The IIHF World Junior Championship is traditionally considered a tournament dominated by the best 19-year-old players not yet in the NHL.
The 2016 WJC in Finland was an exception; five of the top six point producers were one or two years younger: Jesse Puljujarvi (17 points) and Patrik Laine (13 points) of Finland, Auston Matthews (11 points) and Matthew Tkachuk (11 points) of the United States and Alexander Nylander (nine points) of Sweden. The top-scoring defenseman, Olli Juolevi (nine points) of Finland, was 18. Those six players were selected in the top 10 of the 2016 NHL Draft.
While the 2017 WJC may not possess the kind of first-time draft-eligible star power players like Laine, Matthews and Puljujarvi brought to the 2016 tournament, there are plenty of 2017 draft hopefuls who will try to impress NHL scouts. Center Nolan Patrick of Brandon in the Western Hockey League would have topped this list but was left off the roster for Canada because of an upper-body injury.
The 2017 WJC will be held in Toronto and Montreal from Monday through Jan. 5, 2017. The United States, Canada, Latvia, Russia and Slovakia will play preliminary-round games at Air Canada Centre in Toronto in Group B. Group A consists of Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, the defending gold medalist. They will play preliminary-round games at Bell Centre in Montreal.
Here are the 10 top 2017 draft prospects competing at the 2017 World Junior Championship (listed alphabetically):
Lias Andersson, C/LW, Sweden -- An excellent skater with speed and a good first step. He's a regular on HV 71 in the Swedish Hockey League and has five goals and nine points in 24 games. Andersson was selected by Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League in the second round (No. 110) of the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft but thought it best to improve his game in Sweden this season.
Miro Heiskanen, D, Finland -- A regular contributor for HIFK in Liiga, the top professinal league in Finland. Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting, said the 6-foot, 170-pound 17-year-old has improved and is the leading defenseman on his team. He might be the most improved prospect of all the 1999-born European players eligible for the 2017 draft.
Nico Hischier, C, Switzerland -- Hischier, who played in the 2016 WJC, has a complete game with great vision and playmaking ability. He's in his first season in North America and has 23 goals and 48 points in 31 games for Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Martin Necas, C, Czech Republic -- Necas (6-0, 167), a right-handed shot, is having a solid season for Brno in the Czech Republic with six goals and 13 points in 29 games. He was captain for the Czech Republic at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August, where he had two goals and six points in four games. He's fast and has confidence in his ability to score and create scoring chances.
Jake Oettinger, G, United States -- Oettinger (6-4, 212) is the No. 1 goaltender for Boston University in Hockey East as a freshman. He has good balance and strength when in his stance and making saves and is good at defending wraparounds. He has steadily gained traction as one of the top goalies eligible for the 2017 draft.
Elias Pettersson, C, Sweden -- Stubb said he likes what he sees in the 6-1, 156-pound left-shot forward. He's been exceptional for Timra in Sweden's second division, with 12 goals, 27 points and a plus-6 rating in 27 games despite the fact he's 18 and playing with and against much older players.
Adam Ruzicka, C, Slovakia -- Ruzicka (6-3, 202) had two goals and four points in four games as captain for Slovakia at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August. In his first season in North America, he's shown good hands and a quick shot for Sarnia of the OHL, and has 12 goals and 22 points in 32 games.
Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Finland -- Tolvanen (5-10, 170) is tied for the scoring lead in the United States Hockey League with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists), is tied for second with four game-winning goals and leads the USHL with 126 shots on goal in 23 games for Sioux City. He's committed to Boston College for 2017-18.
Juuso Valimaki, D, Finland -- His offensive game has grown this season, his second with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League. Valimaki (6-1, 204) has 12 goals and 35 points in 32 games and has shown more offensive drive and confidence in his game than he did last season.
Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW, Finland -- The Helsinki-born left-handed shot began the season in Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League but was loaned to HPK in Liiga in November and has gotten more ice time. Vesalainen (6-3, 207) is a prototypical power forward. He has one goal in nine games for HPK but has played very well, according to Stubb.