2016 World Juniors Players to Watch – Pool B

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The pre-tournament games are in the books, and teams are making their final preparations for the 2016 World Juniors taking place from December 26, 2015 through January 5, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland.

Today we take a look at players to watch in Group B.  Group B includes the host Finns, and thus will be playing in the bigger of the two rinks used in this tournament, the Hartwall Arena, a 13,665-seat venue that is home to Jokerit.

To Read about the players to watch in Pool A, click here.

2016 World Juniors Players to Watch – Pool B

Russia

Russia fell just a little short last year, losing to Canada in the gold medal game.  Always a top contender at this tournament they return with a strong team full of offensive firepower, an elite offensive defenseman and a very strong goaltender who should make things tough for opponents.  It might just be enough to lift the Russians to the title this year.

Ilya Samsonov, Goaltender, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Washington Capitals, 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Samsonov has the ideal size that teams are looking for in goaltenders today at 6’3″ and 201 lbs.  Samsonov makes the most of that size, coming out to challenge on plays, and reducing the amount of net that forwards have to shoot at. He is very athletic, and never gives up on a play, resulting in him being able to make some ridiculous saves. Samsonov has strong legs, and gets side to side across the crease quickly and efficiently. He plays a tight butterfly and his legs kick out quickly to take away the bottom of the net. He has a fast glove hand and blocker as well. Samsonov skates backwards very well, and this makes him hard to beat on dekes as he can come out to cut down those angles, but backs up quickly if the shooter instead tries to go around him. His positioning is very good and he remains square to the puck even when moving around as the puck is passed in the offensive zone. In terms of weaknesses, Samsonov needs to work on his rebound control, though this is something that is a common problem for young goaltenders.

Ivan Provorov, Defence, Brandon Wheat Kings (Philadelphia Flyers, 7th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Provorov is a very good skater. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions. He combines this with his solid stickhandling to both lead and join the rush. With that speed he can sometimes recover defensively even when he makes a mistake. Provorov also has very good edgework and pivots, which allows him to cover a lot of ice. His balance and power is decent which helps him to win board battles or establish position on forwards in front of the net.

Provorov is a very good stickhandler who protects the puck extremely well  He has the poise to control the puck at the blue line, and be the powerplay quarterback. He has good passing skills and vision, as he can make crisp tape-to-tape passes. Provorov has both a very good wrist shot, with a quick release as well as a strong slap shot from the point. Provorov is extremely good at moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is a smart player who seems to always make a good play with the puck on his stick. In his own zone, he is extremely adapt at avoiding forecheckers and makes a great first pass.

Provorov shows outstanding defensive skill as well. He is strong positionally, and reads the play very well. He understands how to use his stick to cut down passing lanes and his body to block shots.  He is also showing improved strength and clearing the front of the net extremely well and in winning battles along the boards, though he can continue to work on adding muscle to his frame. While he isn’t one to throw big hits, he isn’t afraid of the physical play and board battles, and he will take a hit to make a play when necessary.

Evgeny Svechnikov, LW/RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (Detroit Red Wings, 19th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Svechnikov is a dynamic offensive talent. He has an outstanding wrist shot and release. He also has an impressive snap shot and a very hard one-timer.  When it comes to his shooting arsenal, Svechnikov has pro-ready skills. However, he is not just a one-trick pony as Svechnikov also has excellent vision and passing ability. Svechnikov is a strong skater with very good speed and acceleration. He loves to drive the net and can finish in close when he gets there. He has put up 39 points in 27 games for the Screaming Eagles so far this season. He will need to work on his defensive game to continue his progression as a prospect though.

Denis Guryanov, Right Wing, Lada Togliatti (Dallas Stars, 12th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Big, powerful, fast, skilled, Guryanov has each box checked when it comes to talent among forward prospects. He scores goals, and can do it in a variety of ways. Guryanov has the strength to drive the net, battle in the corners, fight through checks and score gritty power forward-style goals. He is exceptional in board battles, digging out loose pucks consistently, and is a menace on the boards. Guryanov also protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game, extending zone time and increasing possession for his club. He also has a heavy wrist shot with quick release, allowing him to fool goaltenders and score from further out. Guryanov adds the quick hands necessary to deke past defenders and it’s clear that he can be a pure sniper.

