The 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships start on Boxing Day in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. This weekend 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 A, which will be played in Vancouver.
You can also check out yesterday’s preview of Pool B.
Pool A Players to Watch: 2019 World Junior Championships
The Canadians bring another strong team as they look to defend their 2018 gold medal. The always dangerous Russians should be the biggest competition in the pool. The Czech Republic brings their strongest team in years to the tournament, while the Swiss have completed a number of upsets in recent years. Denmark rounds out the pool and avoiding relegation will be their main goal in this tournament.
Josh Brook, Left Defence, Montreal Canadiens
In an intriguing move, Brook has been placed on the left side of Canada’s top defence pair. The intrigue comes because he is a natural right defender. His head coach in Moose Jaw, Tim Hunter is also the head coach of Team Canada and has plenty of faith in Brook. He has praised his versatility. Back in the WHL, he even moves Brook to forward late in the third period when the Warriors are losing. Brook has rewarded Hunter with nine goals and 33 points in 25 games. He’s also been the team’s most important defensive player, playing against top lines, and taking big minutes on the penalty kill.
Brook transitions the puck from defence to offence quickly. He can stickhandle and skate the puck out of danger. Brook also has good skills in making the first pass or controlling things at the blue line. Overall, he helps his team maintain possession and drive play forward. Brook has even been known to take the puck end-to-end to create an offensive chance. He can also play the role of power play quarterback, setting things up on the blue line. Brook also has a decent shot. His slap shot is accurate and he keeps it low and on the net. He also has a very good wrist shot and will pinch in from the point to get it off. His strong lateral agility allows Brook to walk the line, and to open up passing and shooting lanes.
Noah Dobson, Right Defence, New York Islanders
Dobson helped lead the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Memorial Cup last season. This year he has nine goals and 16 points in 28 games for a rebuilding Titan team. Dobson plays a strong defensive game. His strong skating allows him to keep attackers in front of him and force them to the outside. He keeps himself between the puck and the net and uses a long and active stick to cut down passing lanes.
Dobson battles hard along the boards. He is also very good at clearing the front of the net. Dobson also has the passing and skating skills to move the puck up the ice and provide offence from the backend. He is a good playmaker, who can create off the rush, and play a quarterback role on the powerplay. He has the vision and smarts to find the open man. Dobson has a bomb of a slapshot and one-timer and he lets both fly from the blue line.
Evan Bouchard, Right Defence, Edmonton Oilers
Bouchard started the season with the Edmonton Oilers, before being sent back to the OHL’s London Knights. He put up one goal in seven NHL games. Since going back down to London, he has five goals and 18 points in 13 games. Bouchard has an absolute bomb of a slap shot. His slap shot and one-timer are already NHL calibre. He also has an outstanding wrist and snapshot. Bouchard has a real knack for getting his shot on net, despite heavy traffic. He is poised with the puck on his stick and makes subtle moves to open up passing and shooting games. Bouchard also understands how to keep the puck low, allowing teammates to get deflections, tip-ins, and rebounds.
He has also really improved his passing over the past two years. Bouchard is far more accurate and consistent than last season. He can quarterback the play from the point and can also lead the rush. He has very good vision and anticipates the developing play. Bouchard finds open teammates and makes smart plays with the puck, especially in transition. Bouchard is willing to play a physical game on the defensive end of the ice. He uses his size and his reach to keep attackers to the outside and away from the danger areas of the ice.
Maxime Comtois, Left Wing, Anaheim Ducks
The captain of Team Canada is the only returnee from last year’s team. He has had an excellent start to his NHL career, with two goals and seven points in 10 games. He also has three goals and seven points in five QMJHL games. Comtois is a goal scorer. He has an excellent array of shots, with good power and accuracy on his wrist shot, snapshot and slap shot. A sniper, Comtois has a very quick release that can handcuff opposing goaltenders. While he has the shot needed to score from the slot and face-off circles, he also has the soft hands to beat a goalie in close to the net. Comtois can score goals with deflections, rebounds, and by quickly burying a pass in tight. He can also drive the net off the rush, or when working in the offensive zone.
Comtois also has decent vision and passing skills. He can extend plays by using his stick handling as well as his body to protect the puck and control the play on the boards. Once teammates get open he can make a pass through tight openings. Comtois has good size and is not afraid to work along the boards or in front of the net. He pressures defenders well on the forecheck, creating turnovers. Comtois could stand to add some muscle to his frame to help him in board battles and establishing his position in front of the net going forward.
