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2019 World Juniors preview

...four Canucks prospects will compete at the World Juniors

by Tyson Giuriato @TysonGiuriato / Freelance writer

Winning gold at the World Juniors is no easy task.

Just two players currently on the Canucks roster have done so: Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen.

Nikolay Goldobin, Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom, Anders Nilsson and Elias Pettersson each came close, earning silver medals. Brock Boeser has a bronze. Bo Horvat and Derrick Pouliot's 2014 Canadian team didn't even take home a medal.

Now the chance at World Juniors glory is here for four Vancouver Canucks prospects as the tournament returns to the West Coast for the first time since Alexander Edler was patrolling the Swedish blueline back in 2006.

Michael DiPietro, Team Canada

Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 64th overall, in 2017

Fans in Vancouver will have a chance to cheer on a Canucks prospect wearing the maple leaf, just like they did in 2006 when the late Luc Bourdon helped Canada win gold. DiPietro is one of two goaltenders on the Canadian roster. And whether he is starting or not, he wants to make an impact.

"My character and my leadership are definitely something I pride myself on," he said. "When I am in the net, I definitely want to be a leader out there, be a calming force. Whenever I am not on the ice, I want to be the guy to perk everyone up on the bench, make each other laugh and enjoy this experience because this is truly a phenomenal experience being able to play World Juniors in Canada. This is something I will remember the rest of my life. I want to make a good impact on and off the ice."

Nobody knows how the goaltending situation will play out. DiPietro entered camp with a leg up on the competition for the starting job, but Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders has carried the momentum from his stellar regular season through camp and pre-tournament action. The two goaltenders will likely split the first two games before Tim Hunter decides on who the guy between the pipes will be.

Team Canada Schedule (all times PST):

Wednesday, December 26 (5:00pm): vs. Denmark
Thursday, December 27 (5:00pm) vs. Switzerland
Saturday, December 29 (5:00pm) vs. Czech Republic
Monday, December 31 (5:00pm) vs. Russia

Quinn Hughes, Team USA

University of Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted: 1st round, 7th overall, in 2018

Hughes is back for his second World Juniors after earning bronze with the United States last year in Buffalo, where he registered three assists in seven games. The 5-foot-10 blueliner then went on to earn another bronze medal, this time with the big boys at the World Championships, where he collected two assists in 10 games. Overall, he already has 29 games of international experience under his belt with the Americans since he made his debut at the 2015 World Under-17 Challenge.

He has netted 20 points (3-17-20) in 17 games with Michigan this season, which puts him just one point back of the NCAA lead in points among defencemen. The blue-chip prospect picked up two assists in the American's final pre-tournament tune-up and will be relied upon heavily throughout the tournament in all situations.

Tyler Madden, Team USA

Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall, in 2018

Madden wasn't invited to the American's Summer Camp, but after a hot start in his freshman season (15 points in 14 games) he played his way to a camp invite, then ultimately made the team. This will be the first time he will compete for the United States on the international stage.

He has been playing centre with Northeastern this season but will flip to the wing for the World Juniors. During pre-tournament action, he played one game on the left side and another on the right side. Time will tell how he will be used, but Madden does have the capability to play in a top six role on this team. His ability to play up and down the lineup, at centre or the wing, went a long way in him making the team.

For a third-round pick last June that wasn't even invited to the United States Summer Camp in Kamloops, the Canucks have to be thrilled with the development of Madden so far.

Team USA Schedule (all times PST):

Wednesday, December 26 (3:30pm): vs. Slovakia
Friday, December 28 (7:30pm): vs. Kazakhstan
Saturday, December 29 (7:30pm): vs. Sweden
Monday, December 31 (7:30pm): vs. Finland

Toni Utunen, Team Finland

Tappara (Liiga)
Drafted: 5th round, 130th overall, in 2018

Of the four Canucks prospects competing at the World Juniors, Utunen is the only one eligible to return next year. At 18 years-old, the 5-foot-11 defenceman already has a lengthy international career with Finland. He represented Finland at the World Under-18 Championship on two occasions, once winning a silver medal as an underage player, and then captaining the team to a gold medal last season. He also twice played for Finland at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he led all Finnish blueliners in points.

Utunen will most likely serve in a depth role as a third pairing defenceman on a Finnish blueline that boasts a pair of first round NHL draft picks, along with Antonni Honka, who is a potential first-rounder in 2019.

Team Finland Schedule (all times PST):

Wednesday, December 26 (7:30pm): vs. Sweden
Thursday, December 27 (7:30pm): vs. Kazakhstan
Saturday, December 29 (7:30pm): vs. Slovakia
Monday, December 31 (7:30pm): vs. United States

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