Photo Courtesy of kelownadailycourier.ca
The World Junior Championships are an annual tradition around the holidays for hockey fans. With it being the top U20 tournament around the world, it has become an event known to be dominated by 19-year-old players. Every year there are a few draft-eligible players that get into the tournament at 17 or 18 years of age and put on a show. This year was no exception. If anything, the draft eligibles were even more prominent this year.
With many of the top prospects playing for their nation this year, there was a lot of young talent at the 2020 World Junior Championships. From the top names like Alexis Lafrenière and Lucas Raymond to the mysterious prospects such as Jan Myšák and Tim Stützle, this years event had a lot to look forward to for the prospect world. Today we’re going to look at the top drfat-eligible players along with some of the big names that didn’t have a big impact on the tournament.
Alexis Lafrenière, LW, Canada (Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL)
5GP 4G-6A-10P Tournament MVP, All-Star, Gold Medal
What is there to say? This kid is REALLY good. Lafrenière had an outstanding tournament that was almost lasted a little over four periods because of an injury scare in Canada’s 6-0 loss to Russia in the round-robin. After putting up four points in those first four periods, he picked up right where he left off upon his return in the quarter-finals against Slovakia. The young Canadian, and a top prospect for the 2020 draft, put on a show. He was often besting his opponents on pure skill but when that wasn’t going his way, he would outwork them as well.
Lafrenière was one of the more dominant forces we’ve seen at a World Juniors recently and if he wasn’t injured he likely would have racked up even more points in the two-plus games he missed, both against inferior opponents in Germany and the Czech Republic. It wasn’t just his offensive production, however. He was a physical presence for the Canadians and he provided energy and confidence that they seemed to lack without him. He may not have had a letter on his jersey, but there was little doubt that he was one of Canada’s best leaders. Canada probably doesn’t win the gold if Lafrenière doesn’t return from the injury scare.
John Jason Peterka, LW/RW, Germany (EHC München, DEL)
7GP 4G-2A-6P 2nd in German Scoring
JJ Peterka was the third draft-eligible German many thought of prior to the World Juniors but he’s coming out of the tournament with some hype. Players like Tim Stützle and Lukas Reichel were getting most of the talk with Peterka just waiting in the background for his turn, and it came. He was the second-leading scorer for the Germans, tied with captain Moritz Seider and behind only Dominik Bokk who is almost two years his senior. Peterka let it be known that he was a dangerous goal-scorer who wasn’t afraid of the limelight. He scored his goals in timely spots and showed that he could be a primary triggerman on the powerplay.
Peterka showed off his lethal shot and his willingness to work hard. The goals that he scored varied from a quick snap shot from the faceoff dots to a greasy goal he buried in tight off a rebound. He and Stützle found instant chemistry, playing keep-away with the puck at times. Talk of Peterka being a first-round talent started which will all but certainly get more eyes on the German teen playing in the top men’s league in his home country.
Jamie Drysdale, RHD, Canada (Erie Otters, OHL)
7GP 1G-2A-3P Started as Canada’s 7th D, Played important role in Elimination rounds
Jamie Drysdale started the event as Canada’s seventh defender and by the time the gold-medal game came around, he was playing an important role and helping the Canadian’s push the pace. Drysdale was limited in his ice-time but seemed to make an impact every time he was out there, leading to a bit more ice-time and working his way into the regular rotation by the medal rounds. His skating was among the best on Canada’s blueline and he possesses excellent vision and awareness in the offensive zone. His defensive zone play was decent as well. Overall, the Canadians were better when Drysdale was on the ice.
It’s impressive that a 17-year-old blueliner was not only able to make Team Canada’s U20 team, but earn himself more playing time and expanding his role throughout the event. Drysdale skates at an elite level for junior hockey and that showed. His skating and two-way game were evident whenever he took the ice. His game against Finland in the semi-final was his best of the tournament, filling in for an ill Bowen Byram and doing an admirable job while also scoring a goal, Canada’s third in the first 3:56 of the game, that ultimately put the game out of reach shortly after it began.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Sweden (Djurgården, SHL)
7GP 3G-2A-5P OT winner against Finland, 2 Goals vs. Slovakia
The best shot in the 2020 NHL Draft class was on display at the World Juniors. Alexander Holtz put on a show with his deadly shot and he could have had higher production if it weren’t for some desperation saves and multiple posts. Holtz was hidden on a Swedish team that again rolled through the group stage with little-to-no issue. He was often overshadowed by teammates Nils Höglander and Samuel Fagemo who were two of the tournament’s highest scorers but Holtz was consistently dangerous as a secondary scorer for the strong Swedish squad.
His overtime winning goal against the rival Finns was a thing of beauty. He picked up a drop pass and because the defenders had backed off for the initial zone entry, Holtz had all the time in the world to pick his spot and nailed it. Holtz has the ability to change games with his shot and this was no different. The Swedes were in control of the game but the Finns kept fighting back, generating chances and pushing the Swedes to the brink of defeat before Holtz was able to end it.
