Welcome to the months of summer hockey. Instead of sitting on the beach or lounging around at your cottage, why not spend your afternoon watching groups of teenagers play in an exhibition tournament with no real awards at stake?
But if you’re a fan of prospects, it’s glory time. The World Junior Championship is another four months away, and for many fans, the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan is the first time they’ve taken time to follow the next generation of hockey talent. The tournament, used to help teams make roster decisions in advance of the main event in December, got underway over the weekend with the United States dressing two teams for split-squad matches against Finland and Sweden. Now, Canada joins the fight after finishing a mini-training camp, kicking off action against the hosts on Tuesday afternoon.
We took a look at some of the top NHL prospects taking part in the WJSS last week, so now let’s take a quick peek on some of the top 2020 NHL draft options taking part in the tournament in Plymouth. Keep in mind that all 31 players on the United States are drafted.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Canada
It’s fitting the projected No. 1 pick for the 2020 draft in Montreal happens to hail from Quebec. For those that haven’t seen him play, prepare to be dazzled. His usage was criticized during the 2019 World Junior Championship, where he scored just one goal in five games playing limited minutes. But with 24 points in 21 international games at various levels, Lafreniere knows how to perform on the world stage. It’s rare to see underaged prospects play a significant role at the world juniors, but Lafrienere’s ability to take over the game and control every aspect of a shift makes him a prime candidate to play in the top six.
Alexander Holtz, LW, Sweden
The team that gets Holtz will be getting quite the consolation prize. A true goal-scorer with great instincts around the net, Holtz has had no issue ripping goalies to shreds in international play, and it isn’t a stretch to say he was good enough for last year’s World Junior Championship, either but wasn’t invited. All he ever seems to do is produce and, paired with Lucas Raymond, Holtz will be one of the best players at the showcase for the remainder of the week. He just needs to find his groove after failing to score in the first two games.
Lucas Raymond, RW, Sweden
Raymond’s chemistry with Holtz is unmatched at the junior level, with the pair having played together internationally for over three years. But Raymond, like Holtz, has yet to find the scoresheet after two games against a split-squad American outfit, leaving many ready to see what he’s capable of at the U-20 level. Raymond is more of the playmaker between the two, but his hat-trick in the title game at the U-18 World Championship in April was one of the most memorable efforts in tournament history. Once he gets comfortable, the projected top-five pick will be lethal.
Anton Lundell, C, Finland
Lundell is a late-2001-born player, meaning he’s older than many other 2020 prospects. This isn’t his first foray into world junior preparation: he was a force in the top six at last year’s World Junior Championship, recording four points in seven games to help Finland take gold. Lundell isn’t a huge kid at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, but he plays a big, physical game and has a powerful wrist shot. Lundell has a full season of pro hockey under his belt in the Finnish Liiga and is set to return to HIFK this season, but not before becoming one of Finland’s best players at the summer showcase. It’s been clear for a few years now, but Lundell is a true contender to become a top-five pick next June.
Braden Schneider, D, Canada
Schneider is a long shot to make Canada’s final World Junior Championship roster, but he performed well enough at the U-18s a few months back to warrant a spot on the summer roster. Schneider, a projected 2020 first-round pick, missed the 2019 draft cutoff by five days, but if you watched how he played two years ago compared to now, you’ll see a player who took the extra development time in stride.
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