The 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships start on Boxing Day in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Over the next two days, we will give a short preview of the tournament, looking at the top few players to watch on each of the tournaments squads. Today, a look at Pool B, which will be played in Victoria.
Pool B Players to Watch: 2019 World Junior Championships
With Sweden bringing a weaker squad than they have in recent years, the American squad are the clear favourites in this group. The Finns got a big boost with a pair of pro players with NHL experience on Friday and should have enough to take second place. Slovakia is the fourth best team in the pool but has enough talent that they could surprise a team that takes them lightly. Kazakhstan is unlikely to be a factor and it would be a victory for the squad if they are able to avoid relegation at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Aleksi Heponiemi, Centre/Left Wing, Florida Panthers
Playing for Karpat in the SM-Liiga, Heponiemi has eight goals and 26 points in 29 games this season. He has plenty of experience on small ice, as he spent two years in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos. Heponiemi disappointed with just two points in last year’s tournament and will need to be a lot better this year.
He is very fast, with an excellent first step and acceleration. Defenders must respect Heponiemi’s speed, as he can beat them to the outside, and cut back to the net. His edgework and agility are also excellent. Heponiemi has outstanding hands. He can make dekes in a phone booth and is extremely dangerous one-on-one as a result. Heponiemi sees plays developing, and makes smart passes. He is an excellent playmaker, who can make tape-to-tape passes through tight openings. He also uses his stickhandling and skating to extend plays, waiting for a teammate to get open.
Henri Jokiharju, Right Defence, Chicago Blackhawks
Jokiharju made the Blackhawks out of training camp and has performed well for a teenager in the NHL. He has put up 11 assists in 32 games but is still looking for his first NHL goal. Even more impressive, Jokiharju has averaged 20 minutes of ice time per game with a 54.7 percent Corsi-For, and +5.7 Relative Corsi. Even with heavy offensive zone starts, those are very impressive stats for his age. Jokiharju will be the leader of the Finnish team and will likely play close to 30 minutes a night and be used in all situations.
Jokiharju is a solid puck handler. He leads the rush or joins as a trailer. He also has the poise to quarterback play from the blue line. Jokiharju makes smart passes including the long stretch pass as well as a cross-ice pass to set up a teammate. Jokiharju possesses excellent vision, the smarts to see plays developing as well as the skill to fit the puck through tight openings. He opens passing lanes through his excellent lateral mobility and puck poise. Jokiharju showed an increased willingness to shoot last season and goals followed. He improved his shot, adding power. He has a knack for getting it through traffic and on the net. Jokiharju also makes use of a good wrist shot, sneaking down from the point to the top of the circles. It is accurate and has a quick release. He is also strong defensively.
Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing/Centre, 2019 Draft Eligible
Last season, Kakko had 55 points in 38 games in the Finnish Under-20 league. He got a cup of coffee up in the men’s league, with one assist in six games. However, it was his work at the IIHF Under 18s that really impressed. Kakko put up 10 points in seven games, helping Finland to a gold medal. This year, Kakko has picked up where he left off and is impressing in the men’s league with nine goals and 20 points in 29 games. He’s even shown the versatility to play some centre in recent weeks. Kakko is challenging to be the top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Kakko is a highly skilled winger who can create in a variety of ways. He has the soft hands to stickhandle in a phone booth and can protect the puck and extend plays. His wrist shot is extremely powerful and features a very quick release. He also uses his soft hands to finish plays in tight. All of this makes him a pure sniper. However, he can also be an effective playmaker. When an opportunity presents itself, he can set up a teammate for a scoring chance. Kakko is a strong skater who can use his power to fight through checks or quick changes in direction or speed to beat defenders one-on-one.
Rasmus Kupari, Centre, Los Angeles Kings
Drafted 20th overall by the Kings in last year’s NHL draft, Kupari has 23 points in 28 games for Karpat in the SM-Liiga. He played as an underage player in last year’s tournament but was held scoreless. Kupari is an outstanding skater. Kupari is exceptionally fast and has great acceleration. His ability to change speeds is a weapon. He quickly changes speeds in order to get free from a defender or to open up passing and shooting lanes. He also has very good edgework and agility.
