No one can say it’s been a boring tournament so far. The world juniors have featured upsets, nail-biters and still have some huge tilts on the schedule. Here’s a look at some of the players – win or lose – who have proven themselves to be ones to watch for the NHL in a couple years.
Tomas Hertl, C – Slavia Prague (Cze.)
Though he couldn’t get his team past the mighty Russians, Hertl was a force for the Czechs in the quarterfinal. Using his strength to shield the puck, he played a great possession game and showed excellent playmaking hops on the team’s only goal. Through a translator, he came out of the loss with a positive attitude.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “Hockey in Canada is very good. The atmosphere was very good and we want to thank the spectators and the fans who followed us.”
Hertl would be a great addition to a major junior team next season, but he is playing against men in his nation’s top league right now and putting up numbers, with nine goals and 15 points in his first 23 games.
“It is a difficult situation to talk about right now with my contract,” Hertl said. “I’ll go back home and play for my club until the end of the season and then we’ll see.”
Getting that older competition back home has been a boon for Hertl, who didn’t look like one of the Czech’s younger forwards.
“It’s more clever,” he said. “Every situation is not just about speed, like in the (Czech) junior league. You have to solve the situation in a more clever way.”
And Hertl seems like a fast learner. Draft eligible in 2012.
Petr Mrazek, G – Ottawa 67s (OHL)
How can I not mention Mrazek? He nearly beat the Russians with a spectacular 43-save performance and was clearly the Czechs’ emotional leader all tourney long. Big glove saves, getting up and down quickly and never giving up on a play were all part of the 67s netminder’s arsenal and the buzz around the past OHL playoff hero was deafening. Drafted 141st overall by Detroit in 2010.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
If Mrazek had a Dr. Moriarty Monday night, it was Kuznetsov (or maybe the Russian was Sherlock Holmes, trying to solve the Czech…). Russia’s captain was a constant threat, making numerous charges at the Czech net, particularly early in the game. His skill level is undeniable, but the heart Kuznetsov showed was another tick on his checklist of greatness. Drafted 26th overall by Washington in 2010.
Jacob Trouba, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
So yeah, the Americans fell apart. But it wasn’t all bad news. Trouba established himself as one of the best blueliners on the team, particularly against Canada where he earned U.S. player of the game honors. Big, quick and fearless, Trouba makes good decisions and doesn’t mind throwing his weight around. He recently committed to the University of Michigan, though Kitchener has his major junior rights. Draft eligible in 2012.
Andrei Vasilevski, G – Tolpar Ufa (Rus.)
Matching Mrazek save for save in the quarterfinal, Vasilevski showed off a serious glove hand against the Czechs and repelled his opponents numerous times when the Russian defense slipped up. And that happened often. Vasilevski led the tournament with a blistering .969 save percentage heading into his showdown with Canada, while his 1.23 goals-against average was second to the Canucks’ Scott Wedgewood, among starters. Draft eligible in 2012.
Marko Dano, RW – Dukla Trencin (Svk.)
A late 1994 birthday, Dano is one of the youngest players in the tournament, but he didn’t play like it. Feisty, physical and confident, he threw big hits and made sound plays against the Finns in a quarterfinal loss. With the game getting out of hand, he earned more offensive opportunities, but even before that he was trusted with penalty kill duties and saw power play time as well. In a supporting role, he tallied three points in five games, including a goal against Finland. Draft eligible in 2013.
Ryan Murray, D – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
When both Scott Harrington and Nathan Beaulieu got banged up against the Americans, Murray was one of the Canadian D-men to shoulder the load. His excellent shutdown play has made him quite valuable in the tournament and almost makes you forget that he made his name on skating and two-way skill. Wrap that into a package and it’s no surprise he’ll be the top blueliner taken this summer. Draft eligible in 2012.
Markus Granlund, C – HIFK (Fin.)
Older brother Mikael gets most of the press, so how about some love for Markus, who brings much of the same skill in a slightly smaller frame? The younger Granlund sniped some sick goals against the Slovaks, connecting with his brother on several opportunities. The hockey sense and scintillating shot make him a winner. Drafted 45th overall by Calgary in 2011.
Joonas Donskoi, LW – Karpat Oulu (Fin.)
Playing the point on Finland’s power play, Donskoi unleashed his rocket shot, scoring on one such strike. He’s been a point-per-gamer at the world juniors and one of the players Finland will need to contribute if they are to medal. Drafted 99th overall by Florida in 2010.
Nikita Gusev, LW – CSKA (Rus.)
One of the unknowns to many North Americans, Gusev has already left his stamp on the world juniors, pacing the Russians in scoring and playing on a big line with Kuznetsov and Nikita Kucherov. Though undersized at 5-foot-9, 154 pounds, he has played for CSKA’s KHL team and its junior MHL squad this season. Passed over twice in the draft, it won’t likely happen again. Draft eligible in 2012 (undrafted in 2011).
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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