25 Players to Watch at the 2019 WJC

The 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship is set to begin on Dec. 26th, 2018, and it appears as though the annual tournament will once again be flooded with prospects of significant promise and potential.

Related: NHL Draft Rankings

Leading the way this time around — arguably — will be teams representing Europe, and in particular the likes of Team Finland and Team Sweden. Loaded with a whack of tantalizing prospects eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft as well as those who already hold NHL rights, both Finland and Sweden will make legitimate pushes for this year’s championship given their exceptional team depth and elite skill.

Team Canada defeated Team Russia 5-4 to capture the 2015 World Junior Championship on Monday January 5, 2015 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON. Photo by Terry Wilson / CHL Images.
Team Canada and its fans captured the 2018 WJC, however, a repeat in 2019 will prove to be a significant challenge. (Terry Wilson/CHL Images)

However, this year’s representative’s from North America can not be counted out, as both Team Canada and Team USA will once again present a significant if not overwhelming challenge for their opposition. Although Team Canada does not feature the high-end skill which the nation has become accustomed to, the country poses a threat given its depth alone. Moreover, there is Team USA — a team riddled with exceptional young players and depth at every position of the ice, not to mention potential first overall selection Jack Hughes.

Related: NHL Draft Prospect Profiles

Now, while it is widely known which particular teams will legitimately compete at the 2019 WJC, let’s take a moment to meet a handful of each team’s top young players. In fact, let’s analyze 25 of the top prospects competing within the 2019 WJC as well as a crop of others who carry storylines of significant interest into this year’s tournament.

Team Canada

Cody Glass

2018-19 Team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by VGK, 6th Overall in 2017

Canada has long been known as a lethal offensive force, and if the nation wishes to continue this tradition they’ll need to rely heavily on the contributions of Cody Glass. A first-round choice of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Draft, Glass has become a consistent contributor for the Winterhawks and carried the highest point-per-game rate of any WHL player with him into the 2019 WJC.

Alexis Lafreniere

2018-19 Team: Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

NHL Status: 2020 NHL Draft Eligible

The expectations surrounding Alexis Lafreniere have hit a new high, as the budding superstar hailing from Quebec stands poised to represent Team Canada despite his young age of just 17-years. However, his place within his nation’s roster is well deserved, as the 2020 NHL Draft eligible winger blasted home 42 goals and 80 points in his rookie season in the QMJHL last season and is once again on a tear in 2018-19.

Brett Leason

2018-19 Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Although he has been passed over in each of the past two NHL Drafts, Brett Leason has continued to work tirelessly to improve his game — a level of dedication which has paid off. With a whopping 28 goals and 64 points in-hand following his initial 31 games played with the Prince Albert Raiders this campaign, Leason has quickly established himself as a potent offensive force capable of competing against stern competition on a nightly basis.

Team Czech Republic

Hugo Has

2018-19 Team: Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Size and strength are the names of the game for defenceman Hugo Has, who weighs in at 190-pounds while standing an intimidating 6-foot-4 in height. A strong two-way defender who plays a responsible style of game, Has can be counted upon in all situations and features a powerful shot from the point. Skating for Tappara U20 within the Jr. A SM-liiga for the majority of this season, Has’ punishing play and offensive upside will make him difficult to contain on Team Czech Republic’s blue line throughout the 2019 WJC.

Jakub Skarek

2018-19 Team: Pelicans (Liiga)

NHL Status: Drafted NYI, 72nd Overall in 2018

Although his personal statistics weren’t stellar in the 2018 WJC, goaltender Jakub Skarek has dominated the Liiga thus far this season for the Pelicans and is red-hot ahead of this year’s tournament. Carrying a 2.02 GAA and .921% SVP in Liiga play this year, Skarek’s athletic style and competitive nature will be crucial to Team Czech Republic if they wish to ensure substantial success in this year’s event. A third-round choice of the New York Islanders in the 2018 NHL Draft, Team Czech Republic may only go as far as Skarek can take them.

Filip Zadina

2018-19 Team: Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by DET, 6th Overall in 2018

The Detroit Red Wings were thrilled when Filip Zadina fell to sixth-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, and Team Czech Republic will be equally excited to have the natural sniper in their lineup come the 2019 WJC. Off to a fairly impressive start to his professional career in North America, Zadina has potted eight goals and 17 points with Grand Rapids at the AHL-level so far this season, and will be a driving force behind Team Czech Republic’s offence this tournament.

Team Denmark

Jonas Rondbjerg

2018-19 Team: Vaxjo Lakers HC (SHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by VGK, 65th Overall in 2017

Although he is off to somewhat of a slow start in his third SHL campaign, Jonas Rondbjerg is a highly talented winger who will surely stand as a fixture within Team Denmark’s offence. A speedy winger who plays with purpose and determination, Rondbjerg is as competitive as they come and doesn’t shy away from physical play given his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. After recording seven points in six games during the 2018 WJC, expect Rondbjerg’s production to increase dramatically this time around given his greater strength and experience.