Kupari is most dangerous with the puck on his stick. He is a tremendous stick handler and can beat defensemen one-on-one. Pairing this with his skating skills, and he is difficult to defend. Kupari also has very good passing skills and excellent vision. Once he opens up a passing lane, he quickly makes a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Kupari anticipates plays well and knows where his teammates are going before they make their move. He almost always makes the smart play with the puck.
Eeli Tolvanen, Left Wing/Right Wing, Nashville Predators
Tolvanen has a goal and an assist in four NHL games with Nashville this year. He also has four goals and 12 points in 24 AHL games with the Milwaukee Admirals. Tolvanen is a pure sniper who scores goals in a variety of ways. He reads the play extremely well and gets himself into the right position to create a scoring chance. Tolvanen has an outstanding one-timer, with great power and accuracy. He also has a lightning quick release on his wrist shot. That wrist shot is heavy and very accurate. Tolvanen has the soft hands to make quick moves and beat defenders with his stick handling ability. Tolvanen’s snapshot is also deadly. He can fire that vast assortment of shots in stride. He can also bury rebounds and has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections in front of the net as well.
While he is known for his goal scoring, Tolvanen also has good vision and passing skills. He can be a playmaker both in the cycle game, and when coming down the wing with the puck. He can also use his strong stickhandling and changes of pace in his skating to open up passing lanes and find an open teammate. His high-level hockey IQ extends to his playmaking, as he finds teammates open and in good positions to generate a scoring chance.
Urho Vaakanainen, Left Defence, Boston Bruins
Vaakanainen has had injury issues this season but has gotten into two games with the Bruins as well as picking up two assists in six games with their AHL affiliate in Providence. Vaakanainen is very mobile. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions; as well as the edgework and pivots to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Vaakanainen is strong on his skates and has good balance. He has excellent hockey IQ. He reads the play very well in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. Vaakanainen makes smart plays both with and without the puck. Defensively, he has great gap control and positioning. Vaakanainen takes the body in the corners and in front of the net.
Jesse Ylonen, Right Wing, Montreal Canadiens
Ylonen was drafted 35th overall by the Habs. He has put up eight goals and 13 points in 35 games for Pelicans this season. Ylonen couples strong skating with good stickhandling skills. He protects the puck well and can make moves while at top speed. He combines his quick cuts, with strong dangles and toe-drags. This makes him dangerous off the rush. While he works to protect the puck down low and does a decent job in the cycle game, he could add muscle. Ylonen can be knocked off the puck a little too easily right now. He has strong passing skills and decent vision. Ylonen has the patience and poise to wait for an opportunity to make a play and then hit a teammate with a tape-to-tape pass.
While he can make plays, Ylonen is best known as a sniper. He has a good wrist shot and release. It features both power and accuracy. His release is quick and deceptive and can fool goaltenders. His slap shot needs some work though, as it lacks some power. Ylonen is a bit of a perimeter player though, he does not do well in traffic or in front of the net. He needs to get stronger to be able to compete in the key areas of the ice. He may be able to do more facing competition his own age, rather than playing as an 18-year-old in a men’s league.
Artur Gatiyatov, Left Wing, Undrafted
Gatiyatov was the player of the tournament in last years D-1A World Juniors, which saw Kazakhstan earn promotion to the big stage at this year’s event. He put up four goals and seven points in five games. This year, he has put up 14 goals and 37 points in 38 games in the MHL. At just 5-foot-7, Gatiyatov is undersized. He makes up for this with his skating ability. He is exceptionally quick, with a great first step and very good acceleration. Add in strong agility and edgework and he is able to avoid defenders and get the puck into dangerous areas. Gatiyatov is a creative player, who is willing to attempt plays that most other forwards would not. He also has a quick release on his wrist shot.
