We're down to the final four at the world juniors here in Montreal and the usual suspects are all present and accounted for. Sweden, Russia, Canada and the United States will battle for medals and we've already seen some excellent performances. So here's a caveat for this week's round-up of top prospects: I'm not going to mention anyone I've already featured on the web site recently. So if you need a Nico Hischier fix, or wonder why Jordan Greenway didn't get any props, that's why. With that in mind, let's get to the kids making waves in Montreal.
Elias Pettersson, C – Timra (Swe.): He's been snakebitten throughout the tournament, but Canada better hope Pettersson doesn't find his luck in the semifinal, because the kid has looked very dangerous. One of the top European prospects for the 2017 draft, Pettersson is very smart and very talented. He's part of a deadly Swedish forward syndicate and if he gets hot, watch out.
"Everybody can score goals on our team," he said. "I create many chances but haven't scored yet. I hope my goals come later in the tournament."
It's hard to picture Pettersson not coming through, since back home he's the leading scorer on his team. Timra plays in Sweden's second-best circuit, the Allsvenskan, and has relied on Pettersson's point-per-game pace to stay competitive. The team's second-highest scorer is Ottawa prospect Jonathan Dahlen, another world junior squad member.
“He’s my best friend in Timra, so to play with him in this tournament is great," Pettersson said. "Also, Jens Looke (Arizona) is my best mate in Timra and he is here too.”
Listed at 6-foot-1 and just 157 pounds, it's pretty obvious that Pettersson will need to bulk up as he grows, but that's an easy chore with time. He's probably closer to 6-foot-2, just like his older brother Emil, who was drafted by Nashville and now plays in the SHL.
"I always looked up to him and learned from him every day," Pettersson said. "And he learned from me. It has made a big difference for me to have a brother in the SHL."
And while Emil was a late-round pick, Elias will most likely go in the top-31. He's definitely got the drive and he's definitely got the skill – now the question is how quickly he can make an impact.
In the Pipeline
Alex Nylander, LW (Buffalo): We expected a big impact from Nylander and he has delivered for Sweden. The dynamic winger leads the tournament in scoring with 11 points in five games, using his amazing hands and creativity to do damage.
Matt Barzal, C (NY Isles): Barzal's ability to hang on to the puck and elude checkers in the offensive zone has been a sight to see. The Canadian pivot has seven points in five games, second on his squad to power play buddy Dylan Strome.
Joseph Woll, G (Toronto): The Americans have platooned in net, but Woll got the biggest win when he shut down Canada at the ACC – the rink he hopes to play in one day as a member of the Leafs. The big and calm Boston College freshman leads the WJC in goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.935), surrendering just one even-strength goal in two games.
Yakov Trenin, C (Nashville): Since Ken Campbell already covered Kirill Kaprizov, let's give some love for the big guy. Trenin has been a two-way force for the Russians, popping in four points in five games, but also leading the tourney in faceoff acumen with a 69.7 percent win rate. I thought he was one of their best players against Team USA in the round robin.
Jonas Siegenthaler, D (Washington): We all love Nico, but Siegenthaler was important to the Swiss as well. The big blueliner pumped in six points in five games while also providing huge minutes for his squad (he played more than 27 minutes in the quarterfinal loss to the Americans).
Kale Clague, D (Los Angeles): With Philippe Myers injured, Canada needed someone to step up on defense and Clague filled the void. He was second in ice time to Thomas Chabot against the Czechs while chipping in two assists. Most importantly, Clague made a lot of smart, simple plays with the puck.
2017 Draft Stars
Martin Necas, C – Kometo Brno (Cze.): Taking on a meaty role with the Czechs in his draft year, Necas showed off his excellent wheels in the tournament, but also a great competitive side. When he doesn't have the puck, he's chasing it down. The youngster had three points in five games, tying him for second-best on the squad.
Renars Krastenbergs, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL): Latvia is quickly developing a program reputation of feistiness and Krastenbergs was a great flag-bearer in that sense. Quick, hard-working and physical, he also showed some nice skill in the tournament and it will be interesting to see where he goes this summer in the draft.
Miro Heiskanen, D – HIFK (Fin.): Not much has gone right for the Finns in this tournament, but the future is indeed bright. They were young this year, but that means players like Heiskanen will return with experience next time. Heiskanen, who plays big minutes against men back home in the Liiga, makes great plays with the puck and has nice mobility.
2018 Draft Star
Jakub Skarek, G – Sparta Prague (Cze.): The final result may have been a Canadian win, but Skarek was excellent for the Czechs in the quarterfinal – amazing to think he's a late 1999 birthday. But pressure is nothing new for the big, poised kid, who has already played against men back home and thrived. The 6-foot-3 stopper also helped the Czechs to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tourney this summer, so he'll be heavily scouted from here on out.