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Road to 2020: World Junior Championhsip Edition

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Which prospects were able to raise their stock at the World Juniors?

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Canada v Switzerland: Exhibition - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship

Happy New Year, fellow draft nerds! ‘Tis the season of the World Junior Championships, and with the tournament finishing last week with Canada coming out on top, this month’s edition of Road to 2020 will mostly focus on what transpired in the Czech Republic.

It’s been an eventful World Juniors tournament for draft-eligible prospects. Only a couple days before the tournament, this year was on pace to have the most first-time eligible draftees in WJC history, with 31. A few unexpected cuts brought that number below the record to 26, however, with players like Martin Chromiak (SVK, xRange: 33-90) and Jan Bednar (CZE, 73-98) being left out. But there’s still no shortage of notable performances to discuss.

If this is your first time reading this series, I’ll be using expected range in reference to prospects, which is essentially a public consensus of where a player is expected to be drafted. You can find the full explanation here, the data here, and the interactive charts here.

The Golden Canadians

The star-studded power laid in the hands of Team Canada, with Alexis Lafrenière (xRange: 1-1) and Quinton Byfield (xRange: 2-2) both participating. Lafrenière unluckily went down with an ankle injury against Russia, but it wasn’t as bad as it nearly could’ve been, as he returned days later en route to winning tournament MVP. He was an on-ice leader for the Canadians, scoring two points per game and making dazzling plays left and right. Byfield, meanwhile, was invisible for most of the tournament as the second youngest player, only picking up a single assist in seven games.

The two other draft-eligibles on Canada were defenceman Jamie Drysdale (xRange: 6-9) and QMJHL forward Dawson Mercer (xRange: 15-29). Neither received significant ice time as the seventh defenceman and thirteenth forward respectively, but they both managed to survive a stacked training camp, with Mercer even out-surviving some higher ranked draft-eligibles. Drysdale also pushed his way into a key role by the end, with heavy responsibilities in the medal rounds.

But it was Lafrenière who ultimately stole the show, making himself the fourth draft-eligible player in WJC history to win the MVP award, succeeding Marc-André Fleury, John Tavares and Jesse Puljujärvi. For scouts who were on the fence, this tournament may have solidified him as the #1 prospect.

Around The Globe

Of all the top talent at the WJC, three of the top five draft-eligible scorers were surprisingly on Team Germany. Tim Stützle (xRange: 5-10), John-Jason Peterka (xRange: 27-73) and Lukas Reichel (xRange: 32-78) were all team leaders who narrowly had to avoid relegation despite their performances. They each scored 5+ points, and Stützle did it despite having to miss the last couple games due to an illness.

Another interesting team to follows was Sweden, who won the bronze medal with Alexander Holtz (xRange: 4-8) and Lucas Raymond (xRange: 2-5). They were 3rd and 6th in scoring amongst their team’s forwards despite being mostly played in the bottom six. Ultimately it was Sweden’s D+1 players that mostly took the reins.

A few other noteworthy performances: Jan Mysak (xRange: 12-23) and Simon Kubicek (xRange: 78-122) were both turning heads as standout players on a young Czech team, despite being mostly outmatched by their opponents. Kubicek was their #1 defenceman, and while Mysak only finished with a goal and assist, he was making consistently smart plays while being unfairly stuffed on the team’s third line.

Lastly, Yaroslav Askarov (xRange: 6-12) couldn’t find the same magic he had in all his international play last season, ultimately losing the starter’s job to the twice undrafted Amir Miftakhov.

Prospect Movement

The CHL trade deadline is coming up quickly on January 10th... tomorrow! As usual, the end of the World Juniors has been the starting pistol for teams to race for the best players. Amidst the chaos and flying draft picks, some 2020 draft-eligibles were in the mix.

One of the biggest moves was Dawson Mercer (xRange: 15-29) being traded to Chicoutimi, who currently stand as second in the QMJHL standings. He’ll join the currently injured Hendrix Lapierre (xRange: 10-20). Evan Vierling (xRange: 72-111) was also traded from Flint to Barrie, as he couldn’t quite get things going following a promising D-1 year.

Sabres prospect Matej Pekar was traded to the Sudbury Wolves. Why’s that important, you ask? Quinton Byfield finally has a quality winger on his line.

While not a trade, Jan Mysak (xRange: 12-23) will be moving from HC Litvinov in the Czech league to the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, who own his CHL rights. It was an odd situation for Mysak, who wasn’t being put in a position to succeed on HC Litvinov, who were in the Czech league’s basement. Now he’ll be on one of the OHL’s worst teams, but will hopefully be given a much larger opportunity alongside top scorer Arthur Kaliyev.

Martin Chromiak (xRange: 33-90) did the same earlier in the month, moving from the Slovakian pro league to the Kingston Frontenacs. This should hopefully get him some more eyeballs, although he’ll no longer be playing against men. As mentioned earlier, he was shockingly cut from the Slovak WJC team despite arguably being their most promising forward.

General Trends

Plenty of new rankings were released earlier this month — these are the prospects with the fastest rising (or falling) stock:

  • Marco Rossi (xRange: 6-12), as highlighted last month, now leads the entire OHL in scoring despite playing 5-10 less games than everyone else at the top of the leaderboard. His incredible 2.38 points per game is tops in the entire CHL by a sizeable margin.
  • Mavrik Bourque (xRange: 19-35) is being recognized as one of the QMJHL’s most promising prospects. He had a 16-game point streak throughout late November/December where he picked up 11 goals and 18 points.
  • The other big QMJHL riser was the traded Dawson Mercer (xRange: 15-29). His P/GP of 1.62 is even higher than Bourque’s 1.29, which is on pace to be the 6th best QMJHL draft year of the last decade. Players in the same range include Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nico Hischier.
  • As for the fallers, Hendrix Lapierre’s injuries are starting to take a toll on his draft stock. His xRange is now 10-20, which is still high, but he was shaping up to be a can’t-miss top-15 prospect only a few months ago. Hopefully he’s recovering well from his third concussion in eight months.
  • Most of this month’s movement is focused in the QMJHL, apparently, as Justin Barron (xRange: 12-27) was December’s second biggest faller. The defenceman’s 0.62 P/GP is only slightly up from his 0.60 last season, and although his two-way play is what he’s better recognized for, his relative GF% at even strength is -9.89 (from Pick224.com), which isn’t exactly the best sign. He also didn’t play for the entire month of December with a blood clot, with the timeline for his return undetermined.

Overall, the 2020 draft class is still shaping up to be one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Players that would be surefire top ten players in most years will likely be falling outside the top 20, and the depth just trickles down after that. Let’s just say it’s a great year to have (at least) two first round picks.

If you’re interesting in digging further into some draft prospects, here’s your monthly link roulette for some quality draft content from people more knowledgable than myself. Thanks for reading!