Valeri Orekhov, Left Defence, Undrafted
It is rare to see teenage defensemen succeed in the KHL, but Orekhov is doing just that this season. He has three goals and six points in 24 games with Barys Astana. He was also a huge part of last year’s Kazak team, with a goal and six assists in the Division 1A tournament. Orekhov is a good puck mover, with a strong first pass out of his zone as well as the vision and poise to quarterback the play from the point. At 6-foot-1, he also has good size and skating ability. This will be a coming out party for Orekhov and a strong tournament could see him drafted in the 2019 NHl Draft.
Maxim Cajkovic, Right Wing, 2019 NHL Draft Eligible
The first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Cajkovic put up 11 points in just five games for Slovakia at last year’s IIHF Under-18 World Championship. He has struggled in his first season in the QMJHL with just eight goals and 20 points in 29 games. However, it must be noted that he is still adjusting to a new team, a new country, a new language, and North American Ice. He is also playing on a weak Saint John Sea Dogs team.
There have been flashes of brilliance and it is clear that Cajkovic has dynamic offensive skills. He is an excellent stickhandler, who can use his moves to beat defenders one-on-one. His creativity creates space and opens up passing and shooting lanes. Cajkovic finds open teammates with a quick pass and has the vision to see scoring opportunities as they develop. He also has the ability to score goals. He is not afraid to get to the front of the net and has the hand-eye coordination to finish when he gets there. Cajkovic also has a nice arsenal of shots with a good wrist shot, snapshot, backhand and one-timer.
Martin Fehervary, Left Defence, Washington Capitals
Fehervary is playing for HV71 in the SHL and has three points in 21 games. Fehervary is a very good skater. He uses this to play a strong defensive game, with good positioning and the ability to keep his man in front of him. Fehervary doesn’t throw huge hits, but he is not afraid to use his size to be physical in the corners and in front of the net. Fehervary can skate the puck out of danger but needs to work on his passing in order to bring offence.
Milos Roman, Centre, Calgary Flames
Already accustomed to the smaller ice, Roman has put up 16 goals and 29 points in 30 games with the Vancouver Giants this season. The bread and butter of Roman’s game is his playmaking ability. He has excellent vision and high-end hockey IQ. Roman sees plays developing and finds open teammates in traffic. He can make passes through tight areas, and threads the needle on defenders, or makes an accurate saucer pass on a teammates tape. Roman is a good stick-handler and uses his body to protect the puck on the cycle. He can extend plays and allow a teammate the time and space to get open. Roman works hard to pressure defenders in the corners, creating turnovers on the forecheck. He wins battles for pucks, and when he does, can quickly turn that into a scoring chance.
The majority of Roman’s goals come in close to the net. He has the soft hands and quick release to score in tight. He also has the hand-eye coordination to get tip-ins and pounce on rebounds. However, Roman lacks power in his wrist shot and one-timer. His shot does not challenge goalkeepers from further out. He will need to add some power to be a goal scorer at the next level.
Adam Ruzicka, Centre/Left Wing, Calgary Flames
Last year, Ruzicka scored two assists in five games for Slovakia. He is another CHL-trained prospect with 35 points in 33 games for the Sarnia Sting this year. At 6-foot-4, Ruzicka has excellent size. His skating is decent, especially given his size. However, it also does not stand out. His first step is clunky and his acceleration needs some work. However, once he does get going Ruzicka moves pretty well. He also has power in his lower body, fighting through checks when at his best. He is strong on the puck and can cycle down low as well as win battles along the boards. Ruzicka isn’t the lightest on his feet though and could use some work on his agility and edgework.
There is a lot of skill here. Ruzicka can play a power forward style of game. When he is at his best, he works the puck along the boards and out of the corners and drives it to the front of the net. He has the hands necessary to bury pucks in close. Ruzicka also has an excellent wrist shot and snapshot. He can also play the role of playmaker. Ruzicka has the ability to make saucer passes, or to get the puck through tight spaces. He has the vision to wait for a teammate to get open. Ruzicka makes tape-to-tape passes in good areas. When Ruzicka is on his game, his size and power can make him very effective in protecting the puck, working the cycle game, and waiting for an opportunity.
