Even though most people spend December thinking about the World Junior Hockey Championships, the World Junior A Challenge kicks off the month each year with the best players playing Tier 2 hockey in North America, and junior/European pro elsewhere. The tournament typically doesn’t feature the top prospects around the world, but it does feature a lot of players ready to hear their name called at the NHL draft the following summer.
The tournament was dominated by Russia and the United States, with both team losing just a single game throughout the tournament. The only difference: USA lost their first game against Canada West, while Russia’s lone loss came against the Americans in the final game. Canada West, featuring the top players from the AJHL and BCHL, came third place after beating the Czech Republic (containing many players who didn’t get the call for the World Juniors), while Canada East, containing players from Ontario and Quebec, failed to win a single game in the five-team, week-long event.
The tournament acts as a great avenue for some NHL prospects from the USHL, CJHL and Europe to show off what they can do. 30 players that had previously played at the World Junior A Challenge were drafted in 2018, while stars such as Nikolaj Ehlers, Brock Boeser, Dante Fabbro, Tyson Jost and Andrei Svechnikov have all played in recent years. This year, Russia’s Vasily Podkolzin was the star of the tournament and he never disappointed, but more was expected out of the likes of Michal Teply of the Czech Republic and Alex Newhook from Canada West.
Who were the top players from the tournament in Bonnyville, Alberta earlier this month? Let’s take a look.
Vasily Podkolzin, RW (Russia): Who? Yeah, this guy came out of nowhere. All kidding aside, everyone expected Podkolzin to be a major factor at the World Junior A Challenge and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Podkolzin tied Bobby Brink for the tournament lead with eight points in six games, partly due to the fact that he never seemed to leave the ice. The Russians had no issue throwing him in any situation and he never seemed to slow down. Not only was he the most lethal playmaker in the tournament, with every play that he set up seemingly resulting in a goal, Podkolzin had a couple of nice hits and played as well defensively as you’d hope from a top draft prospect. Projected to go in the top five in June, Podkolzin showed a lot of chemistry with Ilya Nikolayev, who finished tied for third in scoring with six points, with the two finding each other with ease throughout the tourney. Podkolzin was instantly invited to Russia’s World Junior team after the completion of the event in Alberta and will surely creep into the top six at points in Vancouver.
VIDEO CLIP OF PODKOLZIN
Bobby Brink, RAW (USA): NHL draft ranking lists can’t seem to agree on what Brink’s true potential is heading into next June’s selection process, but the 17-year-old did everything right in his first tournament for his country. Currently dominating the USHL with 33 points in 19 games (he’s currently second in scoring despite missing time to play for USA), Brink scored the game-winning goal early in the first period of the gold medal game to earn his spot with Podkolzin at the top of the scoring race. It’s very likely that Brink gets serious World Junior consideration next season, especially after Tyler Madden made the jump to the 2019 team after his great performance in Eastern Canada last year. Brink is very quick on his feet and doesn’t waste much time trying to distribute the puck, with his wrist shot also serving as one of the most dangerous in Junior A hockey. The USHL star plays a lot like Jonathan Marches