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  • 2014 IIHF World Juniors Preview: Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and United States

    Part Two Of Margann Laurissas World Junior preview akes a look at the top three players to watch from Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Russia.

    RUSSIA
    Andrei Vasilevski (G, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
    There are some great goaltenders who are cultivated at a tournament like the World Juniors and the Russians are reaping those rewards with Andrei Vasilevski. The 2014 tournament will be his third and final World Junior Championship and the 2012 Tampa Bay Lightning first-rounder is hoping that the third time is the charm to win gold. Vasilevski won a silver medal in his first IIHF World Junior Championship in 2012, making all but one save in the final against Sweden when current Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejad scored in overtime to give the Tre Kronor a 1-0 overtime win. Just last year, Vasilevski was instrumental in helping Russia win bronze, backstopping his team to a 6-5 overtime win over Canada, thanks also to an extra-frame goal by current Dallas Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin. In both of his World Junior tournaments, too, the 6'3", 203-pound goaltender has been named one of Russia's top three players. His acumen in IIHF tournaments has not only been reserved for the World Juniors; he performed superbly at three World Under-18 tournaments, including a Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka.

    Ivan Barbashev (LW, Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL)
    Some really great players for Russia's national junior teams have developed in the QMJHL. Ivan Barbashev is turning out to be yet another one. A 2014 NHL Draft-eligible player, Barbashev is in his second season with the Moncton Wildcats, building upon what was a very successful 2012-13 rookie season. That year, he led all QMJHL rookies in assists, finishing as a runner-up for the league's rookie of the year award, which was won by fellow Russian import forward Valentin Zykov of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Before coming over to North America, Barbashev made a name for himself to those in the know on this continent by representing Russia at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Last season, after the Wildcats were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Barbashev went to the 2013 World Under-18s, leading the tournament with six assists. This year, Barbashev, who turned 18 less than two weeks before the tournament began, is hoping to elevate his draft stock in the QMJHL, as well as lead Russia back to the top of the World Junior podium by helping them win gold.



    Mikhail Grigorenko (C, Buffalo Sabres, NHL)
    If there is anyone else on the Russian national junior team who is hoping that the third time is the charm, it is Buffalo Sabres forward Mikhail Grigorenko. Ever since the highly-talented Khabarovsk native has been in North America, he has had quite a perplexing career. After his first season in the QMJHL with the Québec Remparts, one in which he led all league rookies with 40 goals and 85 points, Grigorenko was named rookie of the year in both that league and in the CHL. He found himself one of the QMJHL's top prospects for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and he was rewarded when the Sabres made him the twelfth overall pick. For some reason or another, a false rumor began swirling that Grigorenko was not the age he said he was, and a demand for his birth certificate to authenticate that he was, in fact, only eighteen started to circulate. The following season, Grigorenko split the season between the Remparts and, after the lockout, the Sabres. Despite all the craziness that has occurred, Grigorenko has found himself as a mainstay on Russia's national junior-age teams for nearly five years now. Before coming to North America, he appeared at the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, recording ten points in six games. The following year, he truly endeared himself to North American junior teams by having a stellar World Under-18 tournament, winning bronze for Russia and leading with fourteen assists in seven games. He has had a great career at the World Juniors, too, winning silver in 2012, bronze in 2013, and finding himself as one of Russia's top three players at last year's championship. It should also be noted that he has participated in both the Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka and at the World Junior A Challenge, too.

    HONOURABLE MENTION: Bogdan Yakimov (C, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, KHL)
    He may not have quite as many international credentials as some of his teammates but that does not mean that Bogdan Yakimov is someone to overlook. The Edmonton Oilers 2013 draft pick has participated at the Subway Super Series and he is now going to apply his trade at the World Junior level. Yakimov is a big man, standing 6'4" and weighing 220 pounds, making him an imposing figure for the Russians, a team not that known for having such big forwards. Yakimov also brings an element of leadership to the team, shown by being named an alternate captain in his first (and only) career World Junior Championship. Yakimov has played in two World Under-18s, including one in which he won a bronze medal, and he was named one of Russia's top three players each time. Additionally, he has played at both the Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka and the World Junior A Challenge. With his KHL contract expiring after this season, he could very well make the trip to North America next season somewhere in the Oilers organization, joining fellow Russians Nail Yakupov and Daniil Zharkov.

