FHC writer Margann Laurissa takes a close look at the top three players from each team in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Tournament. In Part one she will look at Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Norway.
Connor McDavid (C, Erie Otters, OHL)
With his addition to the roster this year after being cut last year, Connor McDavid becomes the first 16-year-old since Sidney Crosby a decade ago to dress for Team Canada at the World Juniors. McDavid, considered the consensual first overall pick for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, is one of four Erie Otters to play at this year's tournament, including Canadian teammate Adam Pelech and Swedish imports Oscar Dansk and Andre Burakovsky. McDavid has already had a considerable resume in international competition, recording fourteen points in seven games at the World Under-18s last April; he led that tournament in scoring and was named the tournament's most valuable player. He is building upon what was a fantastic underage rookie season in the OHL with 50 points in 31 games prior to leaving for the Canadian camp. He is expected to centre one of Canada's top two lines.
Jonathan Drouin (LW, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
A returnee from 2013, Jonathan Drouin has been everything and more in his junior career thus far. Last year, he had a season for the ages for the Halifax Mooseheads, winning both the QMJHL and CHL player of the year awards, a QMJHL championship (as well as being named playoff MVP) and a Memorial Cup title. The fact that he put up 105 points in only 49 games last season, nineteen games removed from a full schedule, was just remarkable and it was one of many reasons why Drouin was chosen third overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin has been scoring at a very good pace to start this year, even without Nathan MacKinnon to play with, recording 50 points in 23 games. He is going to be counted upon not only to bring offensive production to Team Canada's lineup, but also substantial leadership and defensive acumen, something that will make him one of Brent Sutter's better players.
Sam Reinhart (C/RW, Kootenay Ice, WHL)
Widely considered to be the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Sam Reinhart brings everything that Team Canada needs this year to be successful. He is a natural scorer, sitting one point away from 200 in his WHL career before leaving for the Canadian camp. Reinhart has already donned the maple leaf on several occasions and with great results, winning gold medals at the Canada Winter Games and the World Under-18s, as well as a bronze at another under-18 tournament. He also brings extensive leadership despite his youth, captaining the 2013 World Under-18 team that won gold, as well as captaining the Kootenay Ice as a draft-eligible player, making him the second member of his family to be a captain in the WHL at the same time. With his older brother Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings joining him on Team Canada, they will become the first pair of brothers since Freddie and Dougie Hamilton to play at the World Juniors together.
HONORABLE MENTION: Zachary Fucale (G, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
If there is any goaltender in the CHL who thrives by being thrust into the spotlight, Zachary Fucale is that goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens 2013 draft pick has been a workhorse for the Halifax Mooseheads, something that the team recognized by choosing him eleventh overall in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft. Even as a rookie, Fucale found himself thrown into the starting goalie's job, appearing in 58 games as a rookie in 2011-12, earning him the Raymond Lagacé Trophy for the QMJHL's top defensive rookie. Last year, he appeared in 55 games for the Mooseheads as a draft-eligible goaltender and it paid off handsomely as he helped Halifax win the QMJHL championship and the Memorial Cup. Representing Canada is not an unusual occurrence for Fucale; he represented Quebec at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and he played for his country at the 2012 Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka. It is not known yet if
Dominik Volek (LW/C, Red Deer Rebels, WHL)
The son of former NHL player David Volek, it has been a fantastic return for the younger Volek to North America. After a 32-point rookie season with the WHL's Regina Pats in 2011-12, Volek was not drafted to the NHL despite being considered one of the top prospects. He left the WHL and North America altogether for Sweden, heading to the SuperElit team of Färjestads BK, during which time the Pats traded his rights to the Red Deer Rebels, the same team that has developed the likes of Martin Erat, Martin Hanzal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Volek returned to North America and has been lights out ever since. In 64 games with the Rebels since his return to the WHL, he has nine more points than in his single season in Regina. Volek has an incredible international résumé, too, including representation for the Czech Republic at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the World Under-18s in 2012, a tournament in which he was an alternate captain. He may not bring the most offensive production to the Czechs but he is valuable due to his grit and tenacity.
Jakub Vrána (LW/RW, Linköping J20, SuperElit)
Despite the superlativeness of junior hockey in the Czech Republic, Jakub Vrána has been even better playing junior hockey in Sweden. Vrána left home at the age of fifteen to go to play for Linköping's junior teams and it has been a match made in heaven. He has had a point per game or better in every level he has played in their system. He made his J20 SuperElit debut at a little over fifteen years of age, which is remarkable for any player from any country. During the 2012-13 season as an underage player, Vrána had a point per game in the J20 SuperElit league, recording 32 points in 32 games. Also during that season, he became the youngest foreign-born player to make his Elitserien professional debut, and the youngest in Linköping team history. His international résumé also speaks highly of his potential for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, playing at a World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, two World Under-18s, and now making his second appearance at the World Juniors. (Last year, he was the youngest player at the World Junior tournament for any country.)