Morgan Frost, Centre, Philadelphia Flyers
After finishing second in OHL scoring last season, Frost has put up another strong start this season. He has 20 goals and 58 points in 32 games for Sault Ste. Marie. Frost uses his speed, quickness, and agility to really challenge defenders in one-on-one situations. He is extremely hard to contain off the rush, as he can use his skating to create openings. Frost also recognizes that if a defender is playing a little bit too far off of him; he can slow up. This creates both passing and shooting lanes which he can take advantage of. He sees the ice extremely well and anticipates the movements of his linemates. As such, he makes smart plays with the puck and sets them up for scoring chances. He can also create in the offensive zone, especially on the power play where he is able to quarterback the play from the point.
While Frost is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, he has the soft hands and quick reflexes to finish plays in close to the net. He also has a good accuracy as well as a quick release and can score from the slot. Frost really improved his wrist shot and slap shot last season. By getting stronger, he has added power to his shot.
Cody Glass, Centre, Vegas Golden Knights
Glass appears to be Canada’s top line centre heading into the tournament. He has put up 12 goals and 54 points in just 26 games this season. Glass has good hands, with the ability to stickhandle in tight spaces and make moves one-on-one. He protects the puck well down low, extending plays and keeping possession, while also having the balance to fight through checks. Glass is good in board battles, and could be even better as he adds some muscle to his frame. He also has the passing skills and vision to make his linemates better and put up points. Glass is a creative playmaker, finding a way to get the puck to a teammate, even when there doesn’t appear to be much of a lane to do so. He can make those passes on both his forehand and backhand and through tight spaces.
He also has a decent wrist shot and good release. Glass’ quick hands help him to finish plays in tight to the net. What really sets him apart offensively though is his hockey IQ. He is almost always in the right spot or making the correct play with the puck. He puts the puck into good areas, allowing a teammate to get it and make a play. Glass then finds an opening, and looks for a soft spot in the defence to get open for a return pass.
Nick Suzuki, Centre/Right Wing, Montreal Canadiens
With the versatility to play centre or wing, and the ability to thrive in a number of situations, Suzuki should be a key player for Canada. Suzuki is a good but not great skater. He has a quick first step and good acceleration but can improve his stride and have better top-end speed. He uses that acceleration and first-step to chase down loose pucks and gets in quickly on the forecheck, throwing hits or pressuring defenders into turnovers. Once he gets the puck, he uses his agility and edgework to create space and open up passing lanes.
Suzuki is extremely intelligent. He thinks the game very well, spotting openings that other players do not see, and seems to be a step ahead of where the puck is going. When he has the puck, he makes smart plays, and when he does not, he finds openings to get the puck and create a scoring chance. Suzuki has excellent vision and is a very good playmaker. He can feather tape-to-tape passes through tight openings and puts his linemates in a great position to finish. Also impressive as a goal scorer, Suzuki has quick hands and drives the net, where he can finish plays. He’s also quick to pounce on rebounds and has the hand-eye coordination to deflect shots. Suzuki is slippery enough to avoid a defender and find a soft spot in a good scoring area. From further out, Suzuki has a good wrist and snapshot.
Owen Tippett, Right Wing, Florida Panthers
Tippett has put up 19 goals and 33 points in 23 games this season. He is a pure sniper and extremely dangerous off the rush. If defenders back off to respect his speed, he can use his excellent wrist shot or snapshot and beat goalies with a quick release. Tippett’s shot is amongst the very best in the OHL. He is dangerous anytime he finds open space to get a shot off. He also shows the ability to find soft spots in the defensive zone, and get open to let off a one-timer. Tippett also has excellent hand-eye coordination and can tip in shots from the point. He is not afraid to battle down low and fight for the key space in front of the opposition’s net.
Tippett improved his playmaking skills last season. However, there are still times where he can stand to slow things down and hold on to the puck just a little longer before rushing a play. He has also improved his puck protection and work down low in the cycle game. Tippett is good at fighting off defenders and creating time for teammates to get open in the cycle. He could use some work on his defensive game.
Martin Kaut, Left Wing, Colorado Avalanche
In 26 AHL games, Kaut has five goals and 12 points. He put up seven points in seven games playing on the top Czech line last year, and with all three members returning it could be the best line in the tournament this year. Kaut is a pure goal scorer. His powerful skating ability allows him to drive the net. When he gets there, he has the quick hands to make moves in tight. He can also score by pouncing on rebounds or tipping in shots. Kaut has a very good wrist shot. It is accurate and powerful. He can fool goaltenders from further out with a quick release. Kaut’s snapshot is also above average. He can work on his one-timer though. A smart player, Kaut finds the soft spots in the defence to be open for these shots.
