The annual World Junior Championships are approaching and the Preds have at least three prospects with a strong chance to participate in the tournament. The tournament showcases the top Under-20 talent in the world. Nashville's 2010 First Round pick Austin Watson
was invited to Team USA's December camp, making him one of the final 17 forwards in the running for the US squad. A pair of 2011 draftees, Finland's Miikka Salomaki
and Sweden's Simon Karlsson
, are likely to participate for their respective countries. David Elsner
, a forward selected in the 2010 draft, also would have been in line to participate, but Germany failed to qualify for this year's top flight.
This year's World Junior Championhips run from December 26 - January 5 in Western Canada with Calgary and Edmonton serving as the host cities.
Watson has 13 goals and 28 points in 28 games for a vastly improved Peterborough team this year, while ranking among the Ontario Hockey League leaders with three shorthanded goals. Preds Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton feels that two-way consistency will be a big boost to Watson's chances of making the final US roster.
"For Watson it is most important that he is in the consideration here. The US has a really good crop to pick from, but at the same time he could be a valid contributor to them," Fenton said. "A few years ago Blake Geoffrion played in the same type of roll I think they are looking Austin to fill; your two-way role with penalty killing and defensive responsibilities. They're looking for him to use his size and strength and face-offs to his advantage and give them some flexibility with match-ups in key games."
Defenseman Simon Karlsson
needs a strong next few weeks to lock down a spot with Team Sweden. He has five goals and 18 points in 26 games at the junior level in Sweden, ranking among the League's highest scoring defensemen, but much like Canada, Russia, and the US, the Swedes are perennial Gold Medal contenders at the junior tournament level. Fenton still believed that Karlsson's decision making, skating, and size have him strongly on the radar for Team Sweden.
"Karlsson is playing juniors and in talking to European Scout Lucas Bergman, he says Karlsson just continues to move the puck really smart. He has to grow into his body -- he's currently 6-foot-2, 6-3 and around 180-pounds, but we believe he has a good chance of making the junior team, which would be a real good chance for him to get more experience against the elite in his age group."
There is no debate about Salomaki's status for the tournament. He's been a force in the Finnish Elite League through the early parts of the season, posting eight goals and 17 points in 25 games. He's likely going to be utilized in ways that will allow him to shoulder a heavy offensive burden for Finland in the tournament. And by all accounts Salomaki appears to relish that opportunity.
"Salomaki has had a tremendous year in the Elite League already," Fenton said. "When I talk to European Scout Janne Kekalainen regularly, he can’t say enough about how big and hard he is to knock off pucks. He does not look like an 18-year old kid that is playing in the Elite League; he looks like a man. He is playing on the top two lines, he’s contributing and we expect him to have a great World Junior."
As for Elsner, while the World Juniors would have been a tremendous opportunity had Germany qualified, he's currently going through quite a transition season making the jump from the German League to North American Hockey. In his first OHL season with Sault Ste. Marie, Elsner has five goals and 10 points through 25 games, while playing a high-energy game.
"Going from Germany to Sault Ste. Marie has to be one of the most shocking transitions you could ask from a young prospect," Fenton said. "It's a huge change both on and off the ice. And he has played well and he has played hard. Elsner's been asked to concentrate mostly on five-on-five play and has been able to contribute some points. The most important thing for David -- and remember he's only 19-years old -- is just his work ethic and bringing energy every night. He has a Jordin Tootoo
type of energy in the way he pressures the puck. He doesn’t have the same edge to his game as Tootoo, but we like the puck pressure and, as we project to the next level, that’s what we are looking for from him."