Radek Faksa (C/LW, Kitchener Rangers, OHL)
If the third time is definitely going to be the charm, then this should be a great tournament for Radek Faksa. The Kitchener Rangers forward and Dallas Stars 2012 first-round pick is going to play at his third World Junior Championship this year. Faksa has been nothing short of remarkable both in the OHL and in international competition. In his first season with the Rangers, he led all OHL rookies in scoring. He only represented the Czech Republic at the under-18 level once before he was called upon to join the best junior players from his homeland, playing both in North America and in Europe. At his first World Junior Championship as a seventeen-year-old, he recorded two goals. Faksa has already appeared in professional competition on the North American level and he is an alternate captain in Kitchener. This year, he will captain a Czech junior team that is laden with both North American and European junior players, hoping to lead them to a medal.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pavel Zacha (LW, Bílí Tygři Liberec, Extraliga)
A player three months younger than Connor McDavid, Pavel Zacha comes into this tournament as the youngest registered player from any participating country. Zacha has been an absolute revelation in every level that he has participated in and to think that it would be overwhelming for him to play against those much older is apparently oblivious to just how special this young man is. He is essentially the man-child of Czech junior-age players, standing 6'3" and weighing nearly 205 pounds already as a sixteen-year-old. Zacha has made mincemeat out of junior hockey in his homeland to such an extent that, not only did he have 40 points in 39 games in the under-20 league last season, he has found himself playing 29 games for Bílí Tygři Liberec in the Extraliga this year. He has performed superlatively, as well, recording four goals and three assists. Zacha has already appeared at one World Under-18 championship and this will be his first of many more World Juniors to come.
Julius Honka (D, Swift Current Broncos, WHL)
The 2013-14 CHL season has been one of incredibly offensive-minded defencemen and Julius Honka is no exception. He may not have put up the most incredible points in the Finnish junior system but, ever since he came over to North America, Honka has shown why he is one of the WHL's best defensive prospects for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. A native of Jyväskylä, the recently-turned 18-year-old blueliner was third on the Swift Current Broncos in scoring when he left for the Finnish camp, recording an outstanding 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) in 35 games. He also sat tied for second in WHL defenceman scoring, trailing only Anaheim Ducks first-rounder Shea Théodore of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Honka helped win Finland a bronze medal at the 2013 World Under-18s and he would love nothing more than to win a medal at his first World Junior Championships, especially in the biggest international rival of his homeland.
Kasperi Kapanen (RW, KalPa Kuopio, Liiga)
Perhaps the best prospect in the Liiga for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Kasperi Kapanen is following in his father's footsteps to become a dominant player. He made his Liiga début at the age of seventeen, a remarkable accomplishment for a player just starting to assert himself. In his second career Liiga game, he got to play with his father, former NHL player Sami Kapanen, making them only the second father-son duo to play together in that league. In 2013, Kapanen appeared at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge as an alternate captain, as well as playing at the World Under-18s, winning a bronze medal. He recorded seventeen points in those two tournaments combined. Kapanen will be one of the youngest players on the Finnish roster this year and it will help raise his draft stock.
Teuvo Teräväinen (C/LW, Jokerit Helsinki, Liiga)
A superlatively talented forward as there ever was in Finland, Teuvo Teräväinen has been nothing short of superlative over the course of his professional and international careers. In 2011-12, Teräväinen, who had barely even played in the Jr. A SM-liiga (Finland's under-20 league), was an absolute dynamo for Jokerit's top squad, earning himself the SM-liiga's rookie of the year honours. The year before, he played at two under-17 tournaments, as well as at the World Under-18s. After the 2011-12 season ended, the Chicago Blackhawks wasted no time in selecting him with their first-round selection, 18th overall, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Last year, he had a great sophomore season in the Liiga, as well as made his first appearance at the World Juniors, recording eleven points in six games. At the tournament in Malmö, Teräväinen will captain Finland's team, one of their best in a long time.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Juuso Ikonen (RW, JYP Jyväsyklä, Liiga)
The amount of superlatively talented players in Finland who go undrafted to the NHL is staggering. Juuso Ikonen is one of those players. Up until November, Ikonen was one of the best players in the system of Blues Espoo, performing on a superstar level on so many tiers. Ikonen, who turns 19 on the last day of the World Junior tournament, was a constant contributor in the Jr. A SM-liiga as a sixteen-year-old back in the 2010-11 season; that campaign, he recorded seven points in 17 games, unheard of for a player that young. He also recorded a point per game during the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The following season, as a seventeen-year-old, Ikonen got the opportunity to play in the Liiga for the first time. He appeared in twenty games, recording nine points (four goals, five assists). He did not waste time becoming a regular in the pros, playing in 57 games in 2012-13, finishing fifth in Blues team scoring with 26 points. He is now in his third full season in the Liiga and he is now going to play in his third IIHF competition. He has won a bronze medal coming at the 2013 World Under-18s. With a stellar performance at the World Juniors, Ikonen could be chosen at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia. (It should be noted that Juuso Ikonen is not related to national teammate Henri Ikonen, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who plays for the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs.)
