Prospects to watch: 2019 World Juniors
With only one drafted prospect playing in this year’s annual tournament, let’s explore which other players have the potential to become NHLers
Sens fans have been spoiled at past World Junior tournaments. Erik Karlsson (2009) and Thomas Chabot (2017) have won Best Defenceman honours; Mark Stone (2012), Colin White (2017), and Drake Batherson (2018) have scored 7 goals at a single tournament; and even depth players like Christian Jaros (Slovakia) got their first taste of the limelight at the annual prospect showdown.
This year, Sens fans will only have Team USA assistant captain Josh Norris to look forward to. That’s still something — Norris is expected to play top-line minutes with likely top 2019 pick Jack Hughes behind him — especially because this will be the first time many fans will see Norris play since the trade to Ottawa.
However, with the team in a “rebuild”, it’s likely that GM Pierre Dorion will try to add to the 8 picks he has for the upcoming 2019 entry draft, so I decided to compile a list of draft-eligible players that I’ll be watching over the next two weeks. This list is accurate as of Tuesday night, but note that some teams are still making cuts at the end of their roster.
No Alex Formenton and a 19-year-old heavy roster as per usual makes Canada a tough watch. There are two notable names, though.
Brett Leason: A teammate of Sens prospect Parker Kelly, Leason has led a Prince Albert Raiders team that has gone 31-2-1 to start the WHL season. Considered a low-first/high second-round pick according to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman, Leason has size (6-foot-4), strength, and a motor that allows him to hound the puck when he’s on the ice. Expect him to get middle-six minutes and line up at centre on the second unit of Canada’s powerplay.
Alexis Lafrenière: The likely top pick in the 2020 Draft (where the Sens will hopefully have a first-rounder!), Lafrenière is coming off a season where he was named the QMJHL and CHL rookie of the year after putting up 80 points in 60 games for a mediocre Rimouski squad. This season Lafrenière has already captained Canada to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka, and sits third in QMJHL points per game (1.74). Despite being a dominating presence on the wing, Lafrenière is expected to take a step back and play a minor role at this year’s tournament; he has not lined up on either powerplay unit. Even so, to make this roster to begin with is already a feat, and I’ll be looking for any razzle dazzle I can when he steps onto the ice.
The Czechs have five prospects that intrigue me: four at forward and one defenceman.
Matej Blumel: After putting up a 2.00 PPG in the Czech U18 league as a 16-year-old, Blumel crossed over to North America early but struggled in his first USHL season (18 points in 50 games). He’s represented his country at the U17 and U18 level, with a strong 2G, 2A performance at the latter last year, and will be playing to get drafted in his second year of eligibility. Known for his slick hands in tight, solid hockey sense, and using his speed on the forecheck. Expect the UConn (NCAA) commit to play shorthanded minutes.
Karel Plasek: similar to Blumel, Plasek was snubbed at last year’s draft and will be looking to garner attention in a middle-six role for the Czechs. A consistent goal-scorer at the U16 and U18 levels, Plasek is speedy with a great shot and is always looking to create something through the neutral zone. Plasek is one of just 14 U19 players in the Czech men’s league this season, leading the way with 4 points.
Krystof Hrabik: the last overage player of the bunch, Hrabik stands at 6-foot-4 and 209 pounds, and has been utilizing his size en route to 24 points in 29 games with Tri-City in the WHL this season. Hrabik played against men in the Czech league last season, and aims to shoot first instead of looking to create for his linemates. After suiting up in a fourth-line role for the Czechs last year, Hrabik may take on some shutdown minutes at this year’s tournament to open up space for Zadina, Necas and co.
Petr Cajka: A first-time eligible player, Cajka’s best known for his two-point effort at last year’s U18s, which helped the Czechs eliminate Canada 2-1 in the quarterfinals. He’s a deceptive player with strong hockey sense that allows him to control the neutral zone, and a decent top gear when he gets going. Ranked high by Steve Kournianos, especially due to his versatility to play well defensively and shift to wing when needed, Cajka has 22 points in 30 games for the Erie Otters after being selected 12th overall in the CHL Import Draft.
Hugo Has: The Czechs lone 2001-born defenceman, Has has been applying his trade in Finland’s top U20 league since he was 16 and ranks sixth among U18 defenceman in PPG at the moment. Already 6-foot-4, Has is still growing into his frame, but utilizes his long reach to play stick-on-puck to detach onrushing forwards from the puck. Expect him in a third-pair role as he gets his feet wet against the top talent in the game.
Gustav Green: Currently leading all U19 players in scoring in Denmark’s top men’s league, Green missed the cutoff for the 2018 draft by six days, and has been among the top of his age group for a couple years now. A defensively responsible centre with strong faceoff ability, Green will see a lot of top-lines and will hope to keep them off the scoresheet.
Jonathan Brinkman: Tied with Green despite being a year younger, Brinkman won a slew of awards in Denmark’s top U20 league before making the jump to play against men this season. He’s got great speed and hands in tight, always looking to create things with an extra move in the offensive zone.
Mads Sogaard: While Sens prospect Jordan Hollett struggles in the Medicine Hat net, Sogaard has put up a .931 save percentage — third among all WHL netminders and first among draft eligibles. A calm, structured goalie, Sogaard is 6-foot-7 and can block most of the net unless there’s lateral movement. Will be extremely interesting to see how he fares against the world’s best.
