2020 World Juniors: Players to Watch in Group B
A look at the draft-eligible players on Canada, Czech Republic, USA, Russia, and Germany.
The first games of the 2020 IIHF U20 World Championships start today.
Yesterday, I previewed the players to look out for in Group A, so today, we’ll wrap up our coverage looking at those in this year’s competitive “group of death”. Please head over to our Open Thread to discuss the tournament!
The players in this piece will be sorted by the teams in Group B: Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, USA.
Jacob Bernard-Docker’s Team Canada features five draft-eligible players. Four first-timers, including consensus #1 and #2 overall picks Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield, the best defenceman in the class in Jamie Drysdale, and a likely mid-first rounder in Dawson Mercer. Goaltender Nico Daws is in his second year of eligibility, but has had a standout year for the Guelph Storm to seize one of the three goalie positions.
Power play units at Team 🇨🇦 practice— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 25, 2019
Lafrenière - Veleno - Hayton
Byram - Lavoie - Foote
(0/5 in pre-tournament games)
As with Raymond and Holtz yesterday, Colin’s 2020 Draft series has kept you pretty up to speed with Lafreniere and Byfield. In this tournament, the two will be Canada’s top left-wingers of the tournament, with Lafreniere on Joe Veleno’s wing, and Byfield on Barrett Hayton’s. While the former is a natural winger and makes sense in first-line minutes, don’t get too worried about Byfield — a centre — playing wing this tournament on the second line. Canada rarely puts draft-eligibles in top positions, let alone at centre, and it looks as though Dale Hunter has went for experience with four past first or second rounders lining up in the middle for his team. Both will be receiving powerplay time, with Lafreniere getting wing duty on the first unit and Byfield tasked with being the net front presence on the second.
Drysdale is lining up as the team’s seventh defenceman to start the tournament. Expect a limited role for the 17-year-old this year, as he’s expected to be a top contributor at the next two tournaments. An offensive dynamo, Drysdale captained one of the two Canadian teams at the U17s last year and played in the U18s as a 16-year-old. He had a 40-point rookie season with Erie, and was above a point-per-game when he left. A right-handed shot, Drysdale is an elite skater, with keen vision and the hands to control the puck. Look for this to be on display when he’s on the ice. Calen Addison, Bowen Byram, and Ty Smith can all play his role on this roster, and the coaching staff sees Kevin Bahl playing traditional shutdown, penalty kill minutes.
Dawson Mercer is the 13th forward, and like Drysdale, may only get to play limited minutes this tournament. Mercer is a high-energy right-winger who thrives hunting the puck down along the boards. He’s at his best when he’s playing a simple game, driving the net to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates. When he’s in, look for him to be crashing and banging on the fourth line.
As I’m writing this piece, Nico Daws appears to be getting the start today against the United States over the drafted Olivier Rodrique and Joel Hofer. Goaltending is a weakness for this Canadian squad relative to other teams, and Daws is the biggest wildcard of the bunch. This is his first time representing Canada internationally, and his first year as a starting OHL goaltender with the Guelph Storm, as he was the backup during the team’s Memorial Cup run last season. He sports an OHL-leading 0.939 save percentage, and covers a lot of net with his 6-foot-4, 203 pound frame. As I mentioned yesterday, Ottawa usually likes to take at least one goalie per draft class, and a strong performance from Daws will certainly help his chances of being a second or third round pick.
There was a period earlier this decade when I thought the Czech Republic would cease being a hockey superpower. While Slovakia has certainly taken more of a hit from their Czechoslovakia days in the 90s and early 00s, the emergence of David Pastrnak, Tomas Hertl, Jakub Vrana coupled with high-end prospects like Filip Zadina, Martin Necas, Filip Chytil, and Filip Hronek has helped the country — and the game of hockey — tremendously.
CZE-RUS lineups. Dostal and Askarov in goal. No Misyul yet on Russia, who left spots open after registering their roster. pic.twitter.com/HSY360rONB— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) December 26, 2019
The next Czech wonder kid is first-time eligible Jan Mysak, who has spent much of the last two seasons in the top Czech men’s league, and is the only one of 45 U20 players to have scored more than five points so far this season. Mysak has nine. A balanced forward, Mysak is a strong playmaker and puck handler, with good hockey sense and a decent shot. He has average skating — the main con against him other than his strength — but has done well enough to produce at the pro level because of his brain. As nine of the Czech’s 23 players have been drafted, Mysak won’t have to do all of the lifting in his first World Juniors appearance. He put up points in both the U17s and U18s last year, and will be counted on to provide depth scoring.
On defence, the Czech feature two first-time eligibles in right-hander Simon Kubicek and lefty Radek Kucerik. Both are playing in the WHL this season, and have come up through the system together with Mysak. Kubicek is an effective, puck-moving defenceman who runs the powerplay for the Seattle Thunderbirds with quick wrist shots to the net. He’s not aggressive, in that he’d rather be the one covering his partner, and opts for accurate passes to teammates for zone exits as opposed to carrying the puck up the ice himself. Kucerik is the bigger of the two, with strong leadership ability and aptitude on the penalty kill. He’s often tasked with shutdown minutes. Karel Klikorka is the other first-timer on defence, and like Kucerik, is a strong, physical defender who has mainly played against men this season. He appears to have some scoring ability as well, and will be tasked with quickly moving the puck up the ice while playing with captain Libor Zabransky.