Frederik Tiffels (LW, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, USHL)
He may be only eighteen years old but Frederik Tiffels has a résumé that most German junior hockey players can only dream of. While playing for the junior teams of Kölner Haie and Adler Mannheim, he found himself winning a Schüler-Bundesliga championship in 2011 and a Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga championship in 2012. While playing for Jungadler Mannheim's DNL team, he appeared at two World Under-17 Hockey Challenges and two World Under-18s. Tiffels then decided that the time was right, along with several Jungadler teammates, to come over to North America. Unlike the others, he went to the USHL, joining the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He had 25 points in 50 games in his rookie season, as well as an incredible plus/minus ranking of +13. As well in 2013, Tiffels made his first appearance at the World Juniors and, in February of this year, he made an NCAA college commitment to Western Michigan University. This season, he has been traded twice, once to the Fargo Force and again to the RoughRiders. He is also not the only member of his family playing in North America this year, too, as his older brother Dominik -- who is also playing at the tournament -- is in the NAHL with the Minnesota Wilderness. Tiffels has one more year of World Junior eligibility after this year, too, so he could be at the tournament again in 2015, wherever Germany will participate.
Leon Draisaitl (C/LW, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)
Perhaps the best German-born prospect for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, as well as one of the top prospects in the WHL, Leon Draisaitl's international résumé is just unbelievable. The former Schüler-Bundesliga and DNL champion participated in his first international tournament, the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, in 2012, recording a point per game. He also played at his first World Under-18 tournament that year, too. Draisaitl came over to North America soon after, joining the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders, who made him the second overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. He had 58 points in 64 games in his rookie major junior season, as well as an incredible +22 ranking. Draisaitl appeared at his first career World Juniors in 2013 and, for his efforts, he was named one of Germany's top three players in the tournament. He also led the 2013 World Under-18s in assists and was named one of the top three players at that tournament, too. This year in Prince Albert, Draisaitl has been fantastic. He is leading the Raiders in scoring, sixteen points ahead of teammate Josh Morrissey. Before the Christmas break, he also sat fifth in WHL scoring.
Marvin Cüpper (G, Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)
Despite the fact that Germany has not really been one of the more dominant countries at the World Juniors, they have not had a shortage of CHL goaltenders to bring to the tournament. This year, for the second straight championship, they will be bringing Marvin Cüpper, who plays for the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes. A small, yet acrobatic goaltender, Cüpper has been quite accomplished at the international level. The 19-year-old netminder, who turns 20 in February, has already appeared in one World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and two World Under-18s, joining other now-former CHL import goaltenders to dress for Germany internationally, including Philipp Grubauer, Mathias Niederberger and Timo Pielmeier, himself a former Shawinigan Cataractes goalie. It was because of Cüpper last year that Germany remained even close to competitive, just like he has in the QMJHL, and he was rewarded for being named one of his country's top three players at last year's competition. This year, he will be counted upon to be the #1 goalie yet again for Deutschland and he is hoping for a decent result that will allow for his team to play at the 2015 tournament in Toronto and Montréal. That should be a favourable result as Germany is leading all international competitors with twelve players who are suiting up for teams in North America.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Lennart Palausch (RW/LW, Aberdeen Wings, NAHL)
Yet another one of the twelve Deutschlanders who is playing junior hockey in North America, German captain Lennart Palausch has been a champion in every respect. Before crossing the Atlantic to play in the NAHL this year, Palausch honed his craft with Jungadler Mannheim along with many of the other great young players Germany has recently produced. While playing in the DNL, Germany's top under-18 hockey league, Palausch was a member of three championship teams with Jungadler, winning titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He has also found himself becoming a common fixture with Germany's national junior-age teams. He played in his first IIHF competition at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The following year, he was an alternate captain at the 2012 World Under-18s, being named one of Germany's top three players. At the tournament in Malmö, the first-year NAHL player is hoping to captain Germany to some upsets at the 2014 World Juniors.