Adam Boqvist, Right Defence, Chicago Blackhawks
Drafted eighth overall by the Blackhawks in this year’s draft, Boqvist has moved to North America and is playing for the London Knights. He’s had a strong start with nine goals and 25 points in 23 games. Boqvist is an outstanding skater. He has excellent speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has tremendous edgework and pivots allowing him to transition from offence to defence quickly and vice-versa. His agility is also top notch, and he can change directions on a dime. This skating becomes the foundation for an excellent two-way game. He is able to rush the puck up the ice, or pinch at the blueline and still get back defensively. His strong skating also allows him to cover a ton of ice and to maintain excellent positioning.
Boqvist also has the outstanding vision and the ability to thread the needle on passes. He is a very aggressive player, willing to join or lead the rush and to make pinches at the blue line. Boqvist has a tremendous shooting arsenal. He gets a lot of power on his wrist shot and has a quick and deceptive release. He also has a great slapshot and one-timer from the point. Boqvist understands how to keep his shot low, and on the net, leading to tip-ins and rebounds for teammates. Boqvist is smart in the offensive zone. He walks the line to create passing and shooting lanes. He is poised with the puck and has the patience to wait for plays to open up. Boqvist almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck, whether on the point or in transition.
Erik Brannstrom, Left Defence, Vegas Golden Knights
Drafted 15th overall in 2017, Brannstrom has moved to North America and is playing in the AHL for the Chicago Wolves. He has four goals and 20 points in 24 games this year. In order to succeed as an undersized defenceman, one must be an excellent skater. Brannstrom certainly checks that box. He has outstanding speed in both directions and gets up to top speed quickly, with great acceleration. Brannstrom has an excellent stride, and his strong lower body gives him a lot of power. He is able to fight through checks and is tough to knock off the puck. He also has very good edgework and agility. Brannstrom can use subtle moves and shifts to get past forecheckers and start the transition game.
Brannstrom is also an excellent playmaker. He has outstanding puck handling ability and the poise to control the puck and make plays in all situations. He can use his skating and stickhandling to break the puck out of his own zone and get the transition game started. Brannstrom can create offence both through leading the rush and as a trailer. He also is able to walk the line at the blue line, making smart plays when quarterbacking things from the point. His passing skill and vision is also high end and gives the impression that he can be a power play quarterback at the next level. He is smart with the puck, making smart plays with it on his stick.
Filip Hallander, Left Wing/Centre, Pittsburgh Penguins
A second-round pick in 2018, Hallander has five goals and 12 points in 23 games for Timra in the SHL. He has a good arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both powerful and accurate. His release is above average but could use a bit more work. Hallander can score from the slot, or from the tops of the circles. He is also strong on the backhand, with the ability to elevate the puck in tight to the net. His soft hands are good at deflections and at pouncing on rebounds. Hallander does not use his slap shot very often. It could use some work, and he is more effective at fooling goaltenders with the shorter wind-up.
Hallander has good stickhandling and puck control but plays a simple game. He keeps the puck moving with quick, accurate passes to the open man. He is not the type to dangle defenders or make a creative saucer pass but reads the game well and keeps the puck moving. A hallmark of Hallander’s game is the fact that he always keeps his feet moving. He is strong on the forecheck and pressures opponents into mistakes, which he can then take advantage of offensively.
Isac Lundestrom, Centre, Anaheim Ducks
Lundestrom put up two goals in seven games in last year’s tournament while playing a strong two-way game. He has played for the Ducks and their AHL affiliate in San Diego this year. He has two points in 15 NHL games, and six points in 12 AHL games. Lundestrom has decent speed and a long and powerful stride. He can fight through checks and get to the front of the net, or keep the play going in the cycle. His balance is very good, and he is tough to knock off the puck. Lundestrom has good agility and edgework. He is a challenge to defend when on the rush and can weave in and out of traffic.
