image courtesy of IIHF.com
Draft junkies are spoiled each winter, with the World Junior A Challenge and World Juniors stealing many eyes for a few weeks each year. But, like every IIHF level, the top World Junior tournament isn’t the only major U20 event that takes place during the coldest time of the year. In fact, there are five other divisions that play between December and January, with teams looking for promotion up the hockey ladder to play against stronger competition each year.
Prior to the World Juniors in British Columbia, the Division IA and IB tournaments took place, with Germany earning promotion to the top event for 2020 and Slovenia getting a little boost up to the secondary tournament after winning IB. In January, the remaining three tournaments took to the spotlight, with Estonia, Serbia and China winning Division IIA, IIB and III respectively.
While most of the top prospects were battling it out in Canada, there were a few under-the-radar choices that could earn consideration at the NHL draft in Vancouver, and even one who should have no issue getting selected in the first round. Today, we’re going to focus on some of the top prospects that played in the lower division World Junior Hockey Championship events over the past two months, with all of them earning some draft consideration this year:
Taro Jentzsch, LW (Germany): Usually, the Division IA tournament is dominated by older players who can elevate their team to the top World Junior tournament for the following year, only for most of the key players to age out. Germany was lucky in the fact that their top players were still rather young, including Jentzsch, the 99th-ranked European skater on the NHL’s Central Scouting list. Jentzsch had four goals in the tournament, Belarus’ Ivan Drozdov and Norway’s Samuel Solem for the Division IA lead. Jentzsch showed that not only can he score often, but that he can be a very dominant physical presence and never shines away from tough battles, bringing his best game when the competition gets tougher.
Germany is already looking like one of the top teams to earn promotion in a very long time. Germany could have at least five players drafted to the NHL this summer and 10 players can return next year, including St. Louis Blues prospect and tournament leading scorer Dominik Bokk. That doesn’t even count other key players that didn’t represent the Germans in December, including Nikita Alexandrov and Tim Fleischer, who both remained with their Canadian major junior teams. Jentzsch looks like one of the rising offensive stars in the German pipeline, a team that is starting to see real growth over the past few years, especially with the silver medal at the Olympics. Jentzsch could finish the season as a point-per-game player with the Sherbrooke Phoenix and has earned consideration as a late-round prospect for June.
Moritz Seider, D (Germany): No player outside of the top World Junior tournament had as much hype as Seider, who is currently out of action for a few weeks due to a shoulder injury. In December, Seider was easily the top defenceman at the Division IA tournament, winning the award after dominating the tournament from the back end with seven points in five games. Currently in his first full season of play in the top German men’s league, Seider has great size at 6’4, but showed at the U20 event that he is an above-average skater for a tall defenceman. Seider wasn’t afraid to join the rush on many occasions and used his size to win many puck battles.
Of all the players on this list, Seider is the only one with true first-round potential and could slide into a team’s top four in the NHL someday. Seider was a stout offensive defenceman in junior and has steadily improved his play in the competitive DEL as the season has progressed, even if he has just a handful of points. Assuming Seider does make Germany for the World Juniors in the Czech Republic next year, he’ll be the team’s top player once again in what would be his third World Junior appearance.
Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, D (Norway): Also playing against men full time, Lilleberg is currently ranked 127th among European skaters by the NHL Central Scouting, which suggests he won’t likely have his name called in June. But still, he would have been a real threat to win the top defenceman award had Mortiz Seider not existed. Lilleberg had three points for Norway, a team that didn’t necessarily go into the Division IA tournament with a serious chance at a medal, but came away with a bronze after edging Austria in their final game. Lilleberg had three assists in the tournament and was good overall on a team that was outmatched in most contests.
Lilleberg isn’t going to steal your heart with his two-way play, but he is competent when joining in on the rush and can play the power play. Lilleberg has solid size and can stand up to older competition, as he has done in Norway, albeit in a third-pairing role for most of the year. Lilleberg has learned to be smart when distributing the puck and can throw some solid hits, but positioning can be an issue when he ramps up the energy.
Kieran Brown, LW (Great Britain): Could Great Britain have a player drafted for the second year in a row? It doesn’t look likely, but Brown had quite a strong tournament and has had NHL scouts appear in the stands to watch him play against domestic competition all year. Sure, nobody expected GB to struggle offensively in Division IIA once it was announced that Liam Kirk would represent the team, but Brown, one of the youngest rising stars from the country, was a major contributor with two goals and seven points in five games.
Despite his stat line suggesting otherwise, Brown is a pure goal-scorer with a very strong wrist shot that can motor around the ice and put himself in dangerous scoring positions. Growing up, Brown was an all-star at nearly every age group of the EIHA back home and was the MVP at the U11 and U17 level. He would later go on to play some stellar hockey in the United States, including time with the Iowa Wild’s U14 team where he had 10 goals and 11 points in just 10 games in T1EHL play. He already has played parts of two years with the EIHL’s Sheffield Steelers, and while he has just three points to his credit, Brown may be worth at least bringing to camp given how often he finds the net against junior hockey players.
Dilan Savenkov, D (Estonia): Recently released by the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, Dilan Savenkov didn’t have an overly-outstanding tournament by any means, but he didn’t need to when things were all said and done. Estonia would go on to win Division IIA after a strong effort by the entire team that saw the group flying on all cylinders from start to finish. Savenkov spent a lot of the tournament on the second pairing, getting beat by older players for the top minutes, but Savenkov didn’t make many mistakes and skated at a better pace than most of his opponents. Savenkov had a goal and an assist for Estonia in his first major tournament with the U20 team.
Estonia has seen an influx of young talent get NHL draft consideration over the past few years, but very few have as much raw talent as Savenkov. While getting released from major junior doesn’t help his cause, Savenkov had some bright moments in the QMJHL this year and has worked with coaches in North America for many years now. He seems like one of the best bets to get drafted to the NHL from the country, something that would be a major milestone given that just one player, Toivo Suursoo (drafted in the 11th round by Detroit back in 1994) has heard their name called from Estonia (Leo Komarov has a Finnish citizenship).
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