Kaut is also a talented playmaker. He anticipates plays well and makes strong passes to teammates. He works well in the cycle and can make tape-to-tape passes if a teammate finds open space in a scoring area. Kaut does a very good job working off the half-board on the powerplay and can control the game from there.
Martin Necas, Centre, Carolina Hurricanes
Necas had a goal and an assist in seven games with the Hurricanes this year. He is having a strong year in the AHL with seven goals and 22 points in 26 games. Necas can handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. His hands are quick and soft, and he protects the puck well. This makes him extremely dangerous on the rush. Necas has excellent vision and makes tough passes through tight areas. He is very creative with his passing game and can find openings that other players wouldn’t try. Necas sees the ice extremely well and has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays before they happen. He seems to know what his teammates are thinking ahead of time.
He can also be dangerous as a shooter with a quick release on both his wrist and snapshots. Necas will need to add more power going forward. Necas needs to get to the dirty areas of the ice more consistently. He sometimes has a tendency to play too much of a perimeter game. At his best, he gets involved in the corners and in front of the net. He may be willing to do this more as he continues to add strength to his frame. He is good in the cycle game, using his body to protect the puck, and his vision and passing skill to make plays for teammates.
Jakub Skarek, Goaltender, New York Islanders
At 6-foot-3 Skarek has a frame that most NHL teams are looking for in their goaltenders in recent years. He is an extremely athletic goalie. He is a good skater. Skarek takes advantage of his size by coming out to the top of the crease and challenging shooters, giving them little to shoot at. He has an excellent side-to-side push, getting across the crease quickly and in control. He rarely slides too far and gets himself out of position. Skarek’s legs are strong and quick. He gets in and out of the butterfly quickly. Those fast legs take away the bottom of the net and force shooters to challenge him high. His rebound control is particularly good down low, a rarity in young goalies, as he kicks pucks to the corners.
Skarek’s blocker could use a bit of work. He makes the saves, but his rebound control off the blocker can use some work. He sometimes leaves an enticing rebound in the slot. His glove hand is quick, especially for a European goalie. Skarek’s athleticism allows him to keep himself square to the shooter, and quickly recover to be in a position to stop rebounds. Skarek comes out of the net to play the puck behind his net. He is capable of making simple plays, stopping the puck and moving it to his defence. However, he is not the type to make long passes or get the breakout started.
Filip Zadina, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings
Drafted sixth overall by Detroit, Zadina has eight goals and 17 points in 27 AHL games this season. Zadina is a pure and talented goal scorer. He has a very heavy wrist shot, with a good release. He can combine this with his skating and power game to be a real threat off of the wing. An absolute sniper, he can score with his wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot and one-timer. He even has a strong backhand. Zadina takes advantage of his shooting skill, as he generates a very high number of shot attempts every game. Zadina also has the soft hands to score in close to the net. He can bury rebounds, deke goalies, and get tip-ins. He has a knack for getting himself open, finding soft areas on the ice even when everyone is watching him.
As a playmaker, he needs to make better decisions with the puck. Zadina can sometimes hold on to it for too long and get himself into trouble instead of moving it quickly. He has the passing skill to get it through tight openings and make tape-to-tape passes when he does move it. He is willing to work in the cycle game, and to battle along the boards and in front of the net. Zadina is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice in order to create offensive chances.
Malte Setkov, Left Defence, Detroit Red Wings
A fourth-round pick in the 2017 Draft, Setkov comes in at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds. He is playing for Malmo. In 13 SHL games, he has been held scoreless. However, Setkov has put up two goals and five points in seven games in the J20 league. Setkov is a decent skater for his size but can use some work on his first step quickness and agility. Setkov has a booming shot from the point and will be a key part of Denmark’s powerplay.
He is also a smart player in his own end, taking advantage of good positioning and an active stick to make the most of his size. He cuts down passing lanes and is effective on the penalty kill. Setkov is willing to play physical in his own end and can do this at the junior level but will need more weight on his frame to take it to the next level.
Jonas Rondbjerg, Left Wing, Vegas Golden Knights
A third-round pick in 2017, Rondbjerg plays for Vaxjo in the SHL. He is an excellent skater with good speed, and a powerful stride. Rondbjerg is very hard to knock off the puck and can protect it in the cycle. He has excellent vision and instincts and almost always makes the smart play with the puck. Rondbjerg has a hard and accurate wrist shot. He is also willing to get to the front of the net to create offence. Rondbjerg works hard in all three zones and is a very smart defensive forward.