At forward, the other first-time eligibles are Jaromir Pytlik and Adam Raska — both September-born players, and thus, some of the oldest first-timers in the 2020 draft class. Pytlik, a 6-foot-3 centre currently playing in Sault Ste. Marie, is the more dangerous of the two, and could be a late second rounder or a third-round pick in June. After splitting his season between the Czech leagues and the OHL last year, Pytlik has 32 points in 31 games this season, and is a strong power forward who protects the puck well in traffic and can distribute well down low. Raska is a 5-foot-10 high-energy winger currently playing in Rimouski, and makes his money by winning puck battle after puck battle. He gets in quickly in the forecheck, and can contribute on the penalty kill with his intensity.
Of the many second and third-time draft-eligibles on this roster, 00-born Vojtech Strondala stands out. He’s only 5-foot-7, but has extremely active feet that he uses to deceive opponents and avoid contact. He can be annoying with his stick on the forecheck, and often generates many scoring chances on his own. He’s been among the top scorers in the second Czech men’s league for the last two seasons.
After Dominik Bokk (STL, now CAR) and Moritz Seider (DET) had their names called in the first-round in back-to-back years, this year’s draft class features three premier German-born forwards in Tim Stützle, Lukas Reichel, and John-Jason Peterka. The trio helped lead Germany to a U18 gold medal last year in the D1A tournament, and all have a chance to be taken in the first two rounds, with Stützle in consideration for a top 10 pick.
Stützle’s 0.92 points-per-game in the DEL is 13th among all players. If he keeps that up, he’ll finish second all-time among U20 players as a 17-year-old, behind only Marco Sturm. Sturm, Jochen Hecht and Marcel Goc, all of whom had solid NHL careers, are the closest comparisons in terms of DEL production. He destroyed the top junior league at age 16, with 23 goals and 55 points in 21 games as a centre. In the DEL, he’s been used at wing to protect him from the tough defensive duties. He has strong acceleration, and can play fast — with hands to take advantage of defenders on the rush, or the vision to find his teammates in transition. He plays a pro game, and doesn’t shy away from his defensive positioning while fighting for loose pucks in his vicinity.
Right behind Stützle is Lukas Reichel, whose 0.63 points-per-game in the DEL is nothing to scoff at. A well-balanced scorer with a great shot and solid vision, Reichel plays for one of the top teams in the country in Eisbären Berlin — utilizing his speed to be an active participant on the ice. He’s happy to go into dirty areas to fish the puck out, and has good hockey sense in all areas of the ice. He’s less flashy than Reichel, hence his lower projection as a second-rounder, but can certainly score enough to potentially be a decent NHL pro.
Peterka was second in scoring in that U18 tournament behind Stützle, and has had top pedigree for a while among German forwards. As a 16-year-old, Peterka destroyed the Czech U19 league with 94 points in 48 games last season, a full 14 points ahead of the league’s next top scorer. Like his countrymen, he’s a fluid skater and can pester opponents on the forecheck. He’s a strong puck handler, and given space on the powerplay, he can be deceptive. His hockey sense isn’t as strong as the other two, and many scouting reports describe Peterka as “raw” — with tools, but a need for more consistency.
Ottawa’s recent acquisitions of Nikita Zaitsev and Vitaly Abramov may be indicating the end of an exodus of Russian-born players applying their trade in the nation’s capital. While the team still hasn’t drafted one since the 00s, this year’s squad features two first-time eligible talents of note: goaltender Yaroslav Askarov and forward Maxim Groshev.
There’s really nothing else for me to write about Askarov. He’s the best goaltender prospect since Carey Price, which is saying something given the talent that has come out of Russia and Finland this decade, and almost single-handedly stopped last year’s USA U18s from winning every tournament imaginable on route to backstopping his team to the U18 gold. Colin and I are both against taking goalies high in the first round, but it looks likely that Askarov is a bonafide top 15 pick, and potentially even a top 10.
There are only four U19 players who have played 20+ games in the KHL this season, and Groshev is the top scorer of the bunch. Declared too good for the MHL after a strong season and solid U18s, Groshev is a 6-foot-2, 194 pound winger who plays a power game. He consistently tries to take the puck into high-traffic areas, and often uses his size and frame to protect the puck during his journey.
While most of the Russian stars outside of the two mentioned are drafted already, Yegor Sokolov stands out among the second and third-time eligibles. A heavy 6-foot-4, 240 pound winger, Sokolov has played the last three seasons with Kevin Mandolese in Cape Breton, and has consistently improved every season. His 51 points in 30 games is 4th in QMJHL scoring, and after scoring 30 goals last year, he’s on pace to crush the league this year. He doesn’t play at the pace of the current NHL, but if a team could work with him to develop some speed while keeping the power of his game, he could be an intriguing project. As Ottawa has a number of late-round picks (and will likely add more), I point him out as an option over a lower ceiling player.
Shane Pinto’s U.S. team has no first-time draft eligible prospects. Like Finland’s set of 2020s, the U.S. has had a down year that appears to be sandwiched between two amazing cohorts in 2019 and 2021.
The lone draft-eligible is 19-year-old Parker Ford, a competitive centre out of Sioux City (USHL) who has 14 points in 19 games for Providence College this season. A good passer with fleet feet, Ford likes to speed through defenders on the rush and compete for pucks on the walls when set up in the offensive zone. Look for him to provide depth scoring in a minor role for the U.S. this tournament.
There you have it! A look at the notable draft-eligibles for the 2020 World Junior Championships. Use these pieces as a guide to enhance your watching of some of the talent that will be available to the Sens this upcoming June.