Several top NHL Draft prospects have historically made their mark at the IIHF World Junior Championship each year and, in effect, boosted their draft stock.
"When a 17- or 18-year-old is able to play in the World Juniors, it is a considered a positive factor which does carry weight in the player's overall evaluation even if he doesn't get a lot of ice time," NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "If the player contributes while playing at this level, then it lends favorably toward his NHL projection. In the final rankings, it sometimes aids in determining the ranking order."
Just last year, two-way center Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen had impressive showings despite a seventh-place finish for Finland. Center Elias Lindholm had two goals and four points for silver medal-winning Sweden. Jonathan Drouin not only earned a roster spot for fourth-place Canada while playing in the shadow of fellow prospect Nathan MacKinnon, but was promoted to the country's top line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele at one point.
Hard-hitting forward Ryan Hartman exhibited a tremendous work ethic and determination as a third-line grinder for the gold medal-winning United States National Junior Team. He certainly found his niche despite much of the talk centered around draft-eligible defenseman Seth Jones.
The 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden, will again give NHL scouts an opportunity to see the top draft-eligible players against their peers at the 11-day tournament.
Here are 11 prospects invited to selection camp sure to attract some attention and maybe even bolster their 2014 draft status. All players are A prospects on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, with the exception of Swedish forward Anton Karlsson (B rating):
Anthony DeAngelo, D, USA: Recently upgraded to an A rating, the 5-foot-10.75, 175-pound right-handed shot for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting leads all defensemen in the league with 37 assists and 46 points in 30 games. He's also notched five power-play goals and one shorthanded goal.
Ivan Barbashev, LW, Russia: The native of Moscow, chosen No. 1 by the Moncton Wildcats at the 2012 CHL import draft, is having much success in his second season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He leads the team with 24 assists and 37 points, and owns a 48-percent winning percentage on faceoffs.
"Every European has to make a North American adjustment, but the bottom line is talent and Barbashev has it," Marr said. "He's a dynamic player who plays with a presence and who looks to get involved and finish the hit. He's not shy and is a strong skater with good drive to the net. He's got very good hands and puck control, and is able to set up nice plays going at top speed. He's got a good shot with a quick, accurate release, has a good work ethic and leads by example."
Thatcher Demko, G, USA: He's the youngest player participating in the NCAA ranks at Boston College. He's the second youngest (after center Jack Eichel) invited to USA Hockey's National Junior Team selection camp in Minneapolis (Dec. 15-18) and will need to work twice as hard if he wishes to earn a roster spot. Demko made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the University of New Hampshire on Saturday and improved to 4-1-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. The freshman was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week for games through Dec. 7.
Leon Draisaitl, C, Germany: This left-handed forward from the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League ranks among the top 10 in league scoring with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) in 31 games. It's possible the 6-1.75, 208-pound left-hander will be the second player from the WHL, behind Kootenay's Sam Reinhart, to be selected at the 2014 NHL Draft.
Aaron Ekblad, D, Canada: One of the top defensemen on the draft board, he's as consistent as they come along the blue line and is among the top five in scoring for the OHL's Barrie Colts with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games.
Julius Honka, D, Finland: The 5-10.5, 178-pound right-handed shot has had quite the impact as a rookie with the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, scoring 11 goals (five power-play goals) and 34 points in 33 games. He also sports a plus-9 rating and likes to be engaged physically, as evidenced by his 32 penalty minutes.
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Finland: The 6-0, 180-pound right-handed shot helped lead his country to a bronze medal in the 2013 Under-18 World Junior Championship with five goals and eight points in seven games. He has two goals, four points and a plus-2 rating in 21 games for KalPa in Finland's top division.
Draft dandy of the week: McKeown
He also happens to be the only defenseman of the bunch and can accurately assess the differences between teammates and fellow A-rated forwards Sam Bennett (17 goals, 41 points) and Spencer Watson (15 goals, 28 points).
"Bennett is a very complete centerman that can play in all situations and can really skate the puck with authority," McKeown told NHL.com. "He has the ability to change the game in a matter of seconds and create something out of nothing, especially through the neutral zone.
"Watson is a sound board winger that is efficient at getting the puck out. He is an offensive threat every time he's on the ice, is slippery against opposing defenseman and is among the purest of goal scorers."
As for McKeown, who has four goals, 17 points, 30 penalty minutes and a plus-17 rating in 29 games, there is also a lot to like.
"I play a two way defensive game that allows me to play in all situations," he said. "I move and skate the puck efficiently while taking care of my own zone first."
NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory likes what he sees in McKeown.
"I love this kid … he can play offensively and move the puck and has a bomb of a shot," Gregory told NHL.com. "When defending you, he presents himself as a big, strong and mobile guy. He'll push guys to the side; he's a legitimate top prospect."
NHL team: Toronto Maple Leafs
NHL player: Drew Doughty
Shootout move: "Slap shot"
Goal celebration: "Glass jump"
Video game: NHL 14
Movie: Happy Gilmore
Actor: Will Ferrell
Preferred music: Country
Three you would invite to dinner: Sidney Crosby, Carrie Underwood, Patrick Kane
Sport (other than hockey): Baseball
Breakfast food: "Fruit smoothie with eggs, ham and toast."