    ***

    SLOVAKIA

    Marko Daňo (C/LW, HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL)
    Anyone who has watched Slovakia at the last two World Juniors knows just how magical of a player Marko Daňo is. One of the three 2013 first-round picks of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Austrian-born Slovak forward is completing his World Junior hat trick this year in Malmö, and he is hoping to show his magic yet again. In fact, it was mostly because of him that Slovakia managed to upset the Americans last year. International competition is nothing new to Daňo either. In addition to this third World Junior Championship, he has appeared in two World Under-18s, including one in which Slovakia had been relegated; that tournament, which was held in 2012, had him score thirteen points in five games, including ten goals, leading them back to promotion and naming him the best forward of the tournament. Last year, Daňo was one of Slovakia's top three players and with good reason. He had such a great international pedigree built up that Slovakia even brought him to the Men's World Championships; in five games, he recorded a goal and an assist. There is also even talk that he may even play for Slovakia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

    Martin Reway (C/LW, Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL)
    Even though he was born in the Czech Republic, Martin Reway represents the other half by dressing for Slovakia in international competition. It has been a decision that has paid off handsomely. The 2013 fourth-round pick of the Montréal Canadiens has played for them at the World Under-17s, the World Under-18s and, in 2014, his second World Junior Championships. It should be noted that he will not turn 19 until January 24, 2014, meaning that he could appear in a third World Juniors in 2015. Reway already has a gold medal in IIHF competition, winning it at the 2012 World Under-18s, the year after Slovakia's under-18 had been relegated. In recent years, Slovakia had several CHL players on their national junior team roster but, this year, Reway is the only one. It will be that leadership he has cultivated in Gatineau that will help Slovakia yet again in Malmö.

    Peter Cehlárik (LW/RW, Asplöven HC, HockeyAllsvenskan)
    In the grand tradition of players thriving while playing away from their homelands, Peter Cehlárik has definitely found himself thriving in Sweden. He arrived to play in Luleå in 2011, leaving his hometown team in Slovakia behind. He has never looked back. Cehlárik made his début in the SuperElit at the young age of sixteen, playing eight games for Luleå J20 during the 2011-12 season. The season after, he made a permanent leap to the under-20s and, even more incredibly, he played in eight games in the SHL, recording six points, leading all U18 junior players in scoring in that league. Luleå HF loaned Cehlárik to Asplöven HC in the HockeyAllsvenskan this season and he is playing just as well there, too. Cehlárik's international résumé is not as pronounced as some of his veteran teammates but he was already named one of the top three players for Slovakia at the 2013 World Under-18s. He was rewarded for all his great play by being chosen 90th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins.

    HONOURABLE MENTION: Patrik Luža (D, Team Slovakia U20, Slovak Extraliga)
    As a country that truly enjoys to develop young defencemen, Slovakia's national junior team is hoping that Patrik Luža will remain healthy during this year's tournament. During last year's tournament, he was hit quite hard against Canada by then-Barrie Colts forward Anthony Camara, resulting in a concussion; images of a bloodied and staggering Luža was plastered all over the media. Despite that injury, he has been a steady mainstay on Slovak national junior-age teams. He has played at two World Under-18s (winning gold in 2012 on the relegated team), a World Under-17s, a Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka, and now at his second World Junior Championship. He will be counted upon to bring leadership and tenacity to a young Slovak team. He should also be thankful that Anthony Camara is not playing at this tournament.


    ***

    SWEDEN
    André Burakovsky (LW/RW, Erie Otters, OHL)
    It can take only one player's comments to get under the skin of his opposition. Swedish forward André Burakovsky went on record to say that his country, who is also the host nation, were better on paper than Canada, a team that has two of his OHL teammates in Connor McDavid and Adam Pelech. It may be cockiness but it may also just be Burakovsky's way of showing just how deep the talent pool is for the boys in blue and yellow. His experience can also speak for itself. The Washington Capitals 2013 first-round pick is one of Sweden's most internationally cultivated players on this year's roster. He has played at a World Under-17s, two World Under-18s (winning silver in 2012), two Memorial Tournaments of Ivan Hlinka, and now in his first World Junior Championships. Remarkably, though, he has only one medal for his efforts. It should be interesting to see just how good he and his teammates truly are to back up his previous claim.

    Elias Lindholm (C/RW, Carolina Hurricanes, NHL)
    There are not many players being loaned to World Junior teams from the NHL. The Swedish team can say "tackar så mycket" to the Carolina Hurricanes for loaning Elias Lindholm to them, giving the Tre Kronor an added offensive weapon. After a stellar rookie season with Brynås IF of the SHL in 2012-13, Lindholm was chosen fifth overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Hurricanes, a team in desperate need for even more offensive production. Lindholm's bloodlines also help a great deal. His father Mikael played eighteen NHL games during the 1989-90 season for the Los Angeles Kings; his older brother Oliver played for the Rochester Stars of the EJHL last season; and his cousin Calle Järnkrok is one of the top prospects in the Detroit Red Wings organization. Lindholm has won silver medals at both the World Under-18s and World Juniors, the latter coming just last season against the United States. He has also played at the Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka and at the World Junior A Challenge. He is hoping to be a leader on the host team this year, maybe winning gold in his native country.