Lundestrom has high-end hockey IQ and always seems to make the right play. While he is not outstanding in any one area, his skills are good in almost all areas. Lundestrom has good vision and passing skills. He also has the soft hands, and the agility to beat defenders in one-on-one situations, as well as to make a quick move to open up a passing or shooting lane. Lundestrom is also willing to play a gritty game, battling hard on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and creating scoring chances. Lundestrom can also play the role of finisher. He has an accurate wrist shot with a quick release. He is a pass-first player though.
Rasmus Sandin, Left Defence, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs first round pick in 2018, Sandin has five goals and 10 points playing for the Marlies in the AHL. Sandin is an extremely intelligent player. He is poised with the puck on his stick and makes smart plays. Sandin has great vision and the ability to thread the needle to the open man with good passing skills. He can make the long stretch pass to create a breakaway or odd-man rush when it is available. When the home-run type play is not there, he does not try to force it, instead of finding a quicker, shorter pass to start the transition game. Sandin also has the vision and skills to set up plays on the power play.
He also has a good arsenal of shots, which he has a knack for getting on net. Sandin is much more likely to use a wrist shot or snapshot than he is to load up for a slap shot, even from the point. Sandin’s strong positioning and understanding of the game extends to the defensive zone as well. He is a physical player, willing to throw hits on the rush, battle in the corners, and clear the front of the net. However, he picks his spots well, not getting himself out of position to chase the physical play. Sandin maintains good gap control and funnels attackers to the outside. He anticipates plays well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes.
Joel Farabee, Left Wing, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers first-round pick in the 2018 Draft, Farabee has four goals and 11 points in 16 games with Boston University this year. Farabee is an excellent skater, with the agility and edge work to get by defenders in one-on-one situations. He also has an outstanding first step and lightning quick acceleration. Farabee has good hands and stick skills allowing him to control the puck while moving at top speed. Defenders must respect his speed, and so they back off him on the rush, creating shooting and passing lanes. Farabee has good vision and is an outstanding playmaker off the wing. He anticipates extremely well and seems to be a step ahead of the play. Farabee finds open ice without the puck and makes smart plays with it. He could stand to add some power to his shot though. This may come as he adds more muscle to his frame.
Jack Hughes, Centre, 2019 NHL Draft Eligible
Hughes has 48 points in 25 games for the US National Team Development program this season. He is living up to the hype and then some. Hughes has a complete offensive game. He is an elite-level skater, with outstanding speed, excellent acceleration, and top-notch agility and edge work. Hughes also has the soft and quick hands to handle the puck and make quick moves while skating at that top speed. With the way the NHL continues to emphasize speed and skill, Hughes is the perfect player to take advantage of those conditions.
Hughes is an outstanding playmaker. He has great vision and anticipates the movements of teammates. His hockey IQ is extremely high. Hughes can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas. He also has an accurate shot and quick release. Hughes quick hands allow him to change the angle of his release and fool goaltenders. If there is any criticism, and it is a small one, it is that Hughes could add some weight to his frame before being ready for the pro game. He is already starting to add some weight, and there is little reason at this point to expect anyone other than Hughes to be the top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Quinn Hughes, Left Defence, Vancouver Canucks
The older brother of Jack, Quinn Hughes has three goals and 20 points in 17 games at the University of Michigan this year. He is an outstanding skater. Hughes looks like he is floating above the ice. He has very good speed and acceleration in both directions. Hughes has a textbook stride, and the ability to change directions on a dime. He uses the outstanding speed to join the rush or to pinch in at the line. Hughes is rarely caught deep as he can still get back into position defensively thanks to that speed. His agility and footwork allow him to beat defenders one-on-one as well as to walk the line and make quick moves to open up passing and shooting lanes. Hughes has a low centre of gravity which helps his balance and makes him strong on the puck.
Hughes has excellent vision and playmaking ability, as well as the hockey sense to almost always make the right play. He seems to think the game and anticipate plays better than others out there on the ice. With his skating and stickhandling ability, Hughes is not afraid to skate the puck out of his zone or lead the rush. He can also make a long pass to start the transition game and start an odd-man rush. He has the passing ability and the hockey IQ to quarterback the play from the point. Hughes has the poise to make plays under pressure. Hughes has a good arsenal of shots. His wrist shot is strong, accurate, and features a quick release. He uses it often when trailing the play on the rush, or when pressured by shot blockers. He also has a hard and accurate slap shot.