-- Mike G. Morreale
Anton Karlsson, RW, Sweden: As one of the hardest workers for Frolunda's Under-20 team, Karlsson has nine goals, 16 points and 22 penalty minutes in 16 games. He captained Sweden to a gold medal at the 2013 Under-17 World Hockey Championship with six goals and nine points in six games.
David Pastrnak, RW, Czech Republic: Born in Havirov, the 6-0, 191-pound right-handed shot plays for Sodertalje's senior team in Sweden's second division, collecting six goals and 15 points in 24 games. Pastrnak has good instincts, a quick shot and is an excellent skater with speed and acceleration. He may present problems for opposing defenders.
Sam Reinhart, C, Canada: Many project the 6-0.75, 185-pound right-hander from the Kootenay Ice to go No. 1 at the 2014 draft in Philadelphia. Reinhart ranks among the top five in the WHL with 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) and is among the top 10 with 16 power-play assists.
Jakub Vrana, C, Czech Republic: A native of Prague, the 5-11, 185-pound left-handed shot is playing in Sweden's top division this season for Linkoping. Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said that Vrana plays with determination and drive, and can create plenty of good scoring opportunities.
GERMAN GEM ALERT
Scouts certainly won't be sleeping on German right wing Parker Tuomie of the Wenatchee Wild in the North American Hockey League if he does earn a roster spot for his country at the upcoming World Juniors.
The 5-foot-7.75, 175-pound left-handed shot last season racked up 26 goals, 72 points and 48 penalty minutes in Germany's development league, Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga. He has 12 goals (five power-play goals, two shorthanded goals), 30 points and 25 penalty minutes in 27 games as a rookie in the NAHL in 2013-14. He ranks second in the league with 119 shots on goal.
Tuomie is a skilled forward who compares his style to Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. His favorite player is Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand. Tuomie is a C-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2014 draft.
"He's an excellent skater both with and without the puck, and can go side to side with ease," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He has excellent hockey sense and anticipation, but because of his size sort of plays on the perimeter until an opportunity arises to retrieve the puck and create an opportunity."
Germany will play in Group A at the WJC with the United States, Canada, Slovakia and Czech Republic. It opens against Canada on Dec. 26.
"He scored goals in the games I watched, each of them a different way," Gregory said. "He has an excellent shot that he can get away with quickness and accuracy on the fly. His size will be the factor in determining his pro potential, but is a worthy C-watch player."
Reinhart was recently given some company on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list.
Kootenay teammates Rinat Valiev, Luke Philp and Jaedon Descheneau were added as C-rated prospects in the WHL, giving the team three potential picks for the 2014 draft. Reinhart, an A prospect, is considered a top-three choice.
Defenseman Valiev, center Philp and right wing Descheneau are potential fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-round candidates.
Valiev, a 6-1.5, 205-pound Russian, has two goals, nine points and a plus-3 rating in 20 games as a rookie for Kootenay. The native of Nizhnekamsk spent most of the 2012-13 season with the Indian Ice of the United States Hockey League, scoring six goals and 13 points in 36 games.
"You can tell he's still adjusting to the style of play in the WHL," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "His defensive play in his own zone was solid, as well as his containment. He's got pretty good mobility with simple but safe outlets and puck movement. I think he'll improve and have an even better second half."
Philp, a 5-9.5, 178-pound left-hander, is in his third season with the Ice. He has 10 goals and 29 points, which ranks third on the team. In his first full season with Kootenay in 2012-13, he had 20 goals and 45 points in 66 games.
"Philp has a slight build and is on the smaller side, but has good work habits and has a lot of energy most shifts," MacDonald said. "I find he has a hard time getting through traffic and to the net at times, but the effort is there. He handles the puck and plays special teams."
Descheneau, a 5-8.75, 186-pound right-handed shot, is second on the team with 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) and is first with 12 power-play goals. The Edmonton native is in his second full season in the WHL, producing 54 goals and 134 points in 155 career games.
PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
1. Nicholas Magyar, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): The 6-1.75, 194-pound right wing was upgraded to a B rating on Central Scouting's most recent players to watch list for the 2014 draft. The native of Mentor, Ohio, who played 27 games with the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL last season, ranks third among rookies in the OHL with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 30 games.
"Nicholas is a good skater but is continuing to improve on all areas, especially his foot speed," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "There are times this season where he shows good puck handling and playmaking ability. He has been used in several different roles this season and there are nights that he has been used on the top line. Other days, he has his ice limited to a third-line role."
2. Devin Williams, Erie Otters (OHL): The 5-11.75, 165-pound left-hander has been a pleasant surprise this season. A C-rated goalie on Central Scouting's players to watch list, Williams has a 12-1-0 record and ranks second in the league with three shutouts in 13 games. He ranks third in the OHL with a 2.44 goals-against average and is 10th with a .909 save percentage.
3. Michael Bunting, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): The rookie left wing was upgraded to a B rating on Central Scouting's players to watch list from the OHL. He has 10 goals (five power-play goals) and 26 points in 31 games for the Greyhounds. He also has a plus-7 rating.