Here's a look at the 10 teams in the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championship: RUSSIA
2002 Record: 5-2-0, gold medal
The Russians will be worth watching simply to watch teenage sensation Alexander Ovechkin, who is touted to have the skill of Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers and the feistiness of Owen Nolan of San Jose. Ovechkin, who isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2004, is a magician with the puck and he has been a scoring threat playing for Moscow Dynamo in Russia's top league.
Russia will being plenty of skill to the NHL table, and at least three first-round draft picks last June in Alexander Semin (13th overall by Washington), Denis Grebeshkov (18th overall by Washington) and Anton Babchuk (21st overall by Chicago) will be in Nova Scotia.
| The Wild's Bouchard will skate for Canada's juniors. |
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images/NHLI
2002 Record: 5-2-0, silver medal.
There are no real superstars on Canada's roster but there are some players worthy of note.
One is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who is on loan from the Minnesota Wild. He was the top player in the major junior Canadian Hockey League last season and he could wind up being one of the top five forwards in the tournament.
Bouchard is not the only player with NHL experience. Steve Eminger is on loan from Washington, while Scottie Upshall appeared in eight games for Nashville before he was sent back to the junior ranks, and Carlo Colaiacovo was with the Toronto Maple Leafs for about a month before being returned to his junior team.
The Canadians also have a top prospect for the 2003 in net in Marc-Andre Fleury, who is considered the top goalie available in this year's draft. FINLAND
2002 Record: 5-2-0, bronze medal
The Finns can't be counted out simply for the fact that goalie Kari Lehtonen could win this tournament by himself. The second overall pick by the Thrashers last June had 1.81 goals-against average along with a .932 save percentage through 30 of 32 games with Jokerit of Finland's top league.
Centre Jussi Jokinen, who was Finland's leading scorer last year with two goals and eight points, is back for a second year. But the Finns will miss Mikko Koivu, who is the brother of Montreal's Saku Koivu, because of an ankle injury.
The Finns also have a great prospect in defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who was the fourth overall pick by Philadelphia in June. Some scouts are projecting he'll play for the Flyers next season SWITZERLAND
2002 Record: 3-4-0, fourth place.
The Swiss pumped a load of money into their development programs a couple of years and the effort is paying dividends.
Goalie Tobias Stephane is key to any Swiss success. He was taken in the second round by the Dallas Stars last season and is a solid prospect in net. UNITED STATES
2002 Record: 4-1-2, fifth place.
Zach Parise of the University of North Dakota is not a chip off the old block. His father is former NHLer J.P. Parise, who was not known for soft hands, but Zach is. He is the top scorer in the U.S. college ranks.
Another player worth watching is Eric Nystrom, who was Calgary's top pick, 10th overall, last June. He is the son of four-time Stanley Cup champion Bob Nystrom of the New York Islanders.
The Americans look like they have their goaltending solved in Jim Howard of the University of Maine, who is having an outstanding freshman year. He went into the Christmas break with an 8-1 record with a 1.53 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
| Maple Leafs' 2002 draft pick Alex Steen will represent Sweden at the tourney. |
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images/NHLI
2002 Record: 3-2-2, sixth place.
The Swedes have not had great success at the World Juniors, which is odd considering this is the country which has produced Colorado's Peter Forsberg, Toronto's Mats Sundin, Nik Lidstrom of Detroit and Markus Naslund of Vancouver to mention a few NHL stars.
The Swedes will look to the sons of two former NHLers to carry them offensively.
One is Alexander Steen, who the son of former NHLer Thomas Steen. Alexander, who was born in Canada, was a first-round selection by the Toronto Maple Leafs last June and he plays for top-ranked Vastra Frolunda of Sweden's Elite League.
The other player is Calgary-born Robert Nilsson, who is the son of Stanley Cup winner Kent Nilsson. He plays for Leksand of the Elite League. CZECH REPUBLIC
2002 Record: 2-5-0, seventh place.
The Czech have an outstanding forward in pint-sized Jiri Hudler is tearing up the Czech Republic's top league. Detroit's top pick (58th overall) in the 2002 draft was second in scoring with 19 goals and 46 points after 30 games in the Czech top league.
The Czechs are usually a tight-knit group but friction has emerged between the junior players who skate for North American teams and the ones who stay back in the Czech Republic. This is where Coach Jaroslav Holik - who is the father of Bobby Holik of the New York Rangers - will have his toughest assignment. SLOVAKIA
2002 Record: 2-3-2, eighth place
Slovakia may have won the Senior World Championships last spring, but they are years from becoming a contender on the junior stage. They are still paying a price for not having a strategy to develop goalies following the split of Czechoslovakia in the mid-1990s.
The player to watch is Igor Pohanka of the Prince Alberta Raiders of the Western Hockey League. He is a speedy play-making center who will be back for his second world junior tournament. He is a second-round pick (44th overall) by New Jersey in 2001 who was sent to Anaheim as part of the Jeff Friesen, Petr Sykora deal. BELARUS
2002 Record: 1-6-0, ninth place.
Belarus is a project in the making. The Belarus government has embarked on an expansion plan to triple the number of arenas in the country and solidify its development programs.
One player of note is Andrei Kastsitsyn. He scored three goals when Belarus beat Canada 5-3 at the World U18 championships in April. Since then he has moved to Moscow where he plays for Viktor Tikhonov's Red Army team. He's a shifty and gifted scorer who can burn you with his hands or his speed. GERMANY
2002 Record: 7-0, won B Pool to advance to A Pool.
Marcel Goc was the top pick, 20th overall, by the San Jose Sharks in 2001 and the pressure will be on to show that he has brought his game up a couple of notches. He plays for Adler Mannheim in Germany's top league and that's a big accomplishment because he is one of about a handful of junior players to make the jump to the top league.
Germany's junior program will struggle as long as the country's top league continues to stymie the development of junior-age players. Coaches in top league are impatient when it comes to development.