The World Juniors have always been an international platform where teenagers evolve into stars in front of our eyes.
The performances of Alexander Ovechkin for Russia in 2005, Jordan Eberle for Canada in 2009, and John Carlson for the U.S. in 2010, will forever be etched into the minds of hockey fans. Watching them compete for their countries is always great, but their performances also help deliver expectations for what they’ll soon be able to do in the NHL for the teams that have drafted them.
This year’s tournament was filled with heartbreaks, moments of glory, and magnificent efforts by numerous players looking to make their jump to a more competitive league. Here is a look at the top 5 NHL prospects who proved themselves at the 2017 IIHF World Junior U20 Championship:
1. Thomas Chabot – Ottawa Senators
You’d be hard-pressed not to notice Thomas Chabot’s play at the World Juniors for Team Canada. The defenseman led all skaters in ice-time, and was on the ice for nearly 60 more minutes than the next player in line. After finishing with 4 goals and a team-leading 10 points, the Ottawa Senators prospect finished first amongst defensemen in scoring and tied for fourth overall in tournament scoring. It was no surprise that Chabot was named tournament MVP, while also earning Best Defenseman honours at the WJC.
Chabot is an agile, puck-moving defender who showed tremendous progress from last year’s Championship. He is a great skater and passer who has shown that he can move the puck up the ice efficiently. Chabot demonstrated great vision throughout the tournament and was able to successfully pick his opportunities to capitalize on his rushes, while helping Canada earn a silver medal.
Chabot’s performance at the WJC has sparked some comparison to fellow Ottawa Senator Erik Karlsson. Both defensemen possess the speed and vision of an elite puck carrier, as well as the ability to log big minutes through the duration of a game.
It is safe to say that the Sens’ blueline is in good hands for years to come, especially when Chabot starts to gain more experience. At the moment, he’s only played in a single game in the NHL, and will have to wait till next season after returning to the QMJHL earlier in 2016.
2. Kirill Kaprizov – Minnesota Wild
What is shaping up to look like the steal of the 2015 draft, Kirill Kaprizov looked incredible with Russia throughout the World Juniors, which should be a nice surprise for the Minnesota Wild after just recently selecting him with the 135th overall pick.
The dynamic forward led the tournament with 9 goals and was tied for tournament scoring with 12 points, as Russia earned themselves a bronze medal. Kaprizov was named the Best Forward of the tournament, and was also selected to the tournament’s All-Star team.
Kaprivoz is equipped with a smaller build, soft hands and good speed, and has already shown the ability to play at the pro level in Russia. Kaprizov led Novokuznetsk Metalurg in scoring as an 18-year-old in his second KHL season, and has already displayed the potential to evolve into a legitimate scoring threat in the NHL.
Kaprizov will likely remain in the KHL for a couple more seasons, having signed there till 2017-18. The Wild will marvel at the chance to add a skillful, left-handed winger to their lineup, who has also shown the ability to consistently score goals. Kaprizov did not attend Minnesota’s training camp last season, but he should be competing with Jordan Greenway for a spot on their rotation at left-wing in the near future.
3. Alexander Nylander – Buffalo Sabres
There is another Nylander poised to make his mark in the NHL. Following in his father’s (Michael) and older brother’s (William) footsteps, Alexander Nylander is well on his way to the big leagues.
Nylander was great for Sweden throughout the World Juniors, tying Kirill Kaprizov for the tournament lead in scoring with 12 points. Nylander notched two game-winning goals for his country, and was the catalyst of an explosive Swedish offence and power play.
After moving to North America to play for the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL, Nylander tallied 75-goals in 57 games in his first-year on North American ice. Now with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, Nylander has 17 points in 29 games. His ability to be a playmaker with his smooth hands will give the Buffalo Sabres another offensively gifted prospect to add to their arsenal.
The Sabres are going to take their time with Nylander, since he needs to put on some size to be effective at the NHL level. A full year in the AHL should give the Sabres a strong indication if Nylander can take the next step, even if he had a great performance at the World Juniors. With his great combination of speed and skill, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Nylander were to become a household name in Buffalo in a couple of years.
4. Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins
Charlie McAvoy, the 14th overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, anchored America’s defence throughout the World Juniors on their way to winning gold.
He showcased his trademark physical play and endurance once again, which have been the same traits that have left Boston Bruins fans hoping that he can make his leap up to the NHL once his sophomore season at Boston University wraps up. It was a memorable tournament for McAvoy, who led all US defensemen with 6 points over 7 games while recording a +6 rating and earning a spot on the tournament’s All-Star team.
Hell of a shot by Charlie McAvoy pic.twitter.com/HCoeM9QyHi
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 6, 2017
After helping Team USA win its fourth World Junior title, McAvoy will have to return to Boston University – where he has notched 13 points in 17 games with the Terriers in the NCAA. With his well-rounded defensive tools and sharp playmaking abilities, McAvoy has all the makings to become the top-pairing defenseman that the Bruins desperately need.
5. Joel Eriksson Ek – Minnesota Wild
The captain of team Sweden for the tournament, Joel Eriksson Ek, led his team in goals, and was also tied for fourth in tournament scoring with 10 points. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound centre was selected 20th overall in the 2015 draft by the Wild, and should have all of Minnesota excited for what’s to come.
Eriksson Ek has the frame and strength to be able to dominate the puck in key offensive situations. The Swede possesses an elite shot, slick puck-handling skills, and great vision in the attacking end. Eriksson Ek has shown that he is capable of playing a full 200-foot game, and can develop into a centre who can dominate on both ends of the ice.
As one of the fastest-risers in the 2015 drat, Eriksson Ek has continued to develop in the Swedish Hockey League while playing for Färjestad BK. The 19-year-old will only become stronger and quicker as time goes on, and should have a good shot of making the Wild’s roster out of training camp next season.
All stats for this article are from TSN.com
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