Josh Norris, Centre, Ottawa Senators
Josh Norris is a very good playmaker. His speed, changes of direction, and lateral agility allow him to open up passing lanes and get the puck through to his linemates. He has very good vision and hockey IQ, seeing plays develop and making smart plays. Norris has the strength and balance to work the cycle game. He uses his body to protect the puck, extending plays for his teammates to get open. Norris is physical in the corners, able to win battles for loose pucks, as well as pressuring defencemen on the forecheck.
Norris is also very good in his own end of the ice. With good positioning and an active stick, he is trusted to play on the penalty kill. He is also good in the face-off circle. Norris is not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots. He continues to show his gritty side and the ability to fight along the boards in all three zones.
Ryan Poehling, Centre, Montreal Canadiens
A junior with St. Cloud State, Poehling has 17 points in 16 games this year. He played on Team USA last year, but only put up three points in seven games. Poehling is expected to take on a key role on this year’s team, playing against the other team’s top line, killing penalties, and also providing offence. He should see heavy ice time in all situations. His strong skating helps him to get around the ice and keep up with any opponent.
Poehling plays a gritty game, battling in the corners and in front of the net; as well as being effective on the forecheck. He also has a decent wrist shot and release. Poehling started to use that shot more this year and his goal totals doubled as a result. He could stand to shoot even more though, as he has a tendency to pass up shooting opportunities in order to make an extra pass. Poehling’s stickhandling is decent, but he plays a very straightforward north-south style of game and isn’t the type to take on defenders in one-on-one situations. Instead, he looks to move the puck to an open teammate and then try to find an open area on the ice. His vision is very good, and he seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck. Poehling is especially strong in the cycle game.
Jason Robertson, Left Wing/Right Wing, Dallas Stars
Robertson has put up 31 goals and 60 points in 32 games in the OHL this season, splitting time between the Kingston Frontenacs and the Niagara Ice Dogs. Robertson is a pure goal scorer. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and scores goals in tight to the net with tip-ins, one-timing passes and pouncing on rebounds. He uses his skating ability to take defenders wide and drive the net, where he can finish with is soft hands. Robertson also has a very good wrist shot, which is accurate and features a quick release. He manages to find soft spots in the defence and get open to allow teammates to set him up.
He is also a good playmaker, with good vision and passing skills. Robertson uses his body well to protect the puck and work the cycle game down low. He can extend plays in the cycle and fight off hits and battle through hooks and holds. However, he is not a physical player. Robertson could stand to really use his size and speed to do a better job at forechecking defencemen and fighting for loose pucks. When he has the puck, he’s good; but if he does not have the puck and has to fight for it, he does not seem to use his body effectively, or show optimal effort.
Oliver Wahlstrom, Right Wing, New York Islanders
Drafted 11th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Wahlstrom has struggled in his transition to college hockey with four goals and five points in 14 games for Boston College. Wahlstrom has an impressive array of moves. He isn’t afraid to use them in traffic either. While he won’t initiate contact, he does take hits to make offensive plays. Wahlstrom can extend plays and wait for a teammate to get open. Once they do, he can make a pass through the tightest of openings.
Wahlstrom is a pure sniper. His shot has really improved over the last couple of seasons. Wahlstrom loves taking a ton of shots, from high danger areas, and putting the puck in the back of the net. He has an outstanding snapshot, wrist shot and slap shot. His release is very quick and can fool goaltenders. He also scores goals in front of the net with good tip-in skills and the quickness to bang in rebounds. A potential reunion with Jack Hughes could lead to him finding his scoring touch in the tournament.
Main Photo: PLYMOUTH, MI – FEBRUARY 16: Jack Hughes #43 of the USA Nationals turns up ice with the puck against the Russian Nationals during the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament game at USA Hockey Arena on February 16, 2018 in Plymouth, Michigan. USA defeated Russia 5-4. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)