lineup. Hudon should also be a regular on the penalty kill and a frequent presence on the powerplay. Expectations are always high for Team Canada and after failing to medal last year, gold is the only option.
Fellow member in Group A, Slovakia, has medalled just once in their 19 year history at the World Junior Championship. It’s certainly been a tournament of disappointment for the country. In Group A with Canada, USA, Czech Republic, and Germany, it will be tough sledding for the team. Canadiens 2013 fourth round pick, Martin Reway is the only player currently playing in the Canadian Hockey League on Team Slovakia. Reway has 14 goals and 27 assists for 41 points in just 25 games thus far, with 38 of those points coming in his last 19 games. Last tournament, Reway was chosen to represent Slovakia, where he posted just two assists in six games. With another year’s experience and as one of just three returning forwards, Reway will undoubtedly have a greater role on the team. Reway is a highly skilled forward, possessing extremely soft hands and a good shot. Due to the tools at his disposal, Reway has the ability to take over a game, but he certainly does play a high risk style. Reway almost certainly will be a lock for a top six role and he will receive ample ice time on the powerplay.
While Finland hasn’t done quite as bad as Slovakia, they have still gone through their fair share of struggles in recent memory. The last time Team Finland medalled was 2006 and the last time they won gold was back in 1998, when they hosted the tournament. The Finns are looking to change that this Christmas; however, it will not be easy as they are in Group B with Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and new-comers, Norway. This year Finland certainly has an explosive offence, that they hope can carry them through the “group of death.” The offence is led by captain and Blackhawks first round pick, Teuvo Teräväinen and Canadiens second round pick, Artturi Lehkonen. Both are returning players, looking to rebound from a near-relegation performance last tournament.
Artturi Lehkonen will be a staple in the top six on Team Finland. Lehkonen leads all U-20 players in Finland’s Liiga in both points and points-per-game, with 20 points in 33 games this season. Lehkonen comes into this tournament on fire with seven points in his last nine games. Despite his stature, Lehkonen is a very intense player, who shows no fear of duking it out with bigger players. Lehkonen thrives in front of the net, where he will most likely spent his time on the powerplay, due to his hand-eye coordination and soft hands. Lehkonen will absolutely be relied upon by Team Finland to produce, making him an incredibly valuable weapon for Team Finland.
The host country, Sweden, has undeniably been the class of the tournament in recent years. At the 2012 World Junior Championship, Sweden ended a 31-year gold medal drought. The following year, Team Sweden made the finals for the second year in a row, where they lost to Team USA. Year after year, Sweden has sent a very strong team to the tournament, with this year being no different as they have sent arguably the best team on paper. Headlined by Andre Burakovsky, Sebastian Collberg, Oscar Dansk, Filip Forsberg, Robert Hägg, Andreas Johnson, and NHLer Elias Lindholm, expectations are gold for Team Sweden.
Two Habs prospects will play very important roles on Team Sweden, in particular, Sebastian Collberg. While it has been a very tough year for Collberg, who has just one goal in 25 games in the Swedish Hockey League, he has historically dominated his age group. Collberg has been a staple in Team Sweden’s lineup since 2012, where he grabbed seven points in six games en route to a gold medal. The following tournament, Collberg produced at a point-per-game pace despite playing injured. This year, Collberg will be relied upon even more, due to his experience and skill set. With a strong tournament, Collberg can propel himself among Sweden’s all time leaders in points at the tournament. Expect the 19-year old to be among the tournament leaders in points and goals, as he possesses a deadly combination of speed and shooting ability.
The second of two Habs prospects is Jacob de la Rose, the Canadiens 34th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. De la Rose is a returnee from last year’s silver medal team. What de la Rose lacks in skill, he makes up for with sheer determination and hustle. The 18-year old will more than likely play a role identical to the one that plays with the SHL’s Leksand IF, where de la Rose has five goals and five assists in 31 games. De la Rose will play on either the second or the third line, where he will be expected to provide a strong, consistent two-way game and a non-stop motor.
The Canadiens are certainly well-represented at the 2014 World Junior Championship with six players. Surely, it will be a tournament to remember for Habs and hockey fans alike. Not only have the Habs rarely had so many representatives, but rarely have they all played key roles for their respective countries. It will be a great time not only be a Habs fan, but a hockey fan in general.