With the World Juniors starting tomorrow, a lot of eyes around the hockey world will be glued to the tournament that see’s 10 nations send some of the best prospects in the world to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, as Canada play hosts of the tournament, eying up their 18th title at the World Junior Championships.
There will be some big name players who have already been through the draft process before, but some teams will be sending some key names to keep an eye on ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, so we’re going to do our best to highlight some of the key names to watch.
USA – Jack Hughes
Every year the draft is labelled the “Insert name here draft” and in 2019 it will be the Jack Hughes draft. He’s part of Team USA with his old brother Quinn (Vancouver, 2018) but in a tournament where 17-year-olds don’t normally flourish, Hughes may be an exception to the rule and should be in for a solid tournament. Over recent drafts we’ve talked a lot about generational talents, and this year bucks the trend a little. Hughes won’t be the immediate impact player like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, but don’t take anything away from him. He’s still going to be an elite level player and a great centreman for whichever team wins the draft lottery. He’s sure to be an impact player if he gets the ice time, he’s fast, skilled and got a great motor that makes him the consensus number one selection next June.
Finland – Kaapa Kakko
It’s only fitting that we discuss Kakko next, for most Kakko is the only threat to the number on spot in 2019 that Jack Hughes has. At 6’1” and almost 190lbs, he’s already got great size for a 17-year-old and may just be the strongest skater in the draft. He competes for every puck and his puck retention is phenomenal, even showing his talents in the Finnish Liiga as a fresh faced teenager for TPS where he’s got 20 points in 27 games, third in Under 20s players behind his Finnish teammates Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida, 2017) and Rasmus Kupari (Los Angeles, 2018) . While the World Juniors doesn’t do much in terms of raising a players draft stock dramatically, Kakko will be able to use this opportunity to announce himself fully to a North American audience, which will surely get a lot of people talking.
Canada – Brett Leason
He’s had disappointment at the draft after being passed over previously, but the season the 19-year-old is having right now for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders has been nothing short of phenomenal. Almost at a goal-per-game pace, Leason comes into the tournament as Canada’s leading scorer with 28 goals and 64 points total, and could use the disappointment over being passed over previously as motivation to not only get himself drafted, but help Canada to their 18th Gold. He’s a point off doubling his WHL career high of 33 points already this year, and while he’s a relative newbie to the Canadian set up internationally, if he can keep up this momentum, he could be a leading part of Team Canada on the ice this year.
Sweden – Philip Broberg
One of the best defenseman available in June, Philip Broberg is an incredible skater and will lead the charge from the backend over the next few tournaments of Sweden, who are looking to keep their streak alive of 12-straight top 4 finishes, hoping to add another medal to that list after they took Silver last year, and last won gold in 2012, and also hoping to keep their streak of wins in the group stage alive, with their last loss coming at the hands of the USA on December 31st 2006. Broberg is a bit of a mystery in this years draft, some have him as potential top 5/top 10 pick, while others rank him lower but all have him as a sure first round talent. He’s currently having a solid year for AIK in the Swedish Allsvenskan, and he won’t be an immediate impact in the NHL, but playing among guys around his age he could thrive at this tournament.
Czech Republic – Martin Hugo Has
From one defenseman to another, Martin Hugo Has is one of the best Czech prospects available in 2019, and is a good two-way guy currently playing in Finland, splitting time between Tappara’s U20 side, as well as a handful of loan appearances in the Metsis for LeKi. While Has may not be a first round projection right now, he’s got good size for a 2001 born player at 6’4” and 187 lbs, and is comfortable in all areas of the ice. Keep an eye on his shot as he gets all his power behind it whenever he can, and while he may see limited ice time in this tournament, he should be a big part of the Czech system going forward.
Finland – Anttoni Honka
With the Chicago Blackhawks loaning Henri Jokiharju to Finland for the tournament, it may lower the ice time expected to be given to Anttoni Honka, but still this will be a great stepping stone towards announcing himself on the world stage. He’s a first round talent for sure, but expected to be around the middle of the opening round next June. He’s still got some ways to go before he’s ready to take the world by storm, but keep an eye for those flashes in this years World Juniors before he makes the leap next year to be a leading member of the squad.
Canada – Alexis Lafrenière – 2020
It’s not often one of the big name teams sends somebody who’s not even eligible until next year, but there’s no surprise (especially given the injury troubles they have) that Alexis Lafrenière will be on Teqm Canada this year. He’s the next player to be given the generational tag and for a reason. His rookie year in the QMJHL saw him post 80 points in 64 games, and he’s following it up with 54 points on 31 games already. He’s going to have an impressive performance this year, dominate next and may be in the NHL the year after.