Guryanov has the speed and acceleration necessary to beat defenders wide off the rush. He has a quick first step and can use that along with his acceleration to be the first man on many loose pucks. A powerful stride also allows him to bowl right over a defender, or to carry a checker on his back as he drives the net. He is strong on his skates, with great lower body strength and balance.  This makes him very hard to knock off the puck.

Add good agility and edge-work and Guryanov can get by defenders in a variety of ways.  Defenders must respect his skating ability when he carries the puck up the ice on a rush, however if they back up too far giving him the option to use the defender as a screen, he is more than willing to unleash his powerful shot once he gets inside the face-off dots. Defensively, Guryanov shows a commitment to backchecking, and plays his gritty game along the boards in all three zones.

Finland

The host Finns look to make up for a disappointing showing in the 2015 World Juniors.  In order to do that, they will need major contributions from a trio of players who are eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.  2016 might be the best draft class Finland has ever produced, but this tournament is all about 19-year-olds not 17-year-olds, so this team might just be a little too inexperienced to truly compete with the best teams at this year’s tournament.

Olli Juolevi, Defence, London Knights (Eligible for 2016 NHL Draft):

Taken in the first round of the CHL import draft, there was a ton of hype on the young Finnish defenceman as he entered the league this year.  Part of an excellent group of Finnish-born prospects, and an excellent group of draft eligible players on the London Knights, Juolevi has impressed so far this year. He has four goals and 23 points in 28 games. Juolevi helps to quarterback the Knights powerplay with good skating ability, a powerful slap shot, strong wrist shot, and very good passing skills. On top of that, he’s looked great defensively in the OHL. He will look to translate that game to this tournament and continue his climb up draft boards.

Patrik Laine, RW/LW, Tappara Tampere (Eligible for 2016 NHL Draft):

Laine isn’t the quickest skater, but he does have a very powerful stride. He is able to fight through checks and get to the front of the net, or win battles along the boards due to a strong lower body and excellent balance. He has a heavy shot, with an excellent release and that will help him score goals now, and at the next level. While he is a shoot first type of player, Laine also has very good vision and the ability to pass through small openings. He does get involved physically and can throw some huge hits on the forecheck, but this is something he only does occasionally.  He is content to apply pressure, create turnovers, and get involved with, and win, board battles. Laine has put up five goals and seven points in seven games with the Finnish U-20 team this year, and has also added eight goals and 16 points in 24 games with Tappara in the SM-Liiga.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Right Wing, Karpat Oulu (Eligible for 2016 NHL Draft):

Puljujarvi is big for his age, and plays a game based on excellent strength. He uses his body to protect the puck and has the balance and power in his skating stride to fight through checks and get to the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent wrist shot and release. He has all the skills to be a top power forward prospect but Puljujarvi can do it all, also playing the role of play-maker off the wing. He has good vision and the ability to thread passes through the tightest of openings. He was extremely dangerous at the 2015 World Junior Championships – even if the points did not always come. He has continued that form, while getting more results playing for Finland’s Under-20 team so far this years. He plays for Karpat in the SM-Liiga.

Mikko Rantanen, Right Wing, Colorado Avalanche (Drafted 10th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Rantanen is a big player who plays a power forward style of game. He works extremely hard along the boards and is extremely effective at winning battles when playing in his age group. He may not throw huge hits, but he uses his size effectively in the corners and in establishing position in the offensive zone. He also drives the net hard and can finish in close. He could stand to work on his shot though, as he could use more power but already has a very good release. Rantanen controls the puck well down low on the cycle and has the vision to spot open teammates and the passing skill to feather a tape-to-tape pass through the tiniest of openings. He is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer right now, as he often looks to make the pass instead of taking available shots.

Rantanen’s skating looks awkward, but is more effective than a first look at his short stand-up stride would indicate it should be. He has good top end speed but he can improve his first step and acceleration. His agility is good for his size. He could add more power and better balance by improving his stride and adding muscle mass.