    Filip Forsberg (RW/LW, Milwaukee Admirals, AHL)
    While he may be most well-known nowadays for having the Washington Capitals just seemingly gave up on him, Filip Forsberg is much more than that. On the international stage, Forsberg has been absolutely remarkable, making him one of the best junior-age players from Sweden. The now-Nashville Predators prospect has been a mainstay for the Tre Kronor since 2011 and the results have been absolutely astonishing. Forsberg won silver medals in each of the two World Under-18 tournaments he participated in, captaining the team in 2012 and being named the tournament's best forward. Forsberg also has a Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka under his belt, too. He is about to play in his third World Junior Championship. He helped Sweden win gold in 2012 before even being drafted to the NHL and, the next year, he captained Sweden to a silver medal against the United States. For 2014, he is expected to captain the host country and help them win yet another medal.

    HONOURABLE MENTION: Sebastian Collberg (RW/LW, Frölunda HC, SHL)
    In the grand tradition of Montréal Canadiens prospects doing well in international competition, Sebastian Collberg is yet another who is asserting himself quite nicely. The J20 Elit scoring phenom has been a great contributor to Sweden's national junior-age teams for several years now and he is doing quite well in the process. In his first (and only) IIHF World Under-18s, which were in 2012, he was an alternate captain on the team that won silver, losing gold to the United States. Collberg has a Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka to his credit and he is about to play at his third World Junior Championship, hoping to add to the silver and gold medals he won in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Collberg is also one of the hosts' most professionally groomed players despite his youth, appearing in 105 SHL games and fifteen Allsvenskan games to date, as well as two games for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.

    ***

    SWITZERLAND
    Melvin Nyffeler (G, ZSC Lions, NLA)
    What has kept Switzerland around in the World Juniors for the last few years has been their goaltending. First, it was Benjamin Conz. Then, it was Tim Wolf. For the last couple years, it has been Melvin Nyffeler. The recently turned 19-year-old has been making quite a substantial name for himself in IIHF competition for Switzerland, putting him among the country's greats between the pipes, not just in World Junior competition but in any level. Nyffeler has appeared in only two World Under-18 tournaments, one being the 2012 IIHF World Under-18s and the other being the 2012 Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka. It has been, however, after those tournaments where he has found his niche. Nyffeler made his World Junior début last year, recording a 3.67 goals-against average and a .902% save percentage in four games, earning one of the top three players honours for Switzerland. He followed that up with an even more stellar performance at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge, recording a 2.18 goals-against average and a .925% save percentage in only three games. This year, he will be between the pipes again for the Swiss national junior team, this time with two new backup goalies (Daniel Guntern and Sascha Rochow are replacing Luca Boltshauser), and he is hoping to keep Switzerland in the top division even longer.

    Mirco Müller (D, Everett Silvertips, WHL)
    Anyone who has followed Switzerland internationally in recent years should know just how spectacular their defencemen have been. Mark Streit, Yannick Weber, Raphael Díaz and 2014 World Championship MVP Roman Josi are perfect examples. San Jose Sharks 2013 first-round pick Mirco Müller is hoping to join that group. He has already demonstrated that he can be a dominant force in North American major junior hockey, finishing second only to Landon Oslanski on the Everett Silvertips in team scoring by defencemen last year. Müller actually even came into the WHL with professional pedigree, playing seven games in the NLA with the Kloten Flyers in 2012, recording a goal. He also represented Switzerland at the 2013 Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka. Midway through his first WHL season, Müller was a mainstay on the blueline for the Swiss national junior team, intimidating the opposition with his 6'4" frame. After Everett's first-round playoff exit last year, Müller was an alternate captain on Switzerland's under-18 team, being named one of the top three players on his team. He is now expected to be a leader on the Swiss junior team yet again in Malmö and, even though he is under entry level contract with the Sharks, he could play in one more World Junior Championship after this one.

    Vincent Praplan (LW/RW, North Bay Battalion, OHL)
    For a defensive-minded squad as any Stan Butler-coached team may be, there is no denying that Vincent Praplan has been an incredible find for the North Bay Battalion this year. He absolutely dominated the Elite Jr. A Novizen in Switzerland and, now in North America, he has truly shown that he is capable of producing on this continent, as well. An older player at nineteen years of age, Praplan is actually making his IIHF début at the World Juniors in Malmö, which is remarkable considering just how talented he truly is. (It must be noted that the Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka is not a IIHF-sanctioned tournament.) He is a very deceptive skater with incredible offensive ability, making him one of the better offensive forwards in Switzerland's lineup. It should be interesting to see how he fares playing with some of the best junior players from his own country, many of whom he left behind to come to North America, as well as some past and present CHL players.

