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Ten who could surprise at 2015 World Juniors

by Mike G. Morreale

The Finnish National Junior Team received quite a few surprise performances on the way to its gold medal-winning effort at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Goaltender Juuse Saros stole the show when he made 35 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against Sweden in the gold-medal game. Saros, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 99) by the Nashville Predators in the 2013 NHL Draft, finished 5-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six games. He was named to the tournament All-Star Team.

It's not uncommon to have a player jump off the score sheet in unexpected fashion at the World Juniors.

Switzerland's Nino Niederreiter, who now plays for the Minnesota Wild, is the poster boy for coming out of the woodwork at the event.

It was Niederreiter's performance for Switzerland at the 2010 WJC that ultimately placed him in the crosshairs of scouts and coaches leading up to the 2010 draft. He had six goals and 10 points in seven games, including the game-tying and overtime goal in the quarterfinals against Russia, and was named to the tournament All-Star team. Although the Swiss placed fourth in the tournament, Niederreiter opened eyes and went on to become the highest-drafted Swiss-born player ever, going No. 5 to the New York Islanders.

Here are 10 players who could surprise at the 2015 WJC (listed alphabetically):

Sebastian Aho, Finland: Not to be confused with Swedish defenseman Sebastian Aho, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound right wing has two goals and five points in 17 games for Karpat in Liiga. He is a B player on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list for the 2015 NHL Draft. Aho has the ability to set up scoring chances for teammates and has good offensive instincts with a nose for the net. He's active and involved on every shift, makes good decisions and plays both ends of the rink.

Chase De Leo, United States: The 5-9, 179-pound center from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League provides needed energy and enthusiasm when opposing teams are looking to contain fellow centers Jack Eichel (2015 draft eligible), Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and Auston Matthews (2016 draft eligible). The 2014 fourth-round pick (No. 99) of the Winnipeg Jets, De Leo has 17 goals and 42 points in 34 games this season, his fourth in the WHL. He had a solid training camp in Boston for the U.S. alongside linemates Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Anthony Louis (Chicago Blackhawks).

Max Domi, Canada: Canada has struggled to find secondary scoring in recent tournaments, but Domi could be part of the solution to that problem. He was left off the roster for the 2014 WJC but is proving every bit the offensive force as captain of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League this season, with 17 goals and 58 points in 27 games. The Arizona Coyotes prospect has been working on a line with Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) and Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers) during training camp.

Robby Fabbri, Canada: There's a lot to like about Fabbri (St. Louis Blues), including his incredible work ethic and desire to get the job done in the big spot. A natural center, Fabbri might shift to wing to create time and space for Connor McDavid, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, and Nicolas Petan (Winnipeg Jets). Fabbri has 18 goals and 38 points in 22 games for the Guelph Storm in the OHL this season.

Anton Karlsson, Sweden: A 2014 third-round choice (No. 87) of the Coyotes, the hard-hitting Karlsson saw limited action for silver medal-winning Sweden at the 2014 WJC but could be in for a bigger role this year. He plays with a warrior-like mentality and will back up opposing defenses with his strong moves to the net.

Auston Matthews, United States: Despite being the youngest player on the United States roster, the 6-2, 194-pound left-shot centers offers up something special each time he steps on the ice. He has an incredible drive and focus and has met every challenge head on. Matthews, who has 20 goals and 45 points in 24 games for the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team, is fast, powerful in the corners and skilled enough to feather a pass in traffic. The 2016 draft-eligible forward is not afraid to bang for rebounds in the slot either and likely will fill a top-nine role for the U.S.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Finland: Don't be fooled by the fact he is just 16; the hot prospect for the 2016 draft had a sensational rookie season with 2014 Liiga champion Karpat and was the leading scorer for Finland at the Under-20 Four Nations Tournament in September. He scores big goals and plays with skill and aggression. He is to Finland what Matthews is to the United States.

Michael Spacek, Czech Republic: The 5-11, 187-pound center, an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list, has gained experience playing in the top Czech professional league this season and has proven to be a hard worker with a good skill set. He makes good decisions, is a smart passer and a solid playmaker. He plays a classical Czech style -- technically sound, quick and mobile in open ice. He needs to build his strength but still has a nose for net.

Ilya Sorokin, Russia: Although a starting goaltender hasn't been confirmed, there's no question the 2014 third-round pick (No. 78) of the New York Islanders has the experience. The 6-2, 168-pound left-handed catching goalie was the youngest starter in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2013-14, and has again played against men for Metallurg Novokuznetsk this season as a 19-year-old. He is quick and agile and could play a big role if given an opportunity. Whichever goalie gets the nod for Russia will look to fill the skates of Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, who helped Russia win a silver medal in 2012 and bronze medals in 2013 and 2014.

Sergei Tolchinsky, Russia: Watch out for the 5-9, 170-pound dynamo who has has 74 goals and 191 points in 160 games spanning three seasons for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL. Property of the Carolina Hurricanes, Tolchinsky has the goods to stun many with his speed, smarts and playmaking ability. He had many fans on their feet the past two years at the NHL's Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Michigan while representing the Hurricanes.


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