If you’re like most hockey fans south of Canada, you probably don’t pay too much attention to future NHL prospects. Junior hockey isn’t a big deal in the States and big time college hockey is limited to a handful of markets. So, it’s understandable.
However, if you were going to make an exception to your normal practices, this is the week to do it.
Each year, beginning the day after Christmas (Boxing Day in Canada), the top 10 nations gather their best under 20 year old players to participate in the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJC).
Team USA won the gold last year on Canadian soil. This year the games are in Buffalo, NY and the Kings have one player on each of the three teams favored to win medals (US, Canada and Russia).
Nearly every NHL star of the past or present has participated in this event for their country. On the current Kings roster alone you’re talking about Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth – heck, Marco Sturm even played for Germany.
Below you’ll get a quick cheat sheet filled with what you need to know for the 2011 WJC – including the format, Kings prospects, TV schedule, top teams and key players to watch…
Second, before you move forward, make sure you’ve looked back – the NHL Network is airing an encore presentation of last year’s gold medal game at 11am PST today. Many have called this the greatest game in WJC history. It was a drama filled game, as described here, and is a must see contest.
Now on to this year:
* The 10 teams are split into two pools (Group A and B). Each team plays one game against the other four teams in their pool. The teams are then seeded for the playoffs, with the top seed from each pool getting an automatic bye into the semi-finals. Meanwhile, the second and third ranked teams from the same pool play against each other in quarter-finals, with the winner advancing to meet the ‘bye’ team from their pool in the semi-finals.
* The winner of the Group A semi-final meets the winner of the Group B semi-final in the gold medal game on January 5. The two losers from the semi-final games meet earlier the same day for the bronze medal.
* An important note this year is that USA and Canada are in different pools. Thus, if they meet up this year, it will be meaningful – as there will be a medal on the line.
* Pool A consists of USA, Switzerland, Finland, Slovakia and Germany.
* Pool B consists of Canada, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Norway.
* All of the US and Canada pool games will be televised by the NHL Network. They’ll also broadcast all of the playoff games, regardless of the participants.
* Here’s a brief overview of three of the top teams:
- 2011 pool games: 12/26 vs. Finland at 5pm (PST), 12/28 vs. Slovakia at 5pm, 12/30 vs. Germany at 4pm, 12/31 vs. Switzerland at 5pm
- Recent history: Gold, 2010; fifth, 2009; fourth, 2008
- Kings 2010 first round pick Derek Forbort is on defense
- Links to MayorsManor interviews with US players: Derek Forbort, Charlie Coyle, Nick Bjugstad
- Team Captain is John Ramage (Calgary Flames prospect)
- Squad has 16 first or second round NHL draft picks
- Starting goaltender is Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars), last year’s gold medal netminder
- 2011 pool games: 12/26 vs. Russia at 1pm (PST), 12/28 vs. Czech Republic at 1pm, 12/29 vs. Norway at 4:30pm, 12/31 vs. Sweden at 1pm
- Recent history: Silver in 2010; gold the previous five tournaments
- Kings 2009 first round pick Brayden Schenn is the team’s top center and only returning forward
- Links to MayorsManor interviews with CAN players: Brayden Schenn, Brett Connolly
- Team Captain is Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators prospect), Schenn will wear an ‘A’
- WOW – 15 of their 22 players were first round NHL picks
- Starting goaltender is Oliver Roy (Edmonton Oilers)
- 2011 pool games: 12/26 vs. Canada at 1pm (PST), 12/28 vs. Sweden at 4pm, 12/30 vs. Norway at 4pm and 12/31 vs. Czech Republic at 4pm
- Recent history: Sixth, 2010; bronze medal, 2009; bronze medal, 2008
- Kings 2010 sixth round pick Maxim Kitsyn is the team’s top left wing
- Links to MayorsManor interviews with RUS players: Maxim Kitsyn
- Team Captain is TBD
- Russia won the recent Super Series, a sort of pre-tournament to the WJC (notes here)
- Starting goaltender is 6’3″ Igor Bobkov (Anaheim Ducks)
Nino Niederreiter, RW, Switzerland
The breakout star of last year’s tournament with six goals and 10 points in seven games during Switzerland’s surprising fourth-place finish. The NY Islanders made him the highest drafted Swiss ever when they picked him fifth overall last June. He plays junior hockey in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks and he’s bringing teammate Sven Bartschi to the WJC this year. Could we see El Nino the Second?
Calle Jarnkrok, C, Sweden
Detroit’s second round pick in 2010, Jarnkrok was a late-riser in draft talk, thanks to a second half with Brynas that markedly outshined his first half. The smallish, but skilled Swede has continued his ascent this season, leading all junior-aged players in Elite League scoring with 18 points in 30 games. He will be counted on as Sweden’s top center at the tourney and has excellent playmaking skills. And isn’t it amazing how the Red Wings always seem to land that guy making the scouting headlines? Jarnkrok was the buzz Euro last year; the season before that it was Tomas Tatar’s performance at the world juniors that made the Slovak the scouting darling. And Detroit didn’t spend a first round pick on either. [read his MayorsManor interview here]
Adam Larsson, D, Sweden
Scouts say this Swedish blueliner will be the top-ranked European by the time the 2011 NHL draft rolls around. The 18-year-old, 6-foot-2, 209 pounder is already a complete package, bringing a big man’s game to first-place Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League.
Joel Armia, RW, Finland
One of the biggest ‘it’ players of the year, Armia has rocketed up the 2011 draft rankings since the season began. It could be because he started the year on fire and boasts a 6-foot-3 frame. Armia’s point production may have slimmed a little, but he still has 19 points in 30 games, meaning he trails only Suomi teammate Teemu Pulkkinen in scoring by a rookie in the country’s top circuit, the SM-Liiga.
Sami Vatanen, D, Finland
A smallish playmaker who loves to join the rush is, at age 19, already excelling playing alongside grown men in his native Finland. Anaheim’s fourth-round pick in 2009. This season he is the highest scoring defenseman in Finland’s top league with eight goals and 21 points in 32 games with first-place JYP.
David Musil, D, Czech Republic
A foot injury has the big Vancouver Giants blueliner’s participation in doubt. But if he plays, the B.C.-born son of former NHLer Frantisek Musil will be a needed force for the Czechs. An invitee to this year’s CHL Top Prospects game, the 17-year-old has four goals, 17 points and is a plus-9 in 30 WHL games this season. Draft eligible in 2011.
For more detailed roster info, players to watch, key stories, etc. be sure to click here to read Neate Sager’s reports from Yahoo Canada.
That should be enough to get you started.
Stay tuned to MayorsManor for complete WJC coverage.
Kitsyn/Russia vs. Schenn/Canada at 1pm today. Followed by Forbort and Team USA taking on Finland at 5pm. Both games on NHL Network.
Team USA Camp Recap – exclusive player comments, notes on Forbort, etc.
USA defeats Canada for Gold Medal – an instant classic