The IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship is upon us & makes this time of the year, my favourite. Inevitably, the tournament offers a glimpse into the hockey’s future, particularly for some skaters that haven’t had their name in the lights yet. This year, is no different. Obviously, names like Matthews & Laine are missing (they have other obligations), as is Debrincat (don’t get me started). However, here are some names you will want to keep an eye on, other than the obvious names like Strome, Nylander and Juolevi.
Rasmus Dahlin, D, Sweden
The youngest competitor in this year’s tournament, will no doubt have lots of eyes on him. Dahlin has been compared to Erik Karlsson, but he hits, too. This will be the first time many will see him live, myself included. He is an effortless skater with great edge work and balance. He has the ability to change gears quickly, making him a nightmare to defend against. Dahlin, developing still, is more of a two-way defenseman, meaning he’s reliable in his own end and a threat to score in the other end. Dahlin’s incredible puck skill, both handling it and stripping opponents, makes him a threat to teams with and without the puck. Development of a 16 year-old can change in a hurry, but this young man seems to be something really special.
Nico Hischier, C, Switzerland
The 2017 draft eligible forward has rocketed up the scouting ranks since the season began. He has been named CHL Player of the Week and a right handed pivot who is 6’1 is always going to get attention, especially with the skill toolbox Nico possesses. He is most dangerous off the rush, his speed ability to shoot the puck were on full display against Canada in the exhibition games (where he scored twice). One thing Hischier has that most prospects don’t, he plays a dependable, mature game in his own end. This isn’t a trait most junior players possess. Look for Nico to be the go-to guy for the Swiss, he has the game-breaking ability that NHL teams salivate over.
Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Russia
The 2016 Minnesota 5th rounder is perhaps, one of the most skilled players in the tournament this year. He is scoring at nearly a point per game in the KHL, something unheard of for an under-20 player, save for Kuznetsov. He is, without a doubt, Russia’s most dangerous forward, possessing elite puck skill, great speed and a nose for the net. While he is more of a playmaker than a finisher, look for Kaprizov to be the driver of Russian attack. He makes his teammates better by creating space for them, and uses his ability to read the play to create opportunities out of nothing. If Russia are to medal, Kaprizov will need to have a big tournament.
Eeli Tolvanen, F, Finland
Finland is missing their big line this year of Laine, Aho and Puljujaarvi, so except Tolvanen to be heavily leaned upon to produce. Tolvanen has an NHL ready shot, many believe he possesses the best shot in his draft class. Tolvanen is a threat to score every shift, in a many different ways. His shot makes him a pure sniper, and his ability to shoot the puck in stride (Kessel-like) makes him dangerous off the rush. Tolvanen has good puck skill, and uses his creativity in the offensive zone to generate chances, in close. A strong showing would go a long way to cementing himself as a top-5 pick in 2017, as he projects to be an elite sniper on the wing.
Clayton Keller, LW, USA
The diminutive forward will be expected to carry the offensive load for USA this winter, along with Colin White, Jack Roslovic and Jeremy Bracco. Keller is an offensive catalyst who will likely ride shotgun with Colin White on the USA top line. Keller is similar to Marner, in size and player type; his edge work and skating making him difficult to hit and handle in the offensive zone. Look for Keller to set up his teammates all over the ice for opportunities, he sees the ice better than most & moves the puck very well. The Arizona 1st rounder will need to be a big-time contributor to avoid an early exit.
Those are some of the more intriguing players who don’t see the spotlight as much as they should. Should they have strong tournaments, this is shaping up to be on of the higher end skill tournaments, overall.