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World Juniors

World Junior Championship Group B preview

United States favored to finish first in five-team field; Lafreniere top prospect for 2020 NHL Draft

by Mike. G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Alexis Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will be a key player to watch for Canada during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.

The 2020 WJC begins Wednesday and runs through Jan. 5 at Ostravar Arena and Werk Arena. The Group B bracket includes Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and the United States.


[RELATED: 2020 World Junior Championship schedule


Lafreniere, a left wing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, didn't participate in any practices during selection camp in Oakville, Ontario, because of an ankle injury, but was on the ice when the camp shifted to Vienna, Austria, last week and should be fine for the start of the tournament.

He is one of three players returning for Canada from the 2019 WJC, along with defensemen Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils) and Jared McIsaac (Detroit Red Wings). Lafreniere, who had one goal in five games in the 2019 WJC, has 70 points (24 goals, 46 assists) and 29 power-play points (two goals, 27 assists) in 32 games in his third season with Rimouski.

Lafreniere and his teammates will get an immediate test in their opening match on Boxing Day in Canada against the United States on Dec. 26 (1 p.m. ET; NHLN). 

The last time the WJC was held in Czech Republic was 2008 when Canada defeated Sweden in overtime in the championship game and the United States lost 4-2 to Russia in the third-place game.

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


United States

Coach: Scott Sandelin

2020 NHL Draft watch: Parker Ford, F, Providence (HE) 

Schedule: Dec. 26, Canada (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 27, Germany (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Russia (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 30, Czech Republic (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: The United States is looking to win a fifth straight medal after finishing first in 2017, second in 2019 and third in 2016 and 2018. In addition to being fast and creative on offense, experienced and strong on defense, the United States might have the best goalie of the tournament in Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers) of Boston College. There are six returning players: Knight, Harvard University forward Jack Drury (Carolina Hurricanes), Bridgeport forward Oliver Wahlstrom (New York Islanders), Western Michigan University defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (Buffalo Sabres) and University of Wisconsin defenseman K'Andre Miller (New York Rangers). Scott Sandelin, now in his 20th season as coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth, will serve as U.S. coach.

Unites States' K'Andre Miller



Coach: Valeri Bragin

2019 NHL Draft watch: Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St. Petersburg (RUS); Amir Miftakhov, G, Ak Bars Kazan (RUS); Maxim Groshev, F, Nizhnekamsk (RUS)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Czech Republic (9 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Canada (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, United States (1 p.m. ET); Dec. 31, Germany (9 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: The two top lines will be tough to defend with Ivan Morozov (Vegas Golden Knights) centering Grigori Denisenko (Florida Panthers) and Pavel Dorofeyev (Vegas Golden Knights), and Kirill Marchenko (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Vasily Podkolzin (Vancouver Canucks) working their magic on another. Amir Miftakhov was the third goalie in the rotation last year and didn't play a game but could get the bulk of starts this year. The 6-foot, 172-pound goalie was passed over in the NHL Draft the past two years. Askarov, who will challenge Miftakhov for playing time, is the best Russia-born goalie prospect since Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning) and will likely be chosen in the top-10 of the 2020 NHL Draft. Defensively, Daniil Zhuravlev (Colorado Avalanche) and Alexander Romanov (Montreal Canadiens) are the two top returning players, while Daniil Misyul (New Jersey Devils) will also play a key role in his first WJC. Bragin will be coaching the team for the 11th time.



Coach: Dale Hunter

2020 NHL Draft watch: Alexis Lafreniere, F, Rimouski (QMJHL); Quinton Byfield, F, Sudbury (OHL); Dawson Mercer, F, Drummondville (QMJHL); Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie (OHL); Nicolas Daws, G, Guelph (OHL)

Schedule: Dec. 26, United States (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Russia (1 p.m. ET; TSN); Dec. 30, Germany (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Czech Republic (1 p.m. ET)

Outlook: Canada, which failed to win a medal on home ice in Vancouver for the first time in the history of the tournament last year, has five players eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft and 10 NHL first-round picks: forwards Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres, 2019 NHL Draft, No. 7), Barrett Hayton (Arizona Coyotes, 2018 NHL Draft, No. 5), Ty Dellandrea (Dallas Stars, 2018, No. 13), Joe Veleno (Detroit Red Wings, 2018, No. 30), Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals, 2019, No. 25), Liam Foudy (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2018, No. 18) and Nolan Foote (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2019, No. 27), and defensemen Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche, 2019, No. 4), Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils, 2018, No. 17) and Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa Senators, 2018, No. 26). The biggest question is in net, where Daws, Joel Hofer (St. Louis Blues) and Olivier Rodrigue (Edmonton Oilers) vie for playing time.

Canada's Barrett Hayton


Czech Republic

Coach: Vaclav Varada

2019 NHL Draft watch: Jan Mysak, F, Litvinov (CZE)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Russia (9 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Germany (9 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 30, United States (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Canada (1 p.m. ET)

Outlook: The Czech Republic hasn't medaled at the WJC since 2005 when it finished third. The host country is hoping to finish a lot better than it's seventh-place showing at the 2019 WJC. Goalie Lukas Dostal (Anaheim Ducks) will look to make that happen after finishing with a 1.25 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in four tournament games last year. Defenseman Hugo Has (Washington Capitals) and forwards Matej Pekar (Buffalo Sabres), Jan Jenik (Arizona Coyotes) and Jan Mysak (2020 NHL Draft eligible) could also play vital roles for the country.

Czech Republic's Lukas Dostal



Coach: Tobias Abstreiter

2019 NHL Draft watch: Tim Stutzle, F, Mannheim (DEL)

Schedule: Dec. 27, United States (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Czech Republic (9 a.m. ET; TSN); Dec. 30, Canada (9 a.m. ET); Dec. 31, Russia (9 a.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Germany returns to the top division of the tournament for the first time since 2015. The team will be led by defenseman Moritz Seider, selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and forwards Dominik Bokk (Carolina Hurricanes via trade with the St. Louis Blues), Justin Schutz (Florida Panthers), and top 2020 NHL Draft-eligible forward Tim Stutzle, who has 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 25 games for Mannheim in Germany.



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