Kyen Sopa: An undersized winger, Sopa hasn’t let his size stop him from putting up points in the Swiss league (second in points among U18s last season) or internationally (six points in six games at the U18s last year). He’s got great balance on his skates and is tough to knock off the puck, while playing a style of game that’s in your face in the offensive zone. Coming over to a tough Niagara roster hasn’t slowed him down, with Sopa garnering 19 points in 29 games on a smaller ice surface against more physical opponents.
Jeremi Gerber: A strong winger with a long skating stride, Gerber engages physically at every chance and has great hockey sense when attacking. Currently leading the country’s U20 league in points-per-game, Gerber will be the trigger-man on the Swiss powerplay and will help them break out the puck in transition.
Nando Eggenberger: A surprise non-pick in 2018, Eggenberger was ranked in the third-to-fourth round by almost all major scouting agencies, including #90 by TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Unlike the others on this list, Eggenberger has played in against men (NLA) the last two seasons, but perhaps used the snub as an indicator that he needed to come over to North America to show that his style of play can translate onto a smaller ice surface. With 26 points in 31 games with the Oshawa Generals (OHL), Eggenberger has done just that. Known for his deceptive, accurate shot, Eggenberger has decent speed and has worked more with his puck skills in order to try and become a more consistent player. Expect him to play in all situations for a Swiss squad in need of scoring.
David Aebischer: As a 17-year-old in Switzerland’s U20 league, Aebischer led all defencemen in scoring by five points — finishing above a point-per-game. Satisfied with his performance locally, he’s currently applying his trade with Gatineau, where he’s finding the offence a little harder to come by, but has a respectable 9 points in 30 games. Expect Aebischer to get top powerplay minutes and be a focus on the Swiss breakout.
Spencer Knight: Other than the aforementioned Norris and Hughes, Knight is the only other U.S. player worth watching for teams looking to draft a prospect. Known as the top goaltender in his age group for quite some time, Knight has been groomed in the USDP and is expected to play backup in this year’s tournament. An extremely agile and athletic keeper, expect him to be the first or second goaltender off the board in 2019.
Rickard Hugg: Ranked in 2017, I’m surprised Hugg still hasn’t found an NHL home. A three-zone player with decent skill, Hugg’s represented his country in all major international tournaments, and currently has 36 points in 31 games in his second season with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. Strong on his skates and always around the net, expect Hugg to play defensive minutes and the penalty kill as Team Sweden tries to win Gold.
Samuel Fagemo: Unlike Sweden’s other 2019 draft-eligible player (defenceman Philip Broberg), Fagemo may actually be around for the Sens first pick. A goal-scorer with great speed, Fagemo’s 10 points in 21 SHL games is first among draft-eligible players. He’s been playing ~14 minutes a night with Frölunda, putting up around two shots a game — ranking well among his peers historically. He likely won’t play a top-six role for the Swedes this year, but will be looking to profile some depth scoring in a third-line right-wing role.
Linus Nyman: Finland’s version of Rickard Hugg, Nyman’s been around scouting circles for two years now, but is finally getting a chance to play for his country at the U20 level after suiting up at both the U17s and U18s in the past. He spent the last two seasons with Kingston in the OHL, scoring 26 goals in his rookie season — the most among OHLers — before following it up with 39 last year. He’s gone back to the Liiga now, with 9 points in 31 games ranking him 10th among U20 players. Out of Nyman, Sami Moilanen, and defenceman Otto Latvala, Nyman stands out as the overager that can most likely help an NHL team.
Ville Heinola: As of right now, Heinola may have made Finland’s defensive corps over the highly-touted Anttoni Honka, which is saying something. A steady puck-mover who excels in transition, the 17-year-old Heinola is one of just four U18 players who have suited up for a majority of his team’s Liiga games this season. He’s playing a lot, too — averaging around 18 minutes per night and gaining roles on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He doesn’t have great speed, but can be deceptive with his edges and uses his hockey sense to make correct decisions. Finland’s defence corps feature players with prestige, so it’ll be interesting to see how Heinola’s used as the tournament goes on. He’s expected to receive third-pair minutes as of now.
Oliver Okuliar: A prospect Colin and I liked as a late-round choice in 2018, Okuliar went undrafted after putting up a 1.73 points-per-game in Slovakia’s top U20 league. He’s migrated over to North America, suiting up for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL, and has been notable — with 25 points in 33 games. Named a top three player on his team at last year’s U18s, he uses his hockey sense to anticipate the puck’s movement and takes advantage with a slick shot. He’s not the fastest skater, potentially one of the reasons why he went undrafted, but has skill that may be worth a pick this year.
Andrej Kukuca: Like Okuliar, Kukuca dominated his local U20 league, scoring 43 goals in 44 games. With 24 points in 29 games with Seattle in the WHL, Kukuca is constantly involved in his team’s scoring and buzzes around the offensive zone. Playing a similar style of game against the best players in the world will help his chances to get drafted in 2019.
So, don’t fear Sens fans: despite only having one drafted player to watch, there is plenty of other players to keep your eyes on as potential future Ottawa Senators. Is there anyone I’ve missed? Are you looking forward to watching other players? Let us know in the comments!
Games start today at 4:00pm EST, and you can follow along with stats, highlights, and upcoming games at the official tournament website.