The World Junior Tournament is fast approaching and I (Like many of you) watch closely to scout prospects for my fantasy roster. Our WJC page has you covered for all the players to watch and I will also be doing a series of podcast episodes for DobberProspects Radio previewing each country and top players to watch.
How much stock should we place on this tournament? Is this a sign of things to come for the players that stand out or is it the pinnacle of their career? Lets take a look back at last years stand out players and see where they are now for some context.
Lets start with a pair of Florida Panthers prospects that lead the tournament in scoring with nine points each.
Grigori Denisenko, LW – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
Drafted by Florida 15th overall in the first round of the 2018, Denisenko was released from the KHL where he saw limited ice time and exploded for nine points in seven games as an 18-year-old to lead the tournament in scoring. Denisenko is in a similar situation this year, playing a limited role in the KHL but he is still eligible for and has been released for the World Junior. Look for him to be at the top of the scoring again this time around with Russia chasing another WJC Medal.
Aleksi Hepponiemi, C/RW – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Now 20-years-old, the Finnish playmaker is cutting his teeth as a rookie in North America in the AHL. 23 games into his first season he is still searching for his first goal, but has seven helpers. This is not his first season of pro hockey, last year in 50 Liiga games with Karpat he posted 16 goals and 46 points. By comparison his AHL debut has been disappointing but the AHL is a much better quality of play. This is not his Morth American debut however as he did play two full seasons in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos so he is well adjusted to the smaller ice and the culture. Still only 20-yeas-old he has tremendous potential but keep a close eye for his production to increase soon
Ryan Poehling, C – Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
After a monster season which featured 31 points in 36 NCAA games and a strong five goals and eight points in seven WJC games with USA Poehling saved the best for last. He made his NHL debut in the final game of the season with Montreal and recorded a hat-trick and then scored the shootout game winner to boot. A tough act to follow up to be sure. Poehling has spent the majority of his rookie season in the AHL with Laval and has six more NHL games this year to his credit. He remains Montreals top prospect and should be a NHL contributing regular in the near future.
While were talking Habs…
Alex Romanov, D – CSKA Moskva (KHL)
Like his countryman Denisenko, Romanov will be returning to the WJC for Russia after a breakout performance last year as an 18-year-old. Also like Denisenko, he is toiling in the KHL with limited ice time as a youngster and has only managed four assists through 33 games. His KHL contract is expiring after this season so look for him to transfer to North America next year. Romanov may need some AHL and North America adjustment time before he becomes the next star Russian blue liner in Montreal since Andrei Markov. But first, he will return to the WJC to give Montreal fans and fantasy owners a taste of what’s to come.
Like us, NHL scouts absolutely use the WJC to scout players as well. Case and point, the Carolina Hurricanes drafted two overage players that had standout performances with Russia in Kirill Slepets and Pyotr Kochetkov, and have had similar seasons.
Pyotr Kochetkov, G – Vityaz Podolsk (KHL)
Since breaking out with a best goalie performance at the WJC last year, Kochetkov was drafted by Carolina in the second round of the 2019 draft and has one more year remaining on his KHL contract before he can come to North America. Kochetkov was traded earlier October fro SKA St. Petersburg to Podolsk and he has split the season between the two clubs. The 20-Year-Old is developing nicely in Russia and could be the Canes future starting goalie in a few short years.
Kirill Slepets, RW – Dinamo Riga (KHL)
Slepets was unable to crack the roster of Lokomotiv to start the season and played 21 games in the VHL where the speedster posted 15 points in 21 games. He was traded to Dinamo Riga on November 13th and has since played nine KHL games there and has four points. Besides both having breakout WJC last year and being drafted together as over age prospects by Carolina this past summer, both have another season remaining in the KHL following this season. Look for Slepets to make his debut in 2022-23 in the AHL before he makes a run at a top six NHL role in Carolina.
Aarne Talvitie, C/LW – Penn State (NCAA)
The New Jersey Devils prospect perhaps had one of the more impressive WJC performances as he Captained Finland to a Gold Medal while posting seven points in seven games. His stock as a fantasy prospect was at an all-time high as a sixth round pick from the 2017 draft. Then a knee injury abruptly ended his season and the momentum was gone. Talvitie has returned to the Nittany Lions for his sophomore season and has put up five goals and 15 points through 18 games. Penn State is a top team with several top senior players which means the ice time is evenly distributed throughout their deep roster. Talvitie has been paired regularly with the Penguins big Nikita Pavlychev and the pair can do it all. They play in all situations and special teams and play well. Talvitie lost some key development time missing the second half of last season, but has regained his form soundly.
These were a few of the players that captured my attention at the WJC last year, and how they are doing since then. Who will be some of the players this year to capture our attention?
Early candidates could include players such as Aatu Raty, Matias Maccelli of Finland. Lucas Raymond (if healthy), and Alexander Holtz of Sweden. Cole Caufield and Nicholas Robertson for USA. Joe Veleno from Canada will be a player to watch. The first ever exceptional player from the QMJHL has struggled in his rookie AHL season and could use this tournament as a spring board to ignite his confidence. From Russia, Denisenko will return but look for Vasili Podkolzin and Yegor Zamula to capture our attention along with goalie Yaroslav Askarov. Finally, Jan jenik, Tim Stutzle, Martin Chromiak and Michal Teply are players I will be looking for.
Enjoy the Holidays and the WJC, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Be sure to follow the DobberProspects Radio podcast as I will be releasing several WJC preview episodes this week with previews including great guests such as…
USA – Steve Kournianos (Draft Analyst)
Canada – Steve Ellis (The Hockey News)
Finland – Jokke Nevalainen (DobberProspects)
Sweden – Jimmy Hamrin (McKeens)
Russia – Viktor Fomich (RUSprospects)