Rantanen shows good effort at the defensive end and is a solid two-way player. He backchecks hard, and brings his physicality and grit in all three zones. He can use his long stick and big frame to cut down passing lanes and is not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots. Rantanen reads the play well, and plays smart positional hockey.

Kasperi Kapanen, RW/LW, Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs, traded from Pittsburgh who drafted him 22nd overall in the 2014 NHL Draft):

Kapanen is the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, best known for his time with Carolina and Philadelphia. He has been a fixture on the international stage for Finland with great results at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2013, and the World Under-18 in 2014. He was also part of Finland’s team at the World Juniors last year.

Kapanen is an outstanding skater, with great speed, and acceleration. He also has very good agility and outstanding edgework. He can cut quickly past a defender and get to the net if they don’t respect his speed off the rush. He has the ability to fool defenders with his changes of pace. Add to Kapanen’s great skating ability, a set of soft hands and great stickhandling ability and its easy to see that he is deadly off the rush. He can be both a scorer and a play maker. Kapanen’s wrist shot is extremely impressive, he generates tremendous power, has lethal accuracy, and does it all with a lightning-quick release. As a playmaker, Kapanen has extremely good vision and passing skills, with the ability to thread the needle with a pass right on a teammates tape. He also has a well-developed defensive game. Again, the hockey sense is key, as he reads the game extremely well, and cuts down passing and shooting lanes

Slovakia

Last year Slovakia won the bronze medal. Led by big performances from goaltender Denis Godla, and forward Martin Reway, they were the most surprising team of the tournament.  If they are going to be able to capitalize on that performance and repeat it, they will need a new set of stars to step up as Godla and Reway are too old for the tourney now.  The Slovaks are developing a stronger hockey program, but they will be in real tough to repeat the heroics of last years tournament.

Erik Cernak, Defence, Erie Otters (Los Angeles Kings, Drafted 43rd overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Cernak has excellent size, and uses it to play a stout defensive game.  He clears the front of the net, and uses his size to impose his will in the corners. Cernak is already pretty strong, and he still has room to fill out his frame and add some more muscle, which will certainly help in those battles. He is willing to throw big hits if they become available, and can sometimes get himself out of position looking for those hits. He also can sometimes cross the line, as he did in elbowing Mikko Rantanen and earning a suspension during last year’s World Juniors.

Cernak also uses a long, and active stick to poke check the puck away from opponents, and to cut down on shooting and passing lanes. He can learn to be even better with it though, as he sometimes looks a little raw. Cernak keeps opponents to the outside on the rush, and in defending against the cycle, holding them to less dangerous areas on the ice. His positioning is pretty good most of the time, but can continue to get better. Cernak’s hockey sense and ability to read the play are important assets to his game. He is not afraid to put his body on the line and block shots.

Erik Cernak is a decent skater for his size, but is by no means a speedster. He has decent speed and acceleration, though he could improve a choppy stride to be even better. Cernak also has decent enough edgework and agility that he becomes hard to beat off the rush. His best asset though is his balance and strength on his skates. This gives him a real edge in battling in front of the net, and for loose pucks in the corners.

Adam Huska, Goaltender, Green Bay Gamblers (New York Rangers, Drafted 184th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

At 6’3″ Huska is another goaltender with excellent size. He uses that size to get out of the net and challenge shooters, taking away what they have to look at. He has very good skating. This allows him to make these challenges and get back if someone tries to deke him. He also has an excellent push off which gives him very good side-to-side movement. The puck tracking is also strong. Huska’s legs are quick and take away the bottom of the net, though he can sometimes be vulnerable up top. Huska could also stand to work on his rebound control, something that is an issue for many young goalies.

Czech Republic

The Czechs have struggled at the world juniors over the last decade.  However this team is compromised of a generation of players who have excelled at the international stage, winning silver medals at both the 2014 Under 18 World Championships and at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.  Led by centre Pavel Zacha, they will be looking to translate the U-18 success to the U-20 level. Its unclear if the team will get Bruins forward David Pastranak back with the team, and his presence would be a major boost.