Mads Sogaard

2018-19 Team: Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Despite cracking Team Denmark’s roster for the 2018 WJC, Mads Sogaard failed to appear in a game over the course of the tournament. However, in 2019, such will surely not be the case — Sogaard has since established himself as not only a premier goaltender in the WHL but one of the best netminders eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft as well. Of jaw-dropping size given his 6-foot-7 frame, Sogaard commands the crease and affords opposing shooters with very little opportunity to bulge the twine. If Team Denmark wishes to impress this tournament, Sogaard will have to play a critical role.

Team Finland

Kaapo Kakko

2018-19 Team: TPS (Liiga)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Widely regarded as one of the most dynamic offensive players eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, Kaapo Kakko is an excellent playmaker who also features a terrific shot. Standing 6-foot-1 and 185-pounds, Kakko boasts solid size and the ability to elude opposing defenders at will. Come the 2019 WJC, Kakko will undoubtedly play a starring role for Team Finland and their remarkably deep offence. In fact, a strong showing for Kakko could allow him to challenge Jack Hughes for first overall come the NHL Draft.

Anton Lundell

2018-19 Team: HIFK (Liiga)

NHL Status: 2020 NHL Draft Eligible

Given his late birthdate in the year of 2001, Anton Lundell isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020 — a reality which makes him one of the youngest players competing in the 2019 WJC. However, Lundell’s age hasn’t stopped him from dominating his competition with impressive consistency, as the 17-year-old has already recorded 10 points in 20 games played for HIFK in the Liiga this season — the top professional league in Finland. Although he likely won’t garner a great deal of ice time during the 2019 WJC, Lundell’s presence alone is immensely impressive and indicative of his future potential.

Eeli Tolvanen

2018-19 Team: Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by NASH, 30th Overall in 2017

Eeli Tolvanen is — arguably — the best player competing in the 2019 WJC. In 2017-18 alone, Tolvanen competed at the WJC, the World Championship, and the Olympic Games for Finland and enjoyed an impressive amount of success in the process. Defined by his lethal shot and poise with the puck, Tolvanen’s ability to read and react to plays as they develop allows him to navigate the ice with composure and purpose. Rarely forced into committing turnovers and as consistent as they come, expect to see Tolvanen’s name amongst the tournament’s scoring leaders come the WJC’s conclusion.

Team Kazakhstan

Valeri Orekhov

2018-19 Team: Barys Astana (KHL)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

After appearing in 36 games at the KHL-level in 2017-18, Valeri Orekhov has returned to Barys Astana in 2018-19 as a far more complete player. Capable of defending his zone with poise and strength, Orekhov can transition the puck to his teammates with confidence and features a growing offensive game to boot. Come the 2019 WJC, Team Kazakhstan will need to lean heavily on Orekhov and his defensive abilities in particular if they wish to negate the plays devised by their opposition and avoid relegation in the process.

Team Russia

Grigori Denisenko

2018-19 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by FLA, 18th Overall in 2018

Team Russia has long been known for its high-powered offence, and the nation will receive a significant boost come the 2019 WJC owing to the inclusion of Grigori Denisenko. A high-energy player who competes hard every shift, Denisenko is natural offensive player who can shoot and pass the puck with significant lethality. Immensely creative and fuelled by his team’s success, Denisenko’s presence within Team Russia’s roster will afford the nation much greater skill and depth within its offensive attack.

Vitali Kravtsov

2018-19 Team: Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by NYR, 9th Overall in 2018

The New York Rangers surprised the hockey world when they selected Vitali Kravtsov with the ninth-overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. However, in hindsight, it appears as though the Rangers knew exactly what they were getting in Kravtsov — a powerful offensive machine who plays with grit as well as elite-level skill. In possession of a booming shot and stellar vision, Kravtsov can seemingly do it all on the ice and is a remarkably consistent two-way threat. Come the 2019 WJC, Team Russia will be receiving a terrific player in Kravtsov, and one who should be able to contribute to the nation’s success in a variety of situations.

Vasili Podkolzin

2018-19 Team: SKA 1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Although it wasn’t immediately clear as to whether or not Vasili Podkolzin would be able to crack Team Russia’s roster, the budding young star has in fact earned his place within his nation’s team and stands poised to impress. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing over 190-pounds, Podkolzin features a bulldog mentality alongside his elite puck-handling skills and the unique ability to improve the play of his teammates in the process. Sure, he may only be 17-years-of-age, however, Podkolzin owns maturity beyond his years and the ability to compete against and dominate his competition regardless of their personal advantages.

Team Slovakia

Martin Fehervary

2018-19 Team: HV71 (SHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by WASH, 46th Overall in 2018

Martin Fehervary is a strong and poised defender, and one who will undoubtedly come to play a crucial role for Team Slovakia at the 2019 WJC. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 200-pounds, Fehervary is a strong defender who can use his size to dismantle plays devised by his opposition before transitioning the puck to his forwards. Although his offensive game remains a work in progress, Fehervary’s consistent play in his own zone will add an additional layer of stability to Team Slovakia’s defence-core.

