The World Junior Championships are underway and the tournament has lived up to the hype yet again! With early upsets, blowouts, and battles that have gone down to the wire, the World Juniors is delivering all of the excitement that we all crave at this time of year. The stars have certainly come out to play but its the “surprise stars” that really make short tournaments like this special. It’s the players that step up unexpectedly while under the bright lights that become fan favourites and players that fans get enamored with.
The World Juniors has been the place where stars are born. Early on in this year’s tournament, there are plenty of players beginning to twinkle just a little brighter in fan’s eyes. While a short tournament should never be used for making sweeping judgments or evaluations on a player, they can be a big stage for the player to show off his skills and bring his name to the forefront, just as the players here all have.
Trevor Zegras, LW, USA (Anaheim Ducks)
It feels like cheating a bit to choose the leading scorer for the Americans after three games, but he has started the tournament on the fourth line and has earned his way up the lineup. Finally given a top-six role in the third game of the tournament, Trevor Zegras again put together a multi-assist game helping lead the American’s past the rival Russians. Zegras’ play brings together creativity and skill that the majority of players only wished they had. His skating is shifty, taking unique lines throughout the neutral and offensive zone while having the vision and playmaking ability to find teammates with nearly impossible passes. Zegras has a real shot at going from fourth-line to tournament all-star.
Patrik Puistola, LW, Finland (Carolina Hurricanes)
Tied for the tournament lead in scoring, the often overlooked Finnish star has yet again looked like one of the best Finnish forwards when playing amongst his peers. Patrik Puistola has shown all of the skills that led many to believe he could be a first-round pick in last June’s draft before falling to the Hurricanes in the third round. Puistola has been a dual-threat with four goals and three assists through three games, looking dangerous on just about every shift. He and Kristian Tanus have been as good as gold in international play in the past and this event has been no different. The dynamic duo has had Joonas Oden riding shotgun and the line has been nearly unstoppable in all three of their games, generating two or more goals in each.
Nils Höglander, LW, Sweden (Vancouver Canucks)
Can we just start calling it ‘The Höglander’? He’s done it more often and better than just about anybody. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Nils Höglander pulled off the ‘Michigan’/’Svechnikov’/’Lacrosse’ goal from behind the net for the third time the 2019 calendar year. If you still have no idea what that is, check out the video above. Outside of doing magic on the ice, Höglander is also leading his team in scoring and has been an offensive catalyst for the Swedes in each game. Höglander has brought his typical high-skill pest play style to the tournament as well, getting involved physically with regularity as well. Höglander should continue to be a spark plug for the Swedes as they look to continue a record 50-game undefeated streak at the World Juniors in the round-robin.
John Jason Peterka, RW, Germany (2020 NHL Draft)
Prior to this event, Peterka had been a secondary thought when talking about the exciting roster that the Germans were projected to be bringing to this year’s World Juniors. He’s now been discussed as a possible first-round talent. While Peterka has had a bit of a cult following, his profile has blown up with his recent play for the German U20 team. He’s used his wicked wrist shot to make a difference, scoring three goals in his first two games. Peterka is a good skater who works well in tight spaces. He finds soft spots in the offensive zone and attacks. He always seems to be around the net, causing havoc and trying to clean up the rebounds. With continued strong play, Peterka could very well work himself into more widespread first-round conversations.
Who could be the next star? Who could be the player that carries his World Junior success to success for the rest of the season? Every year a star is born at this event and any of these players could be that star. We could still be waiting for the star to emerge. Regardless of who bursts onto the scene over the next week, these four players have all stood out through two or three games. They’ve all made a much bigger impact than originally expected and they’ve helped get push their teams to various levels of success.
With the World Juniors well underway, be sure to check out some Bold Predictions and my pre-tournament X-Factors for each country at the World Juniors and the rest of the World Juniors content from the team at Dobber Prospects!
I also invite you to check out my bi-weekly series called Shift Work. It’s a series of shift-by-shift analysis focusing on a 2020 NHL Draft eligible prospect. This past edition featured World Junior difference-maker Jan Myšák of the Czech Republic. As always, you can reach out to me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari! Which prospects have stood out to you recently? Let me know!