We don't like these teams' chances of taking home a medal at the 2014 WJC, but there are still reasons to tune in when they play: each of Czechs, Swiss, Slovaks, Germans and Norwegians have prospects you could see in the NHL some day.
THN Predicted Finish: 6th
The Czechs have just four players eligible to return from last year’s squad and, unfortunately, none of them are named Tomas Hertl or