Adam Ruzicka

2018-19 Team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by CAL, 109th Overall in 2017

If Team Slovakia wishes to surprise a number of their opponents throughout the 2019 WJC, they’ll need to receive significant offensive contributions from their best offensive players — one of which being Adam Ruzicka. Set to compete in the annual WJC for a third time, Ruzicka’s experience and potential production for Team Slovakia will surely prove critical to his nation’s resulting success or demise. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing well over 200-pounds, Ruzicka’s size and offensive abilities must come to bear if Slovakia hopes to challenge for a place on the podium.

Team Sweden

Adam Boqvist

2018-19 Team: London Knights (OHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by CHI, 8th Overall in 2018

The Chicago Blackhawks may have stolen an elite defenceman in the 2018 NHL Draft, nabbing Adam Boqvist with the eighth-overall selection in the event. Currently dominating the OHL at-will as a member of the London Knights, Boqvist stands poised to bring his exceptional offensive game and two-way play to Team Sweden throughout the 2019 WJC. A fluid yet direct skater of impressive agility, Boqvist can man the opposing blue line with poise and generate an overwhelming amount of offence in the process. Of solid size given his 6-foot, 185-pound frame, expect Boqvist to become a dominant player for Team Sweden throughout the 2019 WJC.

Philip Broberg

2018-19 Team: AIK (Allsvenskan)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

At 17-years-of-age, Phillip Broberg is one of the youngest defenders competing in the 2019 WJC — however, he is also one of the tournament’s most highly skilled and competent players. Boasting maturity beyond his years, Broberg is an exceptional skater who can command the pace of play while feeding the puck to his forwards in order to generate offensive opportunities. Set to skate in his first WJC with Sweden in 2019, Broberg could very well inflate his stock ahead of the NHL Draft if able to compete with consistency and productivity.

Filip Hallander

2018-19 Team: Timra IK (SHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by PIT, 58th Overall in 2018

Team Sweden will boast excellent depth throughout its entire lineup come the 2019 WJC, and a major component of the nation’s offence will undoubtedly be Filip Hallander. A second-round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2018 NHL Draft, Hallander is a competitive two-way forward who can dominate his opposition in all three zones of the ice. In possession of a deadly shot as well as superb on-ice vision, Hallander can best opposing defenders and goaltenders with relative ease and is fairly consistent in his ability to do so.

Team Switzerland

Nico Gross

2018-19 Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)

NHL Status: Drafted by NYR, 101st Overall in 2018

Nico Gross is a sturdy stay-at-home defender known for his competitive edge and feisty nature. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing well over 190-pounds, Gross is a stabilizing force on the blue line who has quietly put together two solid seasons of play for the Oshawa Generals at the OHL-level. Although his offensive game continues to grow, Gross’ ability to log major minutes in a variety of situations makes him a defender of incredible value — and one whose presence will be crucial to Team Switzerland’s defensive play throughout the 2019 WJC.

Valentin Nussbaumer

2018-19 Team: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

A shifty and dynamic offensive player who can pass the puck as well as shoot it, Valentin Nussbaumer could very well become a critical cog within Team Switzerland’s offensive attack during the 2019 WJC. Although he lacks substantial strength given his 170-pound frame, Nussbaumer is of an elusive nature and has the ability to best opposing defenders in one-on-one situations. Currently skating for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes following his fourth-overall selection in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, Nussbaumer could become an intimidating offensive player for Switzerland if able to elude the punishing checks of his opposition.

Team USA

Jack Hughes

2018-19 Team: U.S. National Development Team U18

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

The consensus top prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft, Jack Hughes is set to play a prominent role for USA as a 17-year-old, likely to centre the team’s top line between Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom. Entering the season surrounded by hype and expectations, Hughes has not disappointed thus far, leading the U18 team with 10 goals and 48 points through just 25 games played. A dynamic skater, Hughes displays his intelligence at both ends of the rink and can read the game as well as anyone. Playing a confident and poised style with the game, Hughes often distributes the puck across the width of the ice to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Spencer Knight

2018-19 Team: U.S. National Development Team U18

NHL Status: 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Arguably the top goaltender available for the 2019 NHL Draft, Spencer Knight will have the rare chance to compete in the World Juniors as a 17-year-old. Since his time at Avon Old Farms School, Knight has drawn praise for his composed style of play in which he controls rebounds and displays powerful lateral movements while maintaining a calm demeanour. Now, he stands the chance to significantly boost his draft stock should he be able to earn a couple of games between the pipes for Team USA. The Boston College commit is the youngest of three American goaltenders, alongside Cayden Primeau and Kyle Keyser — both 1999-born prospects.

K’Andre Miller

2018-19 Team: University of Wisconsin

NHL Status: Drafted by NYR, 22nd overall in 2018

K’Andre Miller is enjoying a tremendous start to his NCAA career at Wisconsin, leading his team in scoring mid-way through the campaign, as well as all U19 players in the country. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 198-pounds, Miller is an intimidating presence along the blue line who plays a very mature game. A productive two-way player, he is a smooth skater who eliminates time and space from his opponents while quickly moving the puck up ice either via a strong, tape-to-tape pass, or by skating the puck through the neutral zone himself. At this year’s World Juniors, Miller will have an opportunity to showcase his game against older, stronger, and more skilled competition.

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