With the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships kicking off tomorrow, it’s time we examine the most important part of this year’s tournament: their relation to the best team in the NHL – the Toronto Maple Leafs, of course.
Three Toronto prospects will lace up for their respective nations this year in Buffalo, the total sitting just one short of last year’s four. Goaltender Joseph Woll returns to the American net for a second straight year while AHL defenceman Timothy Liljegren suits up for Team Sweden and Eemeli Räsänen takes to the ice for Finland.
Last year’s prospect group saw a lot of success at the tournament. Most notably, Sweden’s Carl Grundstrom tallied seven points in seven games at the WJC last year, his team finishing fourth in what turned out to be yet another disappointing medal-round showing for the Swedes.
This year’s smaller group of prospects shows much potential. Given the nature of the World Juniors, it will be interesting to see if any of them are able to step up performance wise for their teams.
Joseph Woll (USA)
Joseph Woll will be returning to the American net for the second year in a row. Here are a few highlights from his two games at last year’s tournament:
As mentioned above, Woll partook in two games for the Americans last year, tallying a 0.935 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA. Woll made a few stunning saves, but his rebound control left much to be desired.
Woll was drafted by the Leafs in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Woll has been playing for Boston College since 2016, skating in his sophomore season this year. His statistics are not particularly impressive this season, though, as he has garnered a 0.898 save percentage and a 2.90 GAA through 15 games.
Woll is certainly not guaranteed the starting spot for the USA this year, as he will be competing with another returning goaltender in Jake Oettinger. Though Oettinger did not play a single game for the Americans last year, the starting job in 2018 will, more than likely, be awarded to the best sample-size goaltender.
Timothy Liljegren (Sweden)
Next up in our preview is Timothy Liljegren, the Toronto Marlies defenceman. Here are some of his AHL highlights from November 2017:
The 18-year-old Swedish defenceman was selected in the first round (17th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2017 NHL draft. Liljegren has taken to the ice for the Toronto Marlies this season, scoring nine points in 17 AHL games.
Liljegren will be joining a very star-studded Swedish roster this year, playing amongst the likes of Alex Nylander and probable first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin. Sweden will likely be one of the tournament’s top teams this year, but as proven in recent years, the Swedes have struggled to perform in the medal rounds of the WJC. Though the team appears to have enough talent to claim the gold medal, they will need to somehow get over the streak of mishap that historically surfaces in their later games of the World Juniors.
Liljegren will have an opportunity to shine with the Swedes this year. Though he is not a stand-out player on the talented Sweden blueline, his AHL experience brings an important asset to the table for his team at the tournament.
Eemeli Räsänen (Finland)
The final Leafs prospect suiting up at the 2018 World Juniors is Finnish defenceman Eemeli Räsänen. Check out this highlight reel from his four-point performance in the OHL preseason:
Räsänen, the 2017 Toronto second-rounder, has 22 points in 28 games for the Kingston Frontenacs this season. Räsänen has proven himself to be a smart, physical defenceman with offensive upside.
Team Finland will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing finish at last year’s tournament where they narrowly avoided relegation against Latvia, placing ninth out of ten teams in 2017. The Finnish team looks much stronger than last year, and Räsänen will likely fit in well on the Finland blueline.
Looking ahead, Räsänen, Liljegren, and Woll will all be in action on day one of the World Juniors. Liljegren and Team Sweden will take on the Belarussians at 2:00 pm on December 26th, with Räsänen and the Finns taking on Canada at 4:00 pm and Woll and the USA facing Denmark at 8:00 pm.
Stay tuned to TLN daily for more #WJC2018 content, including daily reports on the three Leafs prospects at the tournament this year.