For those who follow the future of hockey, the Super Bowl is here.
The annual IIHF World Junior Championships - better known as the World Juniors - kicks off Thursday, with the top Under-20 players in the world facing off in a tournament that has grown in interest and importance throughout the years.
Future NHL players will be all over the rink at this year's tournament in the Czech Republic, including likely four players who have been drafted by the Blue Jackets.
One year after falling just short of making the roster, Liam Foudy has made the Canadian squad, while veteran Tim Berni returns to play for the Switzerland entry. And two Russians who currently play in the KHL, Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov, are expected to suit up for their home country.
Foudy will be a player to watch and probably hard to avoid considering he's on Team Canada, which always takes center stage considering how big the tournament has come in that country. The Blue Jackets' last first-round pick, coming off the board at No. 18 overall in the 2018 draft, Foudy has used his excellent speed and offensive abilities to stand out this year for the London Knights of the OHL. The son of a former Olympic sprinter and a former CFL player, the tremendously athletic Foudy has 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in 20 games so far with the Knights.
Marchenko is another player who bears watching as he's become one of the top young players in Russia and is tabbed as a potential breakout player at this tournament. The 2018 second-round pick was dominating Russia's second level early this season before earning a call up to SKA St. Petersburg, one of the top traditional powers in the KHL. Since then, playing against men at just 19 years old, he's been the top rookie in the K, posting three goals and three assists so far in 15 games.
He won't become a Blue Jacket until at least 2022 after signing a two-year contract extension with SKA earlier this month, but Marchenko is a player whose offensive talent could be worth waiting on. In a pre-tournament warmup game vs. Kazakhstan, Marchenko netted a hat trick over the weekend.
His Russian teammate, Voronkov, was taken in the fourth round of last year's draft. Much like Marchenko, he's a KHL regular at age 19, suiting up for an Ak Bars Kazan team running away with its division. While he's earning only fourth-line minutes and has a goal and three assists in 16 games while missing time because of injury, Voronkov projects well for the future given his status as a regular in the world's No. 2 league.
Berni, meanwhile is back for his third World Juniors tournament with the Swiss. He was one of the driving forces behind the team's surprising run to the quarterfinals a year ago, and he has found regular time with the ZSC Lions in his home country's top league, posting a 4-4-8 line in 27 games. The sixth-round pick in 2018 could follow in countryman Dean Kukan's footsteps as a steady two-way defender down the road.
The United States, Canada and Russia are all in the same pool along with the Czech Republic and Germany, while Switzerland is grouped with Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. Games throughout the tournament will be broadcast on NHL Network, with pool play running through New Year's Eve before the knockout round kicks off after the first of the year.
Monsters earn split: While Columbus has dealt with injuries, it seems like another player is headed down I-71 every day from the AHL team. That's forced some difficult moves for Cleveland, which has depth but has had to ink such players as Brady Shaw - the son of CBJ assistant coach Brad Shaw, who had been playing in the ECHL - to contracts to fill out a full lineup.
Despite that, the team went on the road over the weekend and split a pair of games. The win came Saturday night in Rockford, as the Monsters came back to down the IceHogs by a 3-2 score.
After Rockford took a 1-0 lead, Cleveland scored three straight goals to take hold of the game. Brett Gallant's first of the year started the scoring and was followed by tallies from Nathan Gerbe and Stefan Matteau. Adam Clendening also had two assists. That was enough, as goaltender Veini Vehvilainen made 22 saves on 24 shots to earn the victory; with a 2.08 goals-against average, Vehvilainen sits fifth in the AHL this far.
In the opener of the trip, Cleveland suffered a 4-0 loss on Friday in Milwaukee. Cleveland had 32 shots on goal but just could not score, while Matiss Kivlenieks gave up a pair of tallies in the first and one more each in the second and third. He finished with 27 saves.
The Monsters remain seventh in the eight-team North Division with a 14-13-1-2 mark in 30 games. The team is now off for the holiday and returns to action with home games Saturday and next Monday vs. Charlotte.