The 2009 World Junior Championship gets underway today with 4 games, unfortunately not all are televised and those that are may or may not be available to YOU depending on where you live. I know the USA games are being carried by the NHL Network south of the border but up here at the same time we get to watch documetaries instead of actual games. Go figure.
Anyway, I decided to throw together a list of players who I have an interest in following in this year's tournament. Some on the list will be players you've heard of, some won't be. I've seen several lists from the mainstream media this week proclaiming John Tavares and Victor Hedman as "players of note" to which I say "Um... gee, thanks?"
Dean and I were proclaiming those two as players to watch LAST YEAR. It doesn't take a genius to point out that the top two rated players for 2009 are "players of note".
With that said, here's who I'm watching for this year.
Andrej Nestrasil (CZE) - He's playing in Victoriaville (QMJHL) and leads his team in scoring with 30 points in 36 games. He's only got 10 goals so far but still, he's a 6'2 195 lb 17-year-old that is enjoying a lot of success in North America already. Central Scouting and ISS consider him one of the top 2 or 3 draft eligible players from the Q but I haven't seen anyone listing him in the top 20 yet... and I'm wondering why not.
Tomas Vincour (CZE) - I see him a lot here in Edmonton but like Robin Figren last year, the Oil Kings aren't exactly top heavy when it comes to skill. I want to see what Vincour does when he's surrounded by it at the WJC. He was considered a first rounder in the summer but now seems to be appearing in the second round on most lists I've seen. A strong tournament might turn that around for him. (photo courtesy Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)
Juha Metsola (FIN) - Frankly I'm surprised that he's not property of a NHL team already and that he was passed over twice in the NHL draft. I can understand it in his draft year because he barely played but last year he was very good for Lethbridge especially in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. He's not big but he's capable of making those spectacular athletic saves like he did against Canada in their exhibition tune up game last week. (not sure if this link will work but try here).
Harri Sateri (FIN) - If Metsola doesn't start then I assume that job will fall to the San Jose Sharks prospect. Sateri is the anti-Metsola... much bigger and more of the stereotypical technical goalie. For some reason he dropped all the way to the 4th round last year. Maybe there is a reason or maybe it was good fortune for San Jose?
Teemu Hartikainen (FIN) - "Poor man's Thomas Holmstrom", that's how Oiler scouts described him to me after the draft. That's setting the bar pretty high though so it will be interesting to see if that comparison makes any sense after watching Hartikainen play with the best in the world in his age group. He's having a decent year in the top finnish league though.
Vitaly Karamnov (RUS) - He was considered a 1st round talent in 2007 but was passed over by NHL teams because he apparently had no interest in playing in North America. Oddly enough, two months later he was skating for the Everett Silvertips. Karamnov didn't get drafted again though in 2008, one NHL exec told me that "there was no progress in his development" during his WHL season. Karamnov went back to Russia and is now playing a small role with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL. (photo courtesy Everett Silvertips)
Sweden (SWE) - Honestly... with so many 2009 eligible players on the team as well as already drafted guys like Jacob Markstrom, Erik Karlsson and Mikael Backlund to check out, Sweden's games will be Must-See-TV.
Danny Kristo (USA) - He's the second youngest American in the tournament (and Schroeder is an obvious viewing target too) but his play at the 2008 WJAC in Camrose has me wanting to see Kristo on this bigger stage. He's already drafted (MTL, 2nd Round in 2008) and will head to North Dakota next year but, like with Vincour, I want to see him perform when he's surrounded by players who are as good or better than him.
The rest of the USA squad and Canadian team are packed full of intriguing players but most of them have already received the appropriate level of hype so I'll pass on adding to it.
One thing Dean pointed out to me about the USA team that I find really interesting: When was the last time that both goalies and the team captain were CHL players? With Thomas McCollum (Guelph) and Josh Unice (Kitchener) in net and Jonathon Blum (Vancouver) wearing the C... it's hard to make an argument this year that CHL players were victims of conspiracy. There are a total of 8 CHL players on the team compared to one NCAA player on the Canadian side (Cody Goloubef).
Goalies I'm watching for: Metsola/Sateri (FIN), Timo Pielmeier (GER), Jacob Markstrom (SWE). The team that wins the gold usually receives the best goaltending but although I've predicted Canada to place on top and I'm on record saying Dustin Tokarski and Chet Pickard
are stellar goalies... I won't be suprised if one of the above gets some press over the next few weeks.