Andreas Klavestad (D, Frisk Asker Tigers, GET-ligaen)
How so many talented junior-age players from Norway manage to go undrafted is an absolute enigma. Andreas Klavestad should not be one of those players in 2014. A draft-eligible defenceman, Klavestad is playing at his second career IIHF tournament and, if his performance at his last one is any indication, he will be counted upon to help Norway in many different ways. Klavestad is a solid two-way defenceman who has found himself winning a Norwegian under-17 league gold medal and under-18 silver medal during his career, both of which came with his hometown Sparta Sarpsborg Warriors' junior teams. In 2013, Klavestad was instrumental in helping Norway win silver at the World Under-18s in Asiago, Italy, leading all defencemen in assists and points, plus/minus (+12) and winning the tournament's top blueliner award. Ever since late in 2012, Klavestad has been playing in the GET-ligaen, starting first with Sparta Sarpsborg and now with Frisk Asker after demanding a transfer early in the season. Draft eligible due to a November 1995 birthdate, Klavestad could find his name called in Philadelphia in June 2014 if he shows his potential in Malmö.
Jørgen Karterud (RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL)
There may be no junior-age player from Norway with more credential and respect than Jørgen Karterud. A 6'5" 19-year-old forward with untapped offensive potential, Karterud has somehow slipped through three drafts (two NHL, one CHL) before being chosen 35th overall in the 2013 CHL Import Draft by the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. For Karterud, it was a dream come true, especially since there was nothing more for him to do in Norway, winning at almost every level with Vålerenga. He has won playoff gold medals in both the under-19 and under-20 leagues, as well as playoff silver medals in the under-19 league and GET-ligaen. Karterud scored his first GET-ligaen career goal at the age of 17. He has a significant international résumé, which includes a silver medal at the 2012 World Under-18s and a gold medal at the 2013 World Juniors, which helped Norway get promoted to this year's tournament in Malmö. Happily for him, too, Karterud will not be the only Norwegian team member to be playing junior hockey in North America, which should help.
Markus Søberg (RW/LW, Frölunda J20, SuperElit)
At only eighteen years old, Markus Søberg is already a wily IIHF tournament veteran. The 2014 World Juniors will be his sixth IIHF competition in three years. He is the second in his family to represent Norway at the international level as his older brother Steffen participated in several IIHF competitions as a goaltender en route to becoming the first Norwegian goaltender ever chosen in an NHL Entry Draft in 2011 when the Washington Capitals made him their fourth-round pick that year. Markus, too, has found himself drafted to the NHL; he was the Columbus Blue Jackets' sixth-round selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Not only has the younger Søberg been an incredible offensive catalyst but his defensive game has been spectacular. At the 2013 World Under-18s in Asiago, Italy, he was +11. He has a +72 combined ranking with Frölunda's J18 Elit, J18 Allsvenskan and J20 SuperElit teams. During his IIHF career, Søberg has won two silver medals at the World Under-18s (2012, 2013), a bronze medal at the 2012 World Juniors, and a gold medal at the 2013 World Juniors, helping Norway be promoted. He was also best forward at the 2013 World Under-18s.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Martin Rønnild (C/RW, Brynäs J20, SuperElit)
The youngest player Norway is bringing to the World Juniors, Martin Rønnild has shown that he has the ability to be a big-time scorer. In his last season of Norwegian junior hockey with Stjernen U17 in his hometown of Fredrikstad, he recorded 106 points, second only to Jostein Ekaas on the team in scoring. Rønnild, like many superlatively talented (and fortunate) junior players from Norway, made the trip to Sweden to play even better hockey. He joined fellow Norwegian national teammate Mattias Nørstebø, who is a year older, by joining the junior program of Brynäs IF, the same team that developed Washington Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Bäckström. In 2012-13, he helped them win a J18 SM gold medal. That same year, he got to play in his first IIHF tournament, the 2013 World Under-18s in Asiago, Italy. He only appeared in three games due to a veteran-laden lineup and he showed his feistiness by recording 25 penalty minutes. In Malmö, even though his role may be limited, Rønnild is going to demonstrate why he will be a mainstay on Norwegian junior national teams for years to come.