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Drafted prospects expected to take star turns at WJC

by Adam Kimelman

NHL fans certainly are interested in the current fortune of their favorite team, but there's always a question of what the future could look like.

That's what makes the annual IIHF World Junior Championship such a popular, entertaining tournament.

The elite under-20 international event is stocked with top prospects and future pros at all positions.

A number of those players already have been drafted, with a few already having the chance to showcase their potential in the NHL. Here are 10 worth keeping an eye on when the 2015 WJC starts Dec. 26 in Montreal and Toronto.

Pavel Buchnevich, New York Rangers -- The Russian forward, picked in the third round (No. 75) of the 2013 NHL Draft, has been a big goal scorer at every level. He had two goals and seven points in seven games to help Russia win a bronze medal at the 2014 WJC. This season the 19-year-old leads Cherepovets of the KHL with 10 goals in 32 games.

J.T. Compher, Buffalo Sabres -- The 19-year-old forward is on the short list for captain of the United States. A 2013 second-round pick (No.35), Compher can play any forward position, kill penalties and play on the power play. A sophomore at the University of Michigan, Compher has three goals and 11 points in 15 games. The key for Compher is staying healthy; he missed the 2014 WJC because of a broken foot sustained in a pre-tournament game, and he injured his left hand during a USA Hockey summer junior camp in August in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Anthony Duclair, New York Rangers -- The 19-year-old left wing was impressive from the first day of training camp and forced the Rangers to keep the 2013 third-round pick (No. 80) on the opening-night roster. In 18 games he has one goal and seven points, but last season with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the 5-11, 185-pound forward had 50 goals and 99 points. As one of four players on Canada's roster with NHL experience, he'll be counted on to contribute offense and leadership.

Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets -- The 6-foot, 168-pound forward had six points in five games to help Denmark go undefeated and win the 2014 WJC Division I-A tournament in Poland and earn a spot in the top level. The 18-year-old, selected by the Jets with the ninth pick of the 2014 draft, was the QMJHL rookie of the year, in part because he played on a line with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin. Drouin's gone but Ehlers has kept scoring, with 16 goals and 47 points in 23 games with Halifax. He'll have to score at close to that level for Denmark to have a chance to advance to the medal round.

Curtis Lazar, Ottawa Senators -- The 17th pick of the 2013 draft earned a spot in Ottawa this season, and he's responded with one goal and six assists in 27 games playing center and on the wing. Lazar was one of Canada's leaders at the 2014 WJC, with three goals and seven points in seven games, and the 19-year-old will be counted on to produce in a big way, potentially at right wing on a top line with center Connor McDavid.

Mirco Mueller, San Jose Sharks -- The 19-year-old defenseman will play in his third WJC for Switzerland. He'll likely be the captain and will see more ice time than the 17:09 he's averaged in 24 games with the Sharks this season. The 18th pick of the 2013 draft, the 6-3, 205-pound defender had three points in the NHL; at the 2014 WJC he had one goal and one assist in five games.

Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers -- The seventh pick of the 2013 draft made his NHL debut with two games in October but the Oilers thought it would be better for the 6-4, 205-pound defenseman to continue to grow in junior hockey. Nurse has 19 points in 19 games with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, where he is the captain. He also could captain Canada at the WJC.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs -- The eighth pick of the 2014 draft, the 18-year-old has eight goals and 19 points with Modo in the Swedish Hockey League. With Sweden looking to return to the championship game for the fourth straight tournament they'll need the scoring punch the 5-11, 169-pound forward can provide.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins -- Pastrnak started the season with Providence of the American Hockey League but the 6-foot, 167-pound right wing earned a five-game promotion to the NHL; he had one assist. The 25th pick of the 2014 draft is second among AHL rookies with 25 points in 22 games. He had three points in five games at the 2014 WJC last year and was one of the stars for the Czech Republic in its run to the silver medal at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, along with Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana. Pastrnak and Vrana will need to be top performers for the Czechs to compete for a medal.

Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators -- One of the stars for Finland in its run to the 2014 WJC gold medal, the 2013 fourth-round pick (No. 99) will be back in net for a chance at a repeat. Saros had a 1.57 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six games for Finland at the 2014 WJC, including 35 saves in Finland's 3-2 overtime win against Sweden in the championship game. The 19-year-old has a 2.30 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 24 games this season for HPK in Liiga, Finland's top professional league.


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