Alexander Alexeyev, Left Defence, Washington Capitals
A first-round pick in 2018, Alexeyev has seven goals and 31 points in 30 games for Red Deer in the WHL. Alexeyev has good vision and passing skills. He can start the play with a good pass out of his own end, as well as quarterback the play from the blueline. Alexeyev has the skating ability to retrieve dump-ins and loose pucks as well as the poise to move it out of danger in his own end. He can lead the rush but also makes smart passes to start the transition. Alexeyev does not force plays. If he is skating up the ice and does not like the way things look, he is not afraid to stop, turn back and try again. Alexeyev also has a hard slap shot. He is getting it on net more often, using his agility to create better shooting lanes.
Alexeyev defends well on the rush, keeping opponents in front of him, and forcing them to the outside. He can throw a big hit when given the opportunity and makes good use of his physical capabilities that way. However, when he is defending in the zone, he can sometimes get himself out of position by looking to be more physical.
Grigori Denisenko, Left Wing, Florida Panthers
The 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Denisenko has three goals in 15 KHL games this year. He also has put in time in the Russian junior leagues and has good numbers there. Denisenko is an excellent skater. He has a smooth stride that leads to quick acceleration and very good top-end speed. His quick feet lead to very good agility and edgework. This makes him tough for defensemen to handle on the rush. He can beat them to the outside and cut to the net, or make a quick move and weave through traffic.
Denisenko is extremely dangerous off the rush. He pairs that skating ability with the hands to make plays while moving at top speed. His soft hands and excellent stickhandling ability gives him a number of quick dekes and feints that can beat a defender one-on-one. If defenders give him too much space, it opens up passing and shooting lanes and Denisenko is skilled enough to take advantage of the situation. He has outstanding vision and passing skills. He can make a perfect tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Denisenko has the stickhandling ability and the intelligence to slow the play down and wait for the perfect time to make that pass to his teammate. Denisenko’s snapshot and wrist shot are very accurate. They also feature a quick release.
Klim Kostin, Left Wing, St. Louis Blues
A 2017 first round pick, Kostin played in last year’s tournament with five goals and eight points in five games. He has 11 points in 28 games for San Antonio of the AHL this season. Kostin has the strength and size to play a powerful game, as he is strong on the puck; effective in maintaining possession down low; and difficult to contain when he drives the net. He is also highly skilled, with soft hands and excellent stickhandling ability and a fantastic wrist shot and release. Kostin has the moves to shed defenders to create a scoring opportunity; along with snipers shot to bury the puck once he gets that open.
Kostin also has good vision and passing skills. He can make creative plays with the puck, feathering a pass to a teammate through very tight openings. Kostin also plays a gritty game, as he is not afraid to get to the front of the net, or battle for loose pucks at both ends of the ice. He could stand to be a little more selfish, and shoot the puck more as he often looks to make a pass. His biggest issue is consistency. There are games where Kostin is absolutely dominant and looks like the best player on the ice. There are also games where he seems to disappear for long stretches of time.
Vitali Kravtsov, Right Wing, New York Rangers
The ninth overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Kravtsov has six goals and 17 points in 33 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL this season. Kravtsov is a skilled offensive player. He pairs his great skating ability with outstanding hands. He can stickhandle in a phone booth. This makes him absolutely deadly in one-on-one situations. The best part of his game is that he can make all these moves and handle the puck while moving at top speed. If defenders back off to respect his speed and stickhandling, he has a deadly arsenal of shots that he can put on net. Kravtsov has a very good wrist shot and snapshot. Both shots feature a quick release. With the hands to also score in tight, he’s a natural sniper.
Kravtsov also has the vision and passing skill to be a playmaker off the wing, though he is more of a shoot first player. If there is a criticism of Kravtsov’s offensive game, it is that he does not always make the best decisions with the puck. He can skate himself into trouble by trying to do it all himself or to dangle too many defenders at once. He could stand to smarter with the puck and keep it moving, utilizing linemates more effectively.
Vasili Podkolzin, Right Wing, 2019 NHL Draft Eligible
A potential top pick in the 2019 draft, Podkolzin is coming off a pair of excellent international showings at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and the World Junior A Challenge. He also has seven points in 10 games with SKA St. Petersburg’s MHL affiliate. He is an excellent skater, featuring a powerful stride that generates good speed and also allows him to fight through checks and control the puck down low. Podkolzin has excellent balance and wins battles on the boards and in front of the net. He works well below the hash marks in the cycle game.