Kristian Tanus, C/W, Finland (Jukurit, Liiga)
7GP 2G-7A-9P Lead Finland in Scoring, Beauty no-look Assist on GWG eliminating USA
It’s cheating a bit to choose an over-ager as one of the top draft-eligible players at the World Juniors but Kristian Tanus should have been drafted last year and if he isn’t taken this June, the NHL has a scouting problem because this kid is a gamer. With the Finns already being down Anton Lundell, a fellow 2020 draft prospect, they lost their top center Rasmus Kupari early in the tournament. That left the burden of producing on a team without dynamic firepower up for grabs and Kristian Tanus took the lead. Along with frequent international linemate Patrik Puistola, Tanus began to take over for the Finns offensively. He was a constant threat to score or set up his teammates in every game.
Tanus also didn’t shy away from the rough stuff and probably should have received a game-misconduct on a high-hit/elbow against the American team in the quarter-finals but that game was filled with questionable hits that went unpunished so Tanus gets the pass. He was physical on a number of occasions, constantly playing the pest role alongside the role of the leading scorer. Tanus is a feisty, undersized player who put his name on the map at the World Juniors and that should help him in his pursuit of being drafted come June.
Big Names, Tough Tourney
Two of the biggest names at the World Juniors were Canadian forward Quinton Byfield and Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov. Both had flashes but neither made their mark and both ended up in the ‘disappointment’ category. Neither player turns 18 until the summer so they are already on the younger side of the draft class. For reference, Byfield is 10 months younger than Lafrenière, while Askarov is 8 months younger. Both Byfield and Askarov seemed a little overwhelmed at times and if given the opportunity next year, will likely dominate.
Byfield never seemed to get the appropriate opportunity and in the short time that he did, he was unable to do anything of substance. He often flashed his size, speed, and skill but couldn’t seem to put things together and get any sustained momentum. His game seemed to be muted by the limited ice-time and role on a Canada team that always has top talent. With Byfield, it was likely a numbers game and he just happened to be the player that the coaching staff cut back on, likely due to his youth. Was this the right decision? They won gold so it seems to have done no harm at a minimum.
As for Askarov, he just didn’t seem himself. He’s always been an active goaltender but he seemed to have a bit too much ‘happy feet’, especially in the early going. He seemed like he was never comfortable and knew that with Russian coach Valeri Bragin the leash wouldn’t be very long. After a rough start in game one against the host Czech Republic in which he was pulled after 40 minutes, he never truly got comfortable in the Russian net. His numbers didn’t look good, he didn’t look right and Askarov ended up on the bench by the time the finals rolled around. This is likely a bump in the road for the young Russian but it was the first time that Askarov looked human so that means he isn’t a robot. Focus on the positives, people!
Best of the Rest
There were a number of other draft-eligible players that made their mark on the biggest stage in junior hockey. Tim Stützle was brilliant and dynamic. His skating leaves you marveling and his offense is so predatory. He is always on the attack. His German teammate, Lukas Reichel, was quietly productive just as he has been all year in the DEL. He is quick, agile and has excellent vision on the ice.
Jan Myšák was strong for the Czechs, providing some dynamism and pop to their offense while defender Šimon Kubíček provided a steady hand on the back end for the host nation. Lucas Raymond was as fun as ever to watch. His tournament started slow because of an illness but he seemed to come around towards the end, collecting two goals and two assists at the World Juniors. Simon Knak had a solid, but unspectacular tournament for the Swiss.
Joonas Oden, the third man on the line with Tanus and Puistola, had a solid tournament for an undrafted player in his final year of eligibility. Samuel Hlavaj was solid in the Slovakian net, helping a weak Slovakian team avoid the relegation-round. Winger Maxim Musorov was the best player for Kazakhstan, seemingly their only offensively capable player at times. Amir Miftakhov was the man who helped clean up Askarov’s net for the Russians, leading them to the gold medal game. Nico Daws started the tournament as the Canadian starter in net but that didn’t last long as he succumbed to the Russian offense allowing four goals early in the second period, he never got a chance to get back in net.
Goodbye World Juniors, See you soon World U18s!
While the World Juniors had some 2020 NHL Draft flavor, the World U18 tournament in the spring will be the big one in the draft world. There we will get another glimpse at some of these first-time draft-eligible players against their age group. We will get to evaluate the 2020 crop against themselves which will be key. While we shouldn’t take any tournament like the be-all and end-all of a players season, it should be treated as any other 5-10 game stretch would be. Was the player good? That’s awesome but he isn’t the first overall pick because of a hot week. Unless your name is Alexis Lafrenière.
I hope everyone enjoyed the World Juniors! I had a blast watching and covering it all! I 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!