Previewing Team Russia, Team Sweden and Team Finland before puck drops on the 2015 WJC
The event will be split between Toronto and Montreal and it seems to be very well timed for fans of their respective NHL franchises. This year World Juniors are highlighted by Canadiens and Leafs draft picks with big roles to fill on their respective teams.
With Canada and the USA (covered over at DobberHockey) looking to dominate on home ground, let’s take a look at…
The defending champs will have a strong chance at repeating as medalists in 2015. Led by a trio of stars, the Fins will have to play an exciting style to win games.
The Canadiens second-rounder (2013), and Kapanen junior must be the dynamic duo that leads the charge and wreaks havoc on opposing defenses.
The D lacks experience, but not talent. They have the size and ability to shut it down, while also possessing the puck-moving skills necessary to succeed. Julius Honka (14th overall – 2014/Dallas Stars) will be their ace as the sole returnee from last year’s golden squad, and the draft-eligible Sami Nikuu could turn some heads with his solid two-way play.
If the O or D slips, the Fins need not worry too much. Saros is a beast and could easily be the tournaments best goaltender, and Ville Husso could probably start for many of these teams.
Look for the Fins to make a lot of noise once again.
After coming up short in the finals in back-to-back years, including last year’s home-ice loss to Finland, the Swedes have reason to believe that the third time’s the charm.
Though they are the youngest of 10, the Swedes possess a certain pedigree to return home with gold around their necks.
William Nylander is the best player, but Habs draftee Jacob De La Rose will captain this team as he returns for his third rodeo. The 6-2 forward had six points (3-3) in seven games last year and even though he hasn’t shown his scoring touch in the AHL so far, the man they call DLR will produce against U-20’s.
Watch for him on the forecheck, as he has a tendency to steamroll vulnerable defenders and create turnovers for his very talented teammates.
Leafs fans can get excited too, since William Nylander will try to put on a scoring clinic over the holiday season. The talented centerman has the ability to lead this tournament in scoring, and the Swedes will need him to if they want to win gold.
De La Rose, Nylander and Adrian Kempe (29th overall – 2014/LA Kings) may form one of the best lines in the entire tournament if they play together. DLR and Adrian Kempe’s aggressive style will compliment Nylander’s skill, and the big advantage will be the fact that all three are playing professionally this season. That work ethic will carry over, supported by a strong, deep roster and the Swedes have a good chance to win it all.
Third year man Robert Hagg (AHL Phantoms – Flyers) should log the most balanced minutes, while Gustav Forsling (5th round – 2014/Canucks) is a magician on the backend. Forsling has made plays through exhibition play and teams have taken notice. The dynamic defenseman has as much flash as he does dash, and could be deadly on the power play.
Goaltending is a rare problem for this country, but this year it may be their demise. Samuel Ward looks like he’ll be getting the nod as starter, but let it be known that he is no Oscar Dansk.
The Swedes are top heavy and must play a safe team game if they want to advance. They must capitalize on the man-advantage and cannot afford to miss the chances they get.
The Russians took home bronze last year, but I think it would take more than Ilya Sorokin stealing a few games to win it all this year.
They only return two players (never good), Ivan Barbashev and Pavel Buchnevich, and while they are good – it just isn’t enough. The talent they do have is inexperienced in these situations and perhaps more importantly, on North American ice.
Russian management left Montreal first-rounder and WHL terror Nikita Scherbak off the team (apparently blacklisted), so fellow CHLers Nikolay Goldobin and Barbashev have to lead the offense along with Buchnevich.
Maple Leafs third-rounder Rinat Valiev and Calgary seventh-rounder Rushan (yes, that IS his name) Rafikov are the only drafted defenders. Kootney’s Valiev will log a ton minutes on the blueline, playing an above-average offensive game while possessing the size to slow the big guns, while Rafikov can also provide offensively, but can make mistakes and has a much smaller frame.
The draft-eligible Ivan Provorov may end up playing more than expected. 17-year-old D-men don’t usually play much in this tournament, but Provorov is not cut from the same cloth. The Brandon Wheat King actually played in the USHL last year, and has ripped it up in his rookie CHL season with 37 points in 35 games.
His experience on North American soil will go great lengths for this Russian team in need. While he will begin on the third pairing, it won’t take long before his power-play time doubles and he moves into a top-four role.
Ilya Sorokin gave us a taste of what he can do, with a 52-save performance over Team Canada in exhibition play and teams took notice. It reminded us of a Red Army firing squad, but the Islanders third-rounder took his shots and stood tall.
We all know what a hot goalie can do, but I just doubt the overall quality of the roster.
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