Pavel Zacha, Centre, Sarnia Sting (New Jersey Devils, Drafted 6th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Zacha has the size and skills to be a power forward, but also possesses elite skill to be a sniper, or a top notch playmaker. In the offensive end, he really can do it all. He has the power to get through checks and drive the net, and the soft hands necessary to finish in close. Zacha’s wrist shot is elite. He shows great power and a hair trigger release. He also has a very hard and accurate one timer. While Zacha is a shoot first type of player, he does show the vision and passing skills to be an very good playmaker as well. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and absolutely punishes defenders with hits in the corners and behind the net. He has the size and stickhandling to protect the puck in the cycle game and maintain possession, but he seems to lack the instincts to do it effectively right now. It should be something he can learn though good coaching though, as the tools are there. As he learns to extend plays, his production will improve.

Zacha is a good skater with a powerful stride. He has outstanding acceleration and the ability to change speeds to fool defenders.  His top end speed is also very good. Zacha has great agility and edgework, and can combine this with his stickhandling to get past defenders. His balance and power are also good and he wins board battles and fights through checks.

Jakub Zboril, Defence, Saint John Sea Dogs (Boston Bruins, Drafted 13th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Zboril is an excellent powerplay quarterback, with strong poise with the puck and good vision and passing skill. He also has a rocket of a slap shot, as well as an excellent wrist shot and good release. Zboril is patient and waits for a proper shooting lane to get his shot through to the net. He is able to use his agility and edge work to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes to the net. In addition, Zboril has good instincts for pinching in at the blue line, or for joining the rush. He has the puck handling skills to skate the puck out of danger in his own end, and can make a smart first pass to start the transition game. Zboril has good skating skill and his excellent pivots, edge work, and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He has good balance and is hard to knock off the puck. That balance and power is also very useful in clearing the front of the Sea Dogs net, or in battling for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards. He has also been known to throw a big hit if a forward is coming down his side of the ice with their head down.

Filip Chlapik, Centre, Charlottetown Islanders (Ottawa Senators, Drafted 48th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft):

Chlapik is a very smart playmaker; he has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays, the vision to see openings, and the passing skills to thread the puck through small openings and put it on the tape for his teammates. He loves to move the puck and then get himself into an open spot for the give and go. Chlapik is a strong stick-handler who is able to protect the puck, and slow the game down in the offensive zone, extending plays and allowing his teammates to get open. He can also score goals as he has a powerful shot and a quick release, as well as soft hands to finish plays in tight.  He is a good two-way centre who is strong in the face-off circle. Chlapik could stand to improve a choppy skating stride which takes away some of his speed and acceleration.

Vitek Vanecek, Goalie, South Carolina Stingrays (Washington Capitals, Drafted 39th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft):

Vanecek has great reflexes. He has an excellent glove hand and a very good blocker that take away the top of the net. He also has quick legs to take away the bottom of the net. He needs to work on his fundamentals though as his rebound control could be a lot better and he needs a little work on his positioning and being square to the puck. One thing he does do extremely well is that he is very quick post-to-post.

Belarus

Advancing to the tournament after winning the 2015 World Junior D1-A tournament, a good tournament for Belarus would be just to avoid relegation. They simply don’t have the talent that the other four teams in this pool have and will likely find themselves in a relegation game against the 5th place team in pool A.

Stepan Falkovsky, Defence, Ottawa 67s

A towering (6’7″) defenceman with the Ottawa 67s, Falkovsky has put up 7 goals and 17 points in 32 games so far this season. He will be expected to play huge minutes for Belarus, and must have a great tournament if they are to have any chance to avoid relegation. He has an excellent slap shot, and plays the role of triggerman for the Belarus power play. Falkovsky also provides a strong defensive presence, with his solid positioning and his size, he is able to cut down on passing and shooting lanes. He can also dominate the physical game, clearing the crease and winning board battles. Mobility can be an issue though as Falkovsky can struggle when facing quick forwards.