Podkolzin has good stickhandling skills which make him tough to defend in one-on-one situations. He can beat defenders out of the corner, or off the rush. He also has very good passing skills with the vision to find open teammates. A natural goal scorer, Podkolzin has a strong wrist shot and a quick release. His soft hands also allow him to finish in close to the net. Most impressive though is his one-timer, which is a rocket.
Alexander Romanov, Left Defence, Montreal Canadiens
A second-round pick in 2018, Romanov has appeared in 28 games for CSKA in the KHL this season. While he has not put up any points, he has impressed in the defensive end of the ice maintaining good gap control and keeping his opponents to the perimeter. He is willing to play a physical game and is always looking to throw a big hit against an opponent. He is especially tough to beat off the rush.
Romanov has shown a bit more offence playing against his own age group. He put up three points in five games at last year’s IIHF U-18. He also had seven goals and 14 points in 37 MHL games. Romanov is a very good skater. He can rush the puck up the ice and still get back in his own zone defensively. He is also a very good passer, starting the transition game or setting up in the zone on the power play. Romanov also has a good shot from the point.
Nando Eggenberger, Left Wing/Right Wing, 2019 NHL Draft Eligible
Eggenberger has 13 goals and 26 points in 31 games for the Oshawa Generals this year. Eggenberger has good size at 6-foot-2. He uses that size to play a power game, getting to the front of the net, where he screens goalies, tips in pucks, and pounces on rebounds. He is also very strong on the wall, winning battles for pucks and extending possession in the cycle game. Eggenberger gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures opposing defenders into making mistakes. He is strong on the puck and his lower body strength gives him excellent balance. Eggenberger has decent vision and can set up a linemate out of the cycle.
He is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker though. Eggenberger has a good wrist shot, and his release is quick and deceptive. He can fool goaltenders from further out. He can use a defenceman as a screen on the rush, as they back off to respect his speed. Eggenberger also has a good snapshot and one-timer. He even has a good backhand.
Nico Gross, Left Defence, New York Rangers
A fourth-round pick in 2018, Gross has three goals and 12 points in 30 games for the Oshawa Generals this season. Gross is an excellent skater, and this leads to a solid two-way game. He is particularly quick going backwards and pairs this with excellent agility. Gross pairs this with good hockey smarts, leading to outstanding gap control and positioning. He is very tough to beat in one-on-one situations. Gross is physical in the corners and in front of the net but needs to add upper-body strength. Offensively he skates the puck up the ice well and makes a good first pass, as well as being able to quarterback the play from the point. He must get more consistent with his offensive game though.
Philipp Kurashev, Centre, Chicago Blackhawks
A fourth-round pick in 2018, Kurashev has been lighting up the QMJHL with 18 goals and 43 points in 33 games this season. Kurashev is a dynamic skater. He is lightning quick, with a great first step, top-notch acceleration, and incredible top speed. He can blow by the defence, creating breakaways and odd-man rushes in transition. Kurashev can also take a defender wide and cut to the net. He is agile, with the ability to make quick cuts and weave in and out of traffic. Kurashev has a powerful stride and good balance. He is tough to knock off the puck and can make plays off the cycle as well.
Kurashev marries his skating skill with good, but not great stickhandling. He can make a number of nice moves to get past a defenceman. Kurashev gets in quickly on the forecheck. He is strong along the boards and wins battles. Kurashev’s speed forces defenders to back off and he takes advantage of this with a good release on his wrist shot. Kurashev has good vision and can play the role of playmaker. He uses his skating to open up passing lanes and find teammates. He can control the puck on the half boards on the power play and set up a scoring chance. Kurashev has the poise and patience to extend plays and wait for a teammate to get open.
Valentin Nussbaumer, Centre/Left Wing, 2019 NHL Draft Eligible
Nussbaumer has put up 18 points in 30 games for Shawinigan. He was very good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament as well as at last year’s World Juniors where he impressed as a 16-year-old. Nussbaumer shows excellent stickhandling ability and a good wrist shot. While Nussbaumer is not an elite speedster, he is still a very good skater with above-average speed and acceleration. However, it is his edgework and agility that really makes him dangerous. Nussbaumer can get around defenders and create chances. He is another smart player with a strong two-way game for his age but really needs to add muscle to his frame.
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