(Photo Credit: https://scoutingtherefs.com/)
Without question, the World Junior Championship (WJC) is the premier prospect tournament, which allows both fans and scouts alike to track and follow the best U20 players in the world. Not only can you cheer for the next wave of players that will make up your homeland’s next generation of Olympic and World Cup teams and pledge allegiance to the teenagers that try to bring home gold, but also keep tabs on the prospects that will make up the future of your fantasy hockey team. There is no other stage that brings the world’s best players, meets playoff intensity and is smack dab in the middle of the hockey season.
With the WJC now underway, I thought I would compile a consolidated list of all rosters along with the PNHLe statistic for the 2019-20 season of any players that qualify.
PNHLe is a stat that uses historical values from current NHL players to determine an estimate of a prospect’s eventual point potential in the NHL. Many variables aren’t taken into consideration in the current model (i.e., time-on-ice, player usage, primary points, line-mates, etc.), so before you lambaste me with why your favorite prospect should have a higher value, please understand that PNHLe is mainly used from a fantasy perspective to identify trends and infer player point potential over several years – not the small sample of the start of the 2019-20 season. One data point should be taken with a grain of salt, two years of consistent or increasing PNHLe begins to show the inclination of development, and three consecutive years indicates a solid trend.
It is a completely objective statistic where the top players usually trend upwards over an entire season, while others tend to fall off during gruelling seasons and as competition gets more difficult. That being said, players generally see a decline as rookies while they adjust to more difficult leagues. Therefore, players that make the jump from the CHL to the AHL, or the Swedish SuperElit to the SHL, generally have a drop in value and production based on situational usage and overall time-on-ice.
If you’d like to read more about the PNHLe stat you can do so here. If you notice a prospect that has not been listed, it may be because PNHLe is currently only calculated for eleven different developmental leagues (AHL, WHL, OHL, QMJHL, KHL, SHL, Liiga, NCAA, USHL, Allsvenskan and NHL) and must meet minimum games played requirement.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the prospects to keep an eye on during this year’s tournament. I’ve ordered the teams based on their average PNHLe ranking.
Canada – Group B
It is extremely rare for a prospect to finish a season with a PNHLe over 100, so the fact that Canada has two players on their roster indicates the amount of talent level the Canadians have at their disposal. Alexis Lafreniere is in the process of posting his third consecutive season of plus-100 PNHLe and is a huge reason why he is the front-runner to go first overall in the 2020 draft. (Update: Lafreniere left Canada’s second game against Russia with what looked like a serious knee/ligament injury).
Quinton Byfield currently leads all prospects (over 7000 players) not currently in the NHL and is making a valid argument that he could push for the coveted top draft selection. As one of the younger draft-eligible players, expect him to get stronger as the tournament progresses.
United States – Group B
The U.S.A. may come in as a bit of a sleeper in the powerhouse Group B. However, it should be noted that most of the roster has played together with the National Development Program, and outside of 2019 first overall pick, Jack Hughes, their comfort level with one another will pay off in dividends when the games get tighter in the playoff rounds.
Nearly every player on its roster is playing in their freshman year in the NCAA, which typically sees a drop in overall PNHLe value. You can expect a big jump in production next season, which means that many of these players may be at their optimal ‘buy low’ points from a fantasy perspective.
Keep an eye on second-round pick, Shane Pinto, who was starting to find his groove with North Dakota. He had eight points in his last six games before the WJC.
Sweden – Group A
Arguably the top defensive unit in the tournament will wear the yellow Tre Kronor. The Swedes have depth at all positions, a couple of 2020 draft-eligible top-10 locks, and one of the most impressive round-robin win streaks in any sport, at any level. 2019 first-round picks, Nils Lundkvist and Victor Soderstrom have been honing their craft in Sweden’s top professional league (SHL) and have been otherworldly in the first half of the season.
You will hear a lot about ‘the streak’, which is now over 50 consecutive games, but if it doesn’t translate into medal success it will all be for naught – again!
Russia – Group A
I have said it before and I will say it once again, the KHL is easily the most difficult league in the world to predict future point production, especially for young players. As one of the top pro leagues in the world, the KHL is not concerned with developing players through optimal ice-time, which makes the PNHLe of many of its players look misleading compared to their actual point potential.
Nikita Alexandrov, Alexander Khovanov and Egor Sokolov have decided to use the QMJHL as their stepping stone, and have all had exceptional years, which is translating into early success in the Czech Republic. On the other end of Canada, Yegor Zamula has been one of the top defenders in the WHL and is looking to make a name for himself similarly as Alexander Romanov did last year, or another Flyer, Phillipe Myers did in 2017.
Finland – Group A
You never know what kind of performance you are going to get with Finland, but they seem to come into every WJC as one of the more underrated teams in the tournament. They have talent littered throughout the lineup, which may be masked based on the lack of viewings many prognosticators have had because the majority of players are playing in the Liiga – Finland’s top professional league.
It is too bad that Rasmus Kupari had a tournament ending injury early on, and Finland will have to be creative working with only 11 forwards for the remainder of the tournament. However, if we have learned one thing based on previous tournaments, it is to never count Finland out. Keep an eye on Matias Maccelli, who is having an incredible year with Ilves and a player who is more than likely available in your fantasy league.
Czech Republic – Group B
The Czechs have started to focus on developing their players more at home in recent years, but most of their top players have decided to take their talent elsewhere in hopes of developing into consistent pros with upside.
Unfortunately, Jakub Lauko suffered a tournament ending injury in his first game, and all eyes will be focused on Jan Jenik to lead this team if the Czech Republic squad has any hope in medaling on home ice. Jenik has arguably been the best player in the OHL this season and has only once not registered a point for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Interestingly, it was the final game he played before heading to the WJC, which capped off an amazing 26 consecutive games with a point for a total of 56.
Germany – Group B
It is a bit unfortunate that I have not been able to develop a proper equivalency factor from the top professional German league, which is gaining more validity as a hockey development hotbed with every passing year. The lack of a PNHLe factor should not undermine the amazing years that both Tim Stuetzle and Lukas Reichel are having. Stuetzle, in particular, could walk away from this tournament as a top-5 favourite, if not higher. Reichel is one of my personal favourites to be one of the biggest early surprises off the draft board in 2020.
Switzerland – Group A
With only four NHL drafted prospects on Switzerland’s roster, they will need to rely on their trademark defensive structure to have any chance at success over the next handful of games. Nico Gross and Tim Berni will both look to lead a young backend to help upset one of the traditional medal favourites.
Slovakia – Group A
Entering the tournament with a relatively young roster, the Slovaks do possess a couple of players that hold some fantasy value. Maxim Cajkovic tops the list and is having a quietly super year with Saint John in the QMJHL. The former third-round pick from the 2019 draft wi