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December 21, 2012
World Junior Hockey Championship
by Corey Pronman and ESPN Insider
Previously this week I've broken down the top NHL prospects skating for the USA and Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championship. The European clubs also feature a plethora of top prospects, including many notables eligible for the 2013 entry draft.
The following are my breakdowns on some of the top prospects for each of the European teams based on my own observations as well as conversations with NHL scouts and front office personnel. I've omitted some, such as a Nail Yakupov, who have been frequently discussed in this blog.
Team Czech Republic
Radek Faksa, C, Dallas Stars (Kitchener-OHL): Faksa played for the Czechs last season but is likely more of a key cog this time around. He's a player with good speed, above-average physical value, an impressive puck possession element to his game and plays quality defense. He won't wow you but has a lot of elements to bring to the table.
Tomas Hertl, C, San Jose Sharks (Slavia Praha-Czech Extraliga): Hertl has been one of the most productive Junior aged players in the Czech pro league in the last decade. He's a skilled, aware offensive forward who plays with grit as well. Hertl's issue has been his below-average skating.
Dmitrij Jaskin, LW, St. Louis Blues (Rimouski-QMJHL): Scouts I talked to last year said Jaskin was a prospect who was more of a third-line grinder type of prospect, however in his draft season I had heard indications of some potential offensive ability. He's a 19-year-old in the QMJHL so his scoring (50 points in 31 games) need to be taken into context, but he's simply been on fire offensively so far, and is near the top of the QMJHL scoring leaderboard. His offensive abilities will be something to watch at the World Juniors.
Joel Armia, RW, Buffalo Sabres (Assat-SM-Liiga): Armia is an interesting player due to his immense upside, but his consistency has always been a sticking point with him. Armia has missed a portion of the season so far due to an injury, but when he's been healthy he has been effective. He's a very fun player to watch when he's on, so hopefully for observers he is during this event.
Aleksander Barkov, C, 2013 draft eligible (Tappara-SM-Liiga): Barkov played for Finland last year as a 16-year-old and enters the World Juniors this year as a key piece for Finland. Barkov has high-end puck skills and hockey sense although his skating could still use some work. Barkov is also having a historic 17-year-old season in Finland's top league (14 goals, 14 assists through 32 games).
Teuvo Teravainen, C/W, Chicago Blackhawks (Jokerit-SM-Liiga): Teravainen was quite impressive for Finland at the summer exhibitions in Lake Placid, but during the regular season he got off to a bit of a slow start before he suffered an injury. Lately however, Teravainen has been very good, showing his high-end potential. He is a fun player to watch as he can dazzle on any shift with his hands, speed or vision.
Tobias Rieder, RW, Edmonton Oilers (Kitchener-OHL): Rieder had a great 18-year-old season, and while he's been good as a 19-year-old he hasn't looked at the same level. Rieder is a skilled, speed forward who's a little short and slight. He'll be one of Germany's best weapons, and for Edmonton a long-term scoring forward project.
Zemgus Girgensons, C, Buffalo Sabres (Rochester-AHL): Since Girgensons was not drafted while playing in the CHL, he was allowed to go to the AHL as an Under-20 player. He's been decent this year while playing there and above-average when you consider his age. Girgensons has good speed and a high level of energy to his game to go along with good skill. The latter quality draws divided opinions when I poll scouts about that area of his game.
Alexander Khokhlachev, C, Boston Bruins (Spartak-KHL): "Koko" has been just okay this season in the KHL but looked quite impressive in the Super Series vs. the CHL. He's a high-end puck handler and passer but what's interesting is the speed he's added to his arsenal this season. This will be Khokhlachev's second appearance for Russia.
Andrei Vasilevski, G, Tampa Bay Lightning (Ufa-MHL): Vasilevski is having another great season as one of the game's better goalie prospects. He will be an interesting player to watch after a dominant World Juniors as a 17-year-old. Of course goalie performances can go any which way in a short sample, but Vasilevski's tools are unique, and he can be fun to watch.
Anton Slepyshev, LW, 2013 draft eligible (Novokuznetsk-KHL): Slepyshev is a very interesting prospect. A player whom I rated in the first round last summer but went undrafted, he has played well in the KHL the last two seasons relative to his age. However when I asked one scout about why Slepyshev was not selected last June he said, "If you're really a top prospect you don't get passed over." The scout noted concerns about his true talent level and getting him to come overseas. That same scout though said he was more impressed with him this season. Slepyshev will be a top-six winger for Russia.
Valeri Nichushkin, C/W, 2013 draft eligible (Traktor-KHL): Nichushkin is a potential top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. He has good size, he's an elite skater with a high-end amount of skill whose raw talent level can dazzle on any given shift. I'd say his hockey sense is average though and it's the one question mark I'd put on his future projection. He could surprise at this tournament for a draft eligible.
Marko Dano, RW, 2013 draft eligible (Slovan Bratislava-KHL): Dano is one of the more talented young players Slovakia has produced in recent years. He's a gifted skater with good speed and agility, a high amount of skill and creativity to go along with good offensive awareness. He measures in at 5-foot-11' though.
Elias Lindholm, C, 2013 draft eligible (Brynas-SEL): Lindholm has had a fantastic season, which thus far rates among the best by a draft eligible prospect in the Swedish Elite League in recent memory. Lindholm has high-end hands and vision to go along with good speed and work ethic.
William Karlsson, C, Anaheim Ducks (HV71-SEL): Karlsson has emerged as a top-tier prospect in hockey. He displays significant two-way value, is already a top-six forward in the SEL, and one scout classified his upside as top-3 among forwards on Team Sweden.
Rickard Rakell, C/W, Anaheim Ducks (Plymouth-OHL): Rakell has impressed scouts this year in the OHL with his good two-way play and his work ethic, paired with his high level of skill. One scout notes his production is lower than what his play indicates it should be, due to not being able to bury his chances. Rakell is making his third appearance at this tournament.
Tanner Richard, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (Guelph-OHL): Richard has been one of the OHL's assist leaders this season after being drafted during his second season of eligibility. Richard isn't a real standout type of prospect but he displays decent ability in a lot of areas and has above-average possession tools. He's at the least an interesting prospect for the Bolts going forward.
Making predictions at the Under-20s is usually a futile effort as in small sample tournaments and single elimination playoffs good teams can get knocked out and bad teams advance just due to random chance. Hockey is not a sport built to determine champions through a single game process, and thus this tournament is a bit of a crapshoot -- although the good teams usually do get to the final four. I'm not going to predict who will win, but rather rank the team's talent levels. I'd also note there's a significant drop off after Canada.
6. Czech Republic
Here are my predictions for the tournament awards:
C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Canada (Edmonton)
LW Jonathan Huberdeau, Canada (Florida)
RW Nail Yakupov, Russia (Edmonton)
D Dougie Hamilton, Canada (Boston)
D Hampus Lindholm, Sweden (Anaheim)
G John Gibson, USA (Anaheim)
Most Valuable Player
C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Canada (Edmonton)
As always if you have any questions about a player not mentioned, or would like to ask about players I profiled feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.
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