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World Juniors

World Junior Championship Group A preview

Sweden favored to finish first in five-team field; Raymond, Holtz top prospects for 2020 NHL Draft

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Sweden is hoping its two top 2020 NHL Draft prospects can change its offensive fortunes at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Forwards Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, each of whom could be a top-five selection in June, will be focal points for Sweden in its quest to win a tournament championship for the first time since 2012.

"We knew that they're really talented and skilled," Sweden coach Tomas Monten said. "But what helps their game is that they work really hard, they skate, they're not afraid of playing in the dirty areas. ... Raymond is more of a playmaker, Holtz is more of a shooter, a scorer. But they've been good for us. They've showed they want to be in the mix for the World Juniors."

 

[RELATED: 2020 World Junior Championship schedule]

 

The 2020 WJC begins Thursday and runs through Jan. 5 in the Czech Republic. Sweden, which finished fifth at the 2019 WJC, will play in Group A along with defending champion Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan, and will play its preliminary-round games at Werk Arena in Trinec. Group B consists of the United States, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic and Germany, and will play its preliminary-round games at Ostravar Arena in Ostrava.

Here's a look at each Group A team, in predicted order of finish:

 

Sweden

Coach: Tomas Monten

2020 NHL Draft watch: Alexander Holtz, F, Djurgarden (SWE); Lucas Raymond, F, Frolunda (SWE)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Finland (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 28, Switzerland (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 30, Kazakhstan (9 a.m. ET); Dec. 31, Slovakia (9 a.m. ET; NHLN)

Outlook: Raymond is a 5-foot-11, 170-pound playmaking left wing who Monten said plays a similar style to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner. Holtz (5-11, 192) is a goal scorer who said he patterns his game after other high-scoring right-handed shots like Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Hall of Famer Mats Sundin. Raymond and Holtz have been excelling against older competition in the Swedish Hockey League this season, but can't carry Sweden alone. David Gustafsson, who has one goal in 22 games with the Winnipeg Jets this season, could center the top line, between Holtz and Raymond after he had three assists in five games at the 2019 WJC. Other players counted on to provide offense will be Karl Henriksson (New York Rangers), who centered Holtz and Raymond during the World Junior Summer Showcase in August, Samuel Fagemo (Los Angeles Kings) and Nils Hoglander (Vancouver Canucks). Sweden likely won't spend much time in its zone with puck-moving standouts Rasmus Sandin (Maple Leafs), Philip Broberg (Edmonton Oilers), Tobias Bjornfot (Kings) and Victor Soderstrom (Arizona Coyotes) likely playing large roles on defense. Whoever Sweden goes with in goal -- Hugo Alnefelt (Tampa Bay Lightning), Jesper Eliasson (Detroit Red Wings) or Erik Portillo (Buffalo Sabres) -- will be making his World Juniors debut.

 

Finland

Coach: Raimo Helminen

2020 NHL Draft watch: Anton Lundell, F, HIFK (FIN); Topi Niemela, D, Karpat (FIN); Roni Hirvonen, F, Assat (FIN)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Sweden (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 28, Slovakia (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 29, Kazakhstan (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 31, Switzerland (1 p.m. ET)

Outlook: Defense should be the strength of the defending champions, led by two players chosen in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Lassi Thomson (No. 19, Ottawa Senators) and Ville Heinola (No. 20, Winnipeg). Heinola is one of five returning players from the 2019 WJC and should have some extra motivation after missing the final two games of the tournament because of a lower-body injury. He also has NHL experience with five points (one goal, four assists) in eight games with the Jets this season. Toni Utunen (Canucks) and Anttoni Honka (Carolina Hurricanes), also part of the 2019 team, also will return. The biggest question for Finland up front will be the health of forward Anton Lundell, a top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft who has been out since Nov. 23 because of an upper-body injury. With Finland missing five of its top six scorers from last year's tournament, Lundell would have been a top-six presence as an 18-year-old. Other forwards expected to step up include Rasmus Kupari (Kings), who had five points (one goal, four assists) at the 2019 WJC and has gained pro experience this season with Ontario of the American Hockey League. Other forwards who should play significant roles are Sampo Ranta (Colorado Avalanche), Patrik Puistola (Hurricanes), Aku Raty (Coyotes), and his brother, Aatu Raty, a top prospect for the 2021 NHL Draft.

Finland's Anton Lundell

 

Switzerland

Coach: Thierry Paterlini

2020 NHL Draft watch: Simon Knak, F, Portland (WHL); Janis Moser, D, Biel (SUI)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Kazakhstan (9 a.m. ET); Dec. 28, Sweden (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 30, Slovakia (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 31, Finland (1 p.m. ET)

Outlook: Switzerland could have as many as 10 players in the lineup from their 2019 quarterfinal round 2-0 upset of Sweden, led by goaltender Luca Hollenstein, who made 41 saves. He was passed over in the 2019 draft, but another strong effort and teams could see beyond his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame. If Hollenstein falters, then 6-4, 165-pound Akira Schmid (New Jersey Devils) could play more than the three games he got at the 2019 WJC. Nico Gross (Rangers), who will play in the World Juniors for the fourth time, will anchor a defense that will see four players back from last year. That includes Janis Moser, a C-rated prospect for the 2020 draft who played for Switzerland at the World Juniors and the 2019 IIHF World Championship and was named Youngster of the Year in National League, Switzerland's top league last season. Goals could be hard to come by for Switzerland. Valentin Nussbaumer (Coyotes) has 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 31 games with Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after he had three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games at the 2019 WJC. Another player to watch is right wing Simon Knak, a B-rated prospect for the 2020 draft who has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 25 games with Portland of the Western Hockey League.

Switzerland's Janis Moser

 

Slovakia

Coach: Robert Petrovicky

2020 NHL Draft watch: Samuel Hlavaj, G, Sherbrooke (QMJHL); Samuel Knazko, D, TPS Jr. (FIN-JR); Martin Chromiak, RW, Trencin (SVK); Oliver Okuliar, LW, Lethbridge (WHL)

Schedule: Dec. 27, Kazakhstan (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 28, Finland (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 30, Switzerland (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 31, Sweden (9 a.m. ET; NHLN)

Outlook: Samuel Hlavaj, a B-rated prospect for the 2020 draft, has the ability to steal games for Slovakia. The 6-3, 216-pound goalie has starred in his first season with Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, leading the league with a 2.14 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and three shutouts in 22 games. Offense could be hard to come by, with Maxim Cajkovic (Tampa Bay Lightning), who has 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 16 games with Saint John of the QMJHL counted on to carry the load. Another player who could provide offense is left wing Oliver Okuliar, a C-rated prospect for the 2020 draft. The 6-foot, 181-pound forward leads Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League with 23 goals.

 

Kazakhstan

Coach: Sergei Starygin

2020 NHL Draft watch: Dias Guseinov, F, Barys 2, (RUS-JR); Oleg Boiko, F, Barys 2, (RUS-JR)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Switzerland (9 a.m. ET); Dec. 27, Slovakia (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 29, Finland (9 a.m. ET; NHLN); Dec. 30, Sweden (9 a.m. ET)

Outlook: Kazakhstan swept Denmark in the best-of-3 relegation round at the 2019 WJC to remain in the top level for the second straight year. Vladislav Nurek, the third goalie on last year's team, likely will start and is one of eight players from the 2019 WJC team returning for 2020. One of the new players that could have an impact is Guseinov, a 6-foot, 146-pound center who leads Barys and is seventh in Russia's junior league with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 36 games. Guseinov also had nine points (three goals, six assists) to tie for the scoring lead at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Division I-A Championship.

 

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