World Juniors 2020: Top five storylines to watch

first_imgJubilant on-ice celebrations only a few feet away from the disappointed and dejected. The thrill of success and the agony of underachievement. Cinderella stories, overtimes heroics, last-minute suspense and unheralded teenagers going from hero to zero and back to hero — all against the backdrop of national pride.These have become the shared experiences for the millions of viewers worldwide who take in the IIHF World Junior Championship that starts every Dec. 26. This year’s tournament in the Czech Republic shouldn’t be any different as support for junior-age hockey transitions from casual and tame to obsessive and fervent. Not only will the cream of NHL prospect pools be participating but the field is more wide open than in year’s past. With the 2020 edition just around the corner, Sporting News gives you five good reasons to pay attention to this year’s games.Top Storylines for 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship1. Group BOn the surface, it looks like the IIHF purposely stacked Group B with nothing but powerhouses; but remember, the groupings are derived from the previous year’s standings and last year the Canadians and Czechs were bumped to sixth and seventh, respectively, after Switzerland’s upset of Sweden in the quarterfinals. Therefore, the usually lower-seeded Swiss squad has moved to Group A which adds an extra superpower to Group B. Additionally, by sheer coincidence, the Germans — the lowest-ranked team in this year’s tournament — will ice a lineup featuring three potentially high 2020 draft picks and two former first rounders: Moritz Seider and Dominik Bokk.World Juniors 2020: Time, TV channel, livestream, where, when, scheduleTo put it bluntly, every matchup in Group B will be a bitter struggle for supremacy, and there is a significant chance that in the end, a traditional WJC power will be forced to the relegation round. It will also be interesting to see how the expected high 2020 draft picks, and run-and-gun attacks, fare against the tournament’s three premier goalies — Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov, Team USA’s Spencer Knight and Lukas Dostal of the host Czech Republic.Group AGroup BFinlandUnited StatesSwitzerlandRussiaSwedenCanadaSlovakiaCzech RepublicKazakhstanGermany2. 2020 draft prospects aplentyA good way to judge the strength of a draft class is to see how many prospects in their first year of eligibility are invited by their respective nations to participate in a tournament where they could be up to two years younger than the majority of participants. This year, you should expect to see 15 to 25 first-year eligibles suiting up for action at the world juniors.Team USA has opted to exclude any late-2001 or 2002-born players while Canada is bringing four: Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Dawson Mercer and Jamie Drysdale. That represents the most draft-year prospects to don the Maple Leaf at the world juniors since 2008 — when Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn and Zach Boychuk helped bring home a gold medal before being drafted in the first round in June.Sporting News has Lafreniere and Byfield ranked as the top two prospects for June, and Drysdale should be the top defenseman to be called, but there are several other draft hopefuls with star potential who are expected to play key roles for their respective nations. Sweden has a pair of outstanding prospects in wingers Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond, and explosive German forward Tim Stutzle is so dynamic, some feel he might actually leapfrog both of them into the top three on draft night.Russia is banking its medal hopes on 17-year-old netminder Askarov, who steered them to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and could be the first goalie drafted in the top five since Carey Price in 2005. Another potential first-round caliber participant is excitable Czech forward Jan Mysak.WJC 2020: Dustin Wolf | Dylan Cozens | Alexis Lafreniere3. Is this Russia’s year?Russia has always been considered a hockey superpower but the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 effectively ended its dominance at the world juniors. Since winning eight gold medals and three silvers between 1977 and 1991, the Russians have won only five golds, with the last coming in 2011. To their credit, the Russians usually come away with a significant consolation prize, capturing silver or bronze in seven of the last eight tourneys.This Russian team, made up of players born between the years 2000 and 2002, has been successful in international competition; something that was evident in their suffocating style against all three Canadian major junior leagues — without Askarov — in each of the last two U20 Super Series. Winning gold at the world juniors is never easy, but Russia’s strength in net, along with a physical and mobile defense and two lethal scoring lines, should make them slight favorites to win Group B and ultimately the tournament.4. The Germans are ComingThe Germans earned the right to participate in this year’s tournament by winning the Division 1A World Championship a year ago; however, the reward is being placed in one of the toughest groups in recent history.Germany will arrive in the Czech Republic with one of the best rosters they’ve ever assembled for a junior tournament. They’ll lean on Stutzle to carry the offense, along with Bokk and wingers J.J. Peterka and Lukas Reichel. Bokk, selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Blues and now a Carolina Hurricanes prospect, is more of a goal scorer while Peterka and Reichel have been productive as teenage dual threats in Germany’s elite league. The German will also be solid defensively led by Seider, the Detroit Red Wings 2019 sixth-overall pick.The 2010s: Crosby named NHL Athlete of the Decade | NHL All-Decade Team5. Canada’s Power PlayIt always seems like a national day of mourning in Canada when the country fails to medal, which has been the case in four of the last seven tournaments. While having some of its best under-20 players locked in as NHL regulars seems like a popular excuse, the truth is the failure of the power play — especially last year — has had a profound impact on Canada’s ability to medal with consistency. But the CHL is loaded with skilled players capable of delivering, so the NHL excuse can only go so far. MORE: How to watch Canada’s games in the 2020 tournamentA quick glance at the roster for this year’s tournament, however, makes it clear that Hockey Canada has identified power-play ineffectiveness as a serious concern. Five of the seven defensemen — Ty Smith, Calen Addison, Bowen Byram, Drysdale and Jacob Bernard-Docker — are offensive-minded quarterbacks with playmaking capabilities while every forward, including neophytes like Lafreniere and Byfield, are capable of running a lethal man advantage.The up-tempo and aggressive style the Canadians employ always leads to a high number of power-play opportunities in their favor, especially with whistle-happy IIHF referees. However, if they want to survive Group B, let alone come home with a medal, the power play must succeed.last_img