OSTRAVA, Czech Republic (NEWS 1130) – It’s an annual Boxing Day tradition at this time of the year as Canadians from coast to coast gather to watch the World Junior Hockey Championship and there are hopes Canada will improve on last year’s disappointing result.
Chris Wahl with Sportsnet 650 says Canada is always one of the favourites at this event. “And with five returnees from last year’s World Juniors here in BC, there’s no doubt there will be a bit of a chip on their shoulders after being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Finland last year.”
Exhibition play is underway and Canada will take on an old foe during the team’s first game on Dec. 26. “Usually at this event the first couple of games are pretty lopsided, but that’s not going to happen for Canada this year. They get thrown right into the fire to face the United States. It’s a pretty safe bet the Americans are Canada’s biggest rival now entering the tournament.”
As is always the case with these tournaments, NHL scouts are paying close attention. “There are four Canucks prospects in this tournament, none for Canada unfortunately, but no doubt this event is also a big chance for prospects to shine on the world stage. One player to watch on the Canadian team is Alexis Lafrenière, the forward from Quebec, could be the first overall pick in the NHL draft next year.”
Canucks prospects to watch
- Vasili Podkolzin: Vancouver is loaded with young talent at this year’s tournament and Podkolzin will be one of the most intriguing names to watch. The Canucks took him with the 10th overall pick at the 2019 draft and the right winger has played in three leagues so far this season. He’s been scoreless in 14 games with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, but after a bronze at last year’s tournament, the Russian will be eager for more in 2020.
- Nils Hoglander: Unlike some other of his young Swedish teammates at the world juniors, Hoglander – Vancouver’s 2019 second rounder – has been producing at the SHL level this year. The gritty left winger has six goals and three assists in 19 games to go along with 27 penalty minutes. Could Canucks fans see his physical element at this event?
- Toni Utunen: Another returning member of Finland’s gold medal team, Utunen has a lot of experience playing against older players in Liiga for parts of the last four seasons. He’s already matched his career-high in points (three) through 16 games, so there’s signs he may be adjusting to his game.
- Karel Plasek: The right-winger hasn’t put up crazy scoring totals at any of his previous levels. However, he’s got one goal and four assists in six games so far this season with the Czech’s under-20 team.
Puck drop on Boxing Day is at 10 a.m. PT and the tournament wraps up on Jan. 5.