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Canada, Sweden on pace for golden rematch

Thursday, 12.24.2009 / 6:43 PM / 2010 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The 2009 World Junior Championship was nicknamed "The Drive For Five" by Canada, which met its goal of winning a fifth straight gold medal.

There's no catchy name for the 2010 WJC, but the goal remains the same for Canada -- winning an unprecedented sixth straight championship.

The goal for the nine other teams that will compete in the tournament, which runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5, with games in Saskatoon and Regina, Sask., also is the same -- ruin Canada's dream.

That quest won't be easy, as Canada again is stacked with talent in all positions. Sweden, which has lost to Canada in the gold-medal game two straight years, however, also has world-class players. Russia and the U.S. also should be in title contention, and the Czech Republic and Finland have looked good in pre-tournament exhibition games.

GROUP A

CANADA

Last year -- Powered by top scorers John Tavares and Cody Hodgson, Canada won its fifth straight gold medal at the 2009 WJC in Ottawa.

NHL prospects -- Ten of the 22 players on the team were first-round NHL draft picks, including six from the 2009 Entry Draft. In all, 20 of the 22 players on the team have been drafted; of the two that weren't, one (goalie Martin Jones) has an NHL contract, while the other (Taylor Hall) will be taken early in the 2010 Entry Draft.

Keep an eye on -- Jordan Eberle will be a fan favorite. First, because local fans will have seen him come through town with his junior club, the Regina Pats. Second, because of his heroics from last year's remarkable semifinal win against Russia. Eberle led the team in scoring with 5 points in three exhibition games. With Tavares, Hodgson, Zach Boychuk and P.K. Subban gone, he'll have to be the main source of offense for Canada.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Hall scored three times in three exhibition games. He'll likely be used in a prominent role by coach Willie Desjardins, giving him lots of chances to showcase himself for NHL scouts. Hall is just 17, so making a tournament geared toward 19-year-olds already says a lot about his skill level. He's done nothing to change the opinion that he should be the first player picked in June.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Latvia, 3 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 28, Switzerland, 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 29, Slovakia, 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 31, U.S., 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US).

NHL.com prediction -- The one weakness could be goaltending, but the combination of Jake Allen (the likely starter) and Martin Jones should be OK. The defense in front of them, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Ellis and Colten Teubert, looks strong, and there's no lack of ability, determination and grit up front. Until someone beats them -- which hasn't happened in quite a while; Canada is 29-1 in its last 30 WJC games – the Canadians will be the pick to win again.

U.S.

Last year -- The U.S. never really recovered from blowing a 3-0 first-period lead against Canada in the first period of the final preliminary-round game. They lost 7-4 that night and followed with a clunker against Slovakia in the quarterfinals. They beat the Czech Republic to finish a disappointing fifth.

NHL Prospects -- Fifteen of the 22 players on the roster have been drafted by an NHL team, and six others should get chosen this year. Five of the drafted players were first-round picks.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Defenseman Cam Fowler opted to challenge himself by jumping to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires this season, and the early returns are extremely good. He's led the league's defensemen in scoring for most of the season and has positioned himself to be the first blueliner taken in June.

Keep an eye on -- Jordan Schroeder led the team in scoring last season, and he'll need to do more this year. Schroeder will see the opposition's best checkers and defensemen all tournament, and as coach Dean Blais told NHL.com, "He's going to have to play above the checking line of whoever he's out here against.”

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Slovakia, 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 27, Switzerland, 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 29, Latvia, 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 31, Canada, 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US).

NHL.com Prediction -- This U.S. team looks better equipped to make a medal run than last year's squad. Their puck-moving ability on defense is sensational, and the goaltending should be very good. Scoring could be an issue, especially if Schroeder isn't at his best. But the pick is the U.S. ends a medal drought that goes back to 2007 by earning a bronze.

SWITZERLAND

Last year -- Playing at the Division I level, Switzerland won all five of its games, including a 2-1 nail-biter against Belarus in the final game, to earn promotion to the top level.

NHL prospects -- Of the 30-name preliminary roster submitted by Switzerland, only two players were NHL draft picks -- defensemen Luca Sbisa (Philadelphia, first round, 2008) and Roman Josi (Nashville, second round, 2008).

Keep an eye on -- Josi was the hero of last year's final game against Belarus, scoring the winning goal with 3:09 left in regulation. In his third season in the top Swiss league, Josi is considered a rising star in the Predators' organization.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Nino Niederreiter jumped to the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks this season and has excelled on the smaller North American ice. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right wing leads first-year WHL players in scoring, and was ranked sixth in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of WHL skaters.