    HONOURABLE MENTION: Yannick Rathgeb (D/RW, Plymouth Whalers, OHL)
    On the subject of offensive defencemen, credit must be given to Plymouth Whalers rookie blueliner Yannick Rathgeb. Coming into the 2013-14 OHL season, Rathgeb was one of the better goal scorers from the back end in Swiss junior hockey. That could be very well thanks to him also playing some games as a forward but, for the most part, it is still a remarkable accomplishment. A 2014 NHL Draft-eligible player due to a late 1995 birth date, Rathgeb has found himself playing on a rather veteran defense corps in Plymouth but, in each and every game, he has found himself committed to improve all aspects of his game. His play in his own end is still not as good as it could be but that can be excused due to his rookie status. Rathgeb is showing great progress and he is bringing his international seasoning to each and every game he plays. He has already played at one World Under-18 tournament and the World Juniors in Malmö will be his first such championship.

    ***

    UNITED STATES
    Anthony Stolarz (G, London Knights, OHL)
    There has been a great success for American OHL goaltenders at the World Juniors recently. Former Windsor Spitfires and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds goalie Jack Campbell appeared in three World Junior Championships, his first coming in 2010, helping his country win gold not long before his eighteenth birthday; he was named top goalie for the tournament the following year. Last year, the USA won gold with two OHL goaltenders, John Gibson of the Kitchener Rangers and Garret Sparks of the Guelph Storm. This year, London Knights netminder Anthony Stolarz is hoping to be just as successful. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect is a rarity, though, as he has no prior experience or tenure with the U.S. National Team Development Program whatsoever unlike creasemates Jon Gillies and Thatcher Demko. That being said, Stolarz has been spectacular in every league he has played in, whether it is the AYHL, EmJHL, NAHL, NCAA or OHL. With his 6'6" frame, he is going to be an imposing figure in the American net, and he is probably looking forward to playing against several of his Knights teammates at this tournament.

    Connor Carrick (D, Hershey Bears, AHL)
    The last time that the AHL's Hershey Bears loaned out a former OHL defenceman to the World Juniors, the USA won a gold medal. That was the year when John Carlson, formerly of the London Knights, sniped a no-look one-timer over the shoulder of Martin Jones, starting Canada's newest gold-less drought. Connor Carrick is hoping for a similar result. A former member of the Plymouth Whalers, a defensive logjam on the Washington Capitals caused for him to be demoted to Hershey, despite the fact that the 19-year-old blueliner scored his first NHL career goal in his first career game. Carrick is no stranger to the USNTDP whatsoever, appearing in 57 games for their USHL junior team, as well as 110 combined games for their development team. He won a silver medal at the 2011 World Under-17s and a gold medal at the 2012 World Under-18s but, for some reason, he did not play for the gold-medal winning American junior team in 2013. This year, however, he will play for the defending champs and hope to win another medal. Even more pressure may be placed on him with Seth Jones not joining the team as the Nashville Predators retained him and did not loan him for the tournament.


    Nicolas Kerdiles (C/LW, University of Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA)
    In his Oscar-winning song "Lose Yourself," Eminem raps, "If you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or let it slip?" Nicolas Kerdiles probably knows the answer to that question now. Last year, the 2012 second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks seemed like a lock to make the American World Junior team, especially due to his great credentials with the USNTDP, but a ten-game suspension in the NCAA due to a representation controversy derailed that chance. Kerdiles was undeterred and, upon his return, he helped the Wisconsin Badgers win the WCHA championship, being named tournament MVP in the process. This year, Kerdiles is hoping to build upon a rather incredible medal count that has seen him win silver at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and back-to-back gold medals at the 2011 and 2012 World Under-18s. With this being his last junior tournament, he better make the best of it, especially since he is considered to be of the top players for the USA.

    HONOURABLE MENTION: Adam Erne (LW/RW, Québec Remparts, QMJHL)
    In 2011, the Halifax Mooseheads traded for Nathan MacKinnon, who had been the first overall pick in that year's QMJHL Entry Draft by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Additionally, they drafted Jonathan Drouin and Zachary Fucale. In that same draft, the Mooseheads selected Adam Erne, who was playing for the USHL's Indiana Ice at the time, only to trade him a few months later to the Québec Remparts. Erne has been fantastic playing in Québec City, recording 28 goals in each of his first two seasons, as well as improving his defensive game each and every year. For his efforts, the Tampa Bay Lightning chose him 33rd overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, one round after they chose his could-have-been QMJHL teammate Jonathan Drouin. Although Erne participated at the 2013 Memorial Tournament of Ivan Hlinka, the 2014 World Juniors in Malmö will be his first career IIHF event. Like some other of his American teammates, the Connecticut native did not make his way through the USNTDP, showing an interesting trend among the newer players on the American national junior team. He is also one of only two players on the American roster who have played in the QMJHL (Stefan Matteau being the other)
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