Another world junior tournament is in the books and it was a dandy, with Canada holding off the Russians 5-4 in the gold medal game. Next year, the holiday classic shifts over to Finland, where the host nation will hope to rebound from a sub-par outing in 2014. There was a ton of talent in Montreal and Toronto, so here’s a wrap of some players that caught my eye. As always, only prospects who have yet to play an NHL game were eligible.
Pavel Zacha, C – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
It was a tough tournament for the Czechs, who came in with high expectations after silver medal showings at the under-18s and Ivan Hlinka. But Zacha’s effort level was admirable, even if he did end the WJC with just two points in five games. With this big, young prospect, it’s all about potential and the No. 1 pick in the CHL Import Draft certainly has it: He’s big, quick and has great hands. The best part is, Zacha is focused on his ultimate goal.
“My dream was to play in Canada when I was growing up,” he said. “I want to learn the Canadian style of hockey because I want to play in the NHL and people said I should learn English, learn the culture over here.”
He’s got the English nailed down pretty well and the culture is a work in progress. For a kid whose dad cooked him special meals for training days back home in the Czech Republic, Zacha has been forced to be careful in major junior.
“I cook a lot myself because some meals, I can’t eat,” he said. “There are a lot of hot dogs over here – it’s good, but unhealthy, so I can’t afford to eat that during the season. I just make meat and rice before games.”
Playing at nearly a point-per-game pace for Sarnia, Zacha’s season has been interrupted twice due to suspensions. Once was for a slewfoot and the other for a charge, but he’s taking responsibility for his actions.
“The first one for the slewfoot, I was pissed off,” he said. “It was a stupid penalty and very bad – I watched it on video after. But it helped me; you learn from your mistakes and I will never do it again.”
With the Sting second in the division right now, things are looking up for the rebuilding squad, which has a great emerging young core. Zacha is hoping for playoffs and if he continues to grow, he’ll be a beast when it matters most. Draft eligible in 2015.
Max Domi, C – London Knights (OHL)
Not only was Domi a huge offensive asset for Team Canada, but his aggressive, pitbull mentality gave near-constant emotional boosts. Fast, talented and confident, Domi tallied 10 points in seven games. Most importantly, however, is the fact that three of those points came against Russia in the gold medal finale. Drafted 12th overall by Arizona in 2013.
Mikko Rantanen, RW – TPS Turku (Fin.)
Finland’s future looks bright and Rantanen is one of the chief reasons. The big winger is first on the forecheck, protects the puck well and has a deft shooting touch. His four goals led the Finns at the world juniors and he’s already playing against men back home in the Liiga. Draft eligible in 2015.
Alexander Dergachev, RW – SKA 1946 (Rus.)
It will always be known as “The Battle” to me. Dergachev vs. Darnell Nurse behind the Canadian net in the gold medal game, both competitors going at each other with brute strength. It was epic and impressive. Dergachev held his own despite being younger and also brings a smart game to the ice, along with his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. Draft eligible in 2015.
Gustav Forsling, D – Linkoping (SHL)
I saw a lot of Sweden and by the end of the tournament, I referred to their power play as “Just pass it to Forsling.” The offensive defenseman doesn’t have a Shea Weber cannon, but he does have a hard, accurate shot that goes where he wants it to, which was usually the back of the net. He led all WJC blueliners with three goals and eight points. Drafted 126th overall by Vancouver in 2014.
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Ehlers and Portland’s Oliver Bjorkstrand were fiendish for the Danes, helping the nascent hockey nation win its first-ever world junior game and qualify for the medal round. Ehlers brings sick puck skills and speed and the dizzying array of moves he completes is so fun to watch. Drafted ninth overall by Winnipeg in 2014.
Anton Blidh, LW – Frolunda Indians (SHL)
Riding shotgun on a line with Montreal prospect Jacob De La Rose, Blidh showed a great physical element to his game. Not only is he gritty, but he also chipped in some secondary scoring and plays the game quick. Drafted 180th overall by Boston in 2013.
Dylan Larkin, C – University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Team USA's worst game was the first elimination game, but that’s how it goes. The good news is the Americans had a young squad and Larkin, eligible to return next year, was their best player. Fast and mature, he had seven points in five games. Drafted 15th overall by Detroit in 2014.
Erik Cernak, D – Kosice (Svk.)
Cernak is still a puzzle for me, but an intriguing one. He has excellent size at 6-foot-4, 203 pounds and is already playing against men back home in Slovakia. Though he has been accused in the past of taking too many penalties, he only had two at the WJC this year while playing what seemed to be an incredible amount of ice time and often did so against the other team’s most dangerous players. Draft eligible in 2015.
David Kase, C – Khomutov (Cze.)
Listed at 5-foot-9, Kase plays bigger than that. Older brother Ondrej is an Anaheim prospect and both looked good for the Czechs in the round robin. David is very strong on faceoffs, played point on the second power play unit, kills penalties and plays a good possession game. Draft eligible in 2015.