Earlier this week, I was gifted with the task of breaking down the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship as my debut piece for this wonderful website. As a follow-up, I took the time to get some bold predictions from the regulars here at TLN so you could see how your favorite bloggers predict the tournament playing out.
We received contributions from Justin (@thejustinfisher), Jon (@YakovMironov), Catherine (@CataCarryOn) Shawn (@ShawnReis), Adam (@adam_laskaris), and Bobby (@bobbycappucino). Jeff abstained from making predictions because I wouldn’t let him pick William Nylander for every award.
Tom: Mikko Rantanen (FIN)
Justin: William Nylander (SWE)
Jon: Mathew Barzal (CAN)
Cat: Mitch Marner (CAN)
Shawn: William Nylander (SWE)
Adam: William Nylander (SWE)
Bobby: William Nylander (SWE) or Mitch Marner (CAN)
You can tell we’re Leafs fans, right? William Nylander is probably the favorite to be the best forward in the tournament. He is leading the AHL in scoring and really looks like he should be playing in the NHL right now. In a tournament dominated by 19-year-olds, there is a good chance Nylander puts absurd numbers for Sweden. After being sent down by Colorado earlier this season, Rantanen is the only player in the AHL that is scoring at the same point per game rate as Nylander. He has a chance to be the star of the tournament on his home ice and the deciding factor between the two could be which team is more successful.
Tom: Zach Werenski (USA)
Justin: Zach Werenski (USA)
Jon: Olli Juolevi (FIN)
Cat: Louis Belpedio (USA)
Shawn: Travis Sanheim (CAN)
Adam: Zach Werenski (USA)
Bobby: Zach Werenski (USA)
After flying up the draft boards last season, Werenski was a defender that many thought could make the jump right into the NHL this season. He didn’t, and judging by the play of the Columbus blueline this season, maybe he should have. Werenski is a top guy for Team USA, and will be looked upon to carry a heavy load. Canada’s defense is a lot more balanced, but Sanheim has the potential to stand out from the pack and deliver a performance like the one we saw from Darnell Nurse last year. Juolevi might seem like a far-fetched pick from Jon, but it’s really not. He has been incredible in London this season and has the potential to be dominant for Finland this year. It was just two years ago an under the radar Finn won the Top Defender award, some guy named Rasmus Ristolainen…is he any good?
Tom: Alex Nedeljkovic (USA)
Justin: Mackenzie Blackwood (CAN)
Jon: Felix Sandstrom (SWE)
Cat: Ilya Samsonov (RUS)
Shawn: Ilya Samsonov (RUS)
Adam: Mackenzie Blackwood (CAN)
Bobby: Ilya Samsonov (RUS)
Of the guys listed Ilya Samsonov is probably the most skilled and has the highest potential to drag a team to a medal, but any of them really have a chance at standing out in this tournament. Blackwood will have to show Team Canada’s coaching staff that he’s ready after he serves his suspension and Nedeljkovic will have to win the starting job for Team USA, but both are very likely to happen. And, of course, who would ever bet against a goalie named Felix?
Tom: Mitchell Stephens (CAN)
Justin: Auston Matthews (USA)
Jon: Julian Gauthier (CAN)
Cat: Christian Dvorak (USA)
Shawn: Christian Dvorak (USA)
Adam: Dmytro Timashov (SWE)
Bobby: Someone from Slovakia
Every year a few players use this tournament to make a name for themselves in the hockey world. Draft-eligible guys like Matthews and Gauthier can use games to show scouts just how good they project to be at the next level. While others like Stephens and Dvorak could show people that while they may have been second round picks they should be looked upon as some of the elite prospects in hockey. Bobby might have been trying to be a smart-ass with his answer but keep an eye on Samuel Solensky, the little Slovakian forward has a chance to impress some people.
Tom: “Brayden Point’s shoulder starts acting up and he is replaced on the Virtanen/Perlini line by Mathew Barzal who goes on to lead Team Canada in scoring. Making Jon look like a genius for picking him as the tournament’s top forward.”
Justin: “Russia gets knocked out in the quarterfinals – their worst finish since 2010″
Jon: “The refs are so hard on Canada…Can you believe that call….Oh you refs”
Cat: “I think that the tournament is going to show what the Coyotes are really poised to become in the future with Dvorak, Strome and Perlini playing. The first two are being groomed as centers in the system and it’s going to really showcase how the top six is going to look when they join Domi, Duclair and Rieder” (Go back to the desert Cat)
Shawn: “Isn’t picking the US to win gold good enough? Denmark beats Belarus and avoids relegation for the second year in a row.”
Adam: “Mitch Marner won’t score in Canada’s first two games despite playing well and will undeservedly see his ice time decrease due to ‘inexperience’. He will then impress in the remaining games”
Bobby: “Canada could very easily not medal. Why? Sweden and the USA have very strong teams, Finland has a solid team and hometown pride and the Russians have a goalie with tournament-stealing potential”
So it turns out that Justin is the only one who is patriotic in the bunch (or he’s a giant homer). These differing opinions outline the parity that will be a major theme of this year’s World Juniors. There are four or five teams that could win the tournament. The USA was horrendous last year and is taking a drastically different approach to the team this year. Sweden and Finland have some incredible high-end talent that will go a long way while Russia has the goalie that would carry them. They don’t have the powerhouse they had last season, but Canada has a very strong team built on speed.
The tournament starts in three days – and for us in Leafs Nation, the intrigue runs two-fold. The high number of Leaf prospects that will undoubtedly get us excited for the future as well as the usual patriotism that gets us all a little carried away this time of year.