TSN reporters weigh in on 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship
By: Joe Amodio
It’s that time of year again when the world’s most young, dynamic future NHL hockey stars get the chance to win gold for their country.
The IIHF World Junior Tournament will kick off on Boxing Day with eight teams in action including Canada against Finland at 4 p.m.
A tournament traditionally dominated by Canada has seen other nations such as Finland, USA, Russia and Sweden catch up to the Canadians in recent years.
The talented Canadian side have already impressed in their first pre-tournament game, dominating the Czech Republic 9-0.
Craig Button, TSN Director of Scouting, believes teams shouldn’t count out the Czech Republic just yet.
“I know, we all saw the pre-tourney game against Canada. Their four best players were not in the lineup that night. They won the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. I think they’ve been getting progressively better and they have really strong forwards. I think their goaltending can hold up but they don’t have high end defenseman,” Button said.
Canada has been successful for stretches in this tournament including a winning run from 1993 to 1997. They then lost out on gold for seven years before repeating their dominance from 2005 to 2009, ending with gold around their neck.
The pipeline for young Canadian talent coming through the ranks has seemed to run dry or at least slow down. In the last eight years Canada has only won the tournament once. If history is any indication of what’s to come, Canadian fans are in for a treat.
James Duthie, TSN Sportcaster, said Canada is lacking in top end talent and will have to have a balanced attack.
“Up at forward there are no top 10 NHL draft picks, which this is the first time this ever happened for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Every line needs to contribute. Where you’re really solid defensively and where the goalie is as good as everyone expects it to be with Carter Hart and I think they can be that,” Duthie said.
While Button admits “the margins are very thin” in the tournament, he believes one team has an edge.
“Finland,” Button said.
Button pointed to Finland defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Olli Juolevi, Juuso Vallimaki, Urho Vaakanainen and Robin Salo.
“It’s the goaltender, it’s all of their defensemen and some really good forwards. Their defensemen are all going to play in the NHL. In fact, two of them are going to play in the Olympics. Their defense is phenomenal. Then you add in real offensive power,” Button said.
But it won’t be easy for any team. The talent in this pool of players is nothing to sneer at.
The projected 2018 NHL first overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin will be representing Sweden. The 17-year-old left-handed defenseman has put up five goals and six assists in the Finnish Elite League with Frolunda HC.
Dahlin has already drawn comparisons to Ottawa Senator superstar and captain Erik Karlsson.
Duthie thinks he can be just that.
“I think he’s going to be sensational. We’ve had this incredible run with [Connor] McDavid and Auston Matthews. We can’t have a generational talent every year, but he truly is right in that category with McDavid and Matthews,” he said.
Mark Masters, TSN reporter, said he expects the Swede to also perform on the main stage.
“I expect him to be a star. I expect him to be one of the leaders on Team Sweden. I think he’s going to solidify his spot as the projected presumptive number one pick at next June’s draft,” Masters said.
The projected second NHL overall pick in 2018 is a Russian sniper that goes by the name Andrei Svenchnikov that has tallied an impressive 14 goals and seven assists in 16 games with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
It’s not certain that Svechnikov will even be on the Russian team despite his talent.
“We do know Valeri Bragin, their head coach tends to go with older players and trusts older players so even if he makes the team you wonder how much of a role he’s going to be given but there’s no denying his talent,” Masters said about the 17-year old Svechnikov.
Duthie said the unpredictable tournament is his favourite.
“It’s my favourite tournament of the year, it’s such great hockey. They are so passionate which is a big part of it but they also make mistakes. That’s what makes the tournament so great,” Duthie said.
Watch the best moments of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Tournament
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