Schedule -- Dec. 27, U.S., 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 28, Canada, 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 30, Latvia, 4 p.m. ET; Dec. 31, Slovakia, 4 p.m. ET

NHL.com prediction -- The schedule-makers did the Swiss no favors by starting them back-to-back against the U.S. and Canada, which likely will put them in a hole for advancing from the group. While a medal looks far off, finishing sixth and avoiding the relegation round is a possibility.

SLOVAKIA

Last year -- The darlings of last year became every Canadian's second-favorite team. They shocked the U.S. in the quarterfinals and nearly upset Sweden in the semifinals. They lost in the bronze-medal game to Russia to finish fourth.

NHL prospects -- Four players from their 30-player roster have NHL links, including a pair taken in the second round of the 2009 Entry Draft -- Richard Panik (Tampa Bay) and Tomas Tatar (Detroit).

Keep an eye on -- Tatar made his name at last year's event, exploding with 7 goals and 11 points to finish in the top five in each category. Teams paid more attention to Panik last year, which gave Tatar more room to operate. He won't surprise anyone this year.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Defenseman Martin Marincin was NHL Central Scouting's top-rated skater in Slovakia for the draft. At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, he needs to fill out some, but scouts will be watching how he handles top forwards like Canada's Jordan Eberle and Jordan Schroeder of the U.S.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, U.S., 8 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 27, Latvia, 8 p.m. ET; Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET, Canada (NHLN-US); Dec. 31, Switzerland, 4 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- Last year, goalie Jaroslav Janus carried the team on his back, and the win over the U.S. was the biggest in the country's history. Janus is gone, and so likely is Slovakia's hopes for a medal. The Slovaks needed an overtime defeat of Finland to get to the quarters last year; this year they'll face Switzerland in the same game, but don't expect a repeat. The guess is eighth place, which at least means they'll return for the main draw next year in Buffalo.

LATVIA

Last year -- Latvia survived relegation by beating Germany and Kazakhstan by matching 7-1 scores.

NHL prospects -- None of the players on Latvia's preliminary 30-player roster has been drafted by an NHL team.

Keep an eye on -- Roberts Bukarts already has played in the KHL with Dinamo Riga, as well as with the Dinamo Riga junior team, which plays in the Belarusian league. He had a pair of goals against Russia in a 3-2 exhibition-game victory.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- While all the players on the roster are draft eligible, it's unlikely any currently are on the NHL teams' radars. But a big tournament very easily can change all that.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Canada, 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 27, Slovakia, 8 p.m. ET; Dec. 29, U.S., 4 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 30, Switzerland, 4 p.m. ET

NHL.com prediction -- Can they survive relegation again? The teams that will be there with them this year look stronger than the group from last year, so it's unlikely they'll be able to repeat last year's feat. A ninth-place finish is the guess here.

GROUP B

SWEDEN

Last year -- The Swedes powered through their group, survived a scare from Slovakia in the semifinals, and went home with the silver medal for the second straight year.

NHL prospects -- Of the 21 players on the roster, 16 have been drafted, including six from the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft.

Keep an eye on -- Goalie Jakob Markstrom is considered the best NHL-affiliated player in Europe, but he certainly didn't play like it in last year's gold-medal loss to Canada. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure this time around, especially in the medal round.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- None of NHL Central Scouting's top-rated Swedish players in its preliminary rankings made the team; the only draft-eligible players all went unselected last year. The main player scouts will be watching is defenseman Adam Larsson, who won't be eligible until the 2011 draft but already has scouts drooling. In 31 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, he has 3 goals and 11 points.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Czech Republic, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 27, Austria, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 29, Russia, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 31, Finland, 2 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- With eight players returning from last year's gold-medal game loss to Canada, you know Sweden will be hungry. That game was a nasty, physical affair -- as was their exhibition game last week. When they meet for the gold this year in Saskatoon, expect more of the same. Canada won last year's gold, won last week's exhibition game, and the guess is they'll win again as Sweden will settle for its third straight silver.

RUSSIA

Last year -- They had Canada down a goal with five seconds left when Eberle scored to tie it, and they lost in a shootout. A shell-shocked squad took home the bronze by beating Slovakia.

NHL prospects -- Of the 30 players on Russia's preliminary roster, 10 have been drafted by NHL teams, including four players taken in the top two rounds of the 2008 and '09 drafts.

Keep an eye on -- Nikita Filatov likely will captain Russia for a second straight year. He was outstanding last year in Ottawa, tying for the tournament lead with 8 goals and finishing tied for fourth with 11 points. He's been outstanding since the Columbus Blue Jackets let him go back to Russia.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Vladimir Tarasenko is a scoring machine. He scorched opponents at last year's World Under-18 Championship and has been very good with Novosibirsk in the KHL, scoring 10 goals in 28 games despite playing less than 12 minutes per game. NHL scouts will be lining up to see how the 5-11, 202-pound right wing does as a top-line player going against his peers.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Austria, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 28, Finland, 6 p.m. ET; Dec. 29, Sweden, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 31, Czech Republic, 6 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- Don't let their exhibition game struggles fool you -- this is one of the better teams in the tournament. A lot will fall on goaltender Igor Bobkov, but if he plays well  and Russia scores as it should, a spot on the podium is possible. However, we like the U.S. just a bit better, and the pick is the Americans besting Russia in the bronze-medal game.

FINLAND

Last year -- It was a miserable tournament for Finland, which lost to Slovakia in overtime to end up in the relegation round. They survived and finished seventh after beating Kazakhstan and Germany.

NHL prospects -- Finland's preliminary roster was dotted with NHL draft picks, including defenseman Jyri Niemi (N.Y. Islanders, third round, 2008) and forward Toni Rajala (Edmonton, fourth round, 2008).

Keep an eye on -- Rajala had 2 goals and 3 points in six games in Ottawa last year and then re-wrote the record books at the World Under-18 Championship. The Finns will need him to play like that if they want to improve on last year's finish.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Mikael Granlund is one of the shining stars among European draft prospects. He had 2 goals and 3 points as the youngest player in the tournament last year; this year's he'll be expected to lead the offense, and do enough to impress NHL scouts.

Schedule -- Dec. 27, Czech Republic, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 28, Russia, 6 p.m. ET; Dec. 30, Austria, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 31, Sweden, 2 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- Will Finland finish seventh again? Probably not. How much better they do depends on how well their offense produces this year. With Granlund, Rajala and Carolina prospect Tommi Kivisto, the Finns have players who can score goals. If they do, look for them to beat Switzerland in the fifth-place game.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Last year -- Last year the Czechs beat the two teams below them in their group (Germany, Kazakhstan) and lost to the two teams above them (Canada, U.S.). They lost to the U.S. in a physical fifth-place game.

NHL prospects -- Five players from their preliminary roster have been drafted by NHL clubs. Canadian fans should be most familiar with forward Tomas Vincour, a Dallas prospect who plays with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings.

Keep an eye on -- Andrej Nestrasil is having another strong season with the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs, with 37 points in 33 games. He'll need to bring that offensive production to Saskatoon if the Czechs have any hope of advancing.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- Radek Gudas was throwing around the hits during the Czech's exhibition game against Canada. The Everett Silvertips defenseman was No. 21 in Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of WHL skaters.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Sweden, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 27, Finland, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 29, Austria, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 31, Russia, 6 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- The Czechs had very strong showings in exhibition games against the U.S. and Canada, but they'll be hard-pressed to come out of their group. The pick here is they'll finish in the relegation round, but they won't have any problem surviving that and finishing seventh.

AUSTRIA

Last year -- A final-game rout of host Denmark propelled Austria out of the Division I level and into the main draw for this year.

NHL prospects -- None of the players on Austria's 30-player preliminary roster are affiliated with an NHL club.

Keep an eye on -- Defenseman Stefan Ullmer led the team with 5 goals, 11 points and a remarkable plus-12 rating last year in the Division I WJC. With increased competition he'll be hard-pressed to repeat that feat, but his offensive contribution will help a team that will be hard-pressed to avoid relegation back to the lower level.

2010 Entry Draft watch -- All the players on the roster are draft eligible, but it's unlikely any currently are on the NHL teams' radars. NHL scouts will be on hand, however, and they all remember how Thomas Vanek came out of Austria.

Schedule -- Dec. 26, Russia, 6 p.m. ET (NHLN-US); Dec. 27, Sweden, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 29, Czech Republic, 2 p.m. ET; Dec. 30, Finland, 2 p.m. ET.

NHL.com prediction -- Austria has been to the main draw of the WJC only once before, in 2004, and quickly was relegated back. The same is predicted for this year.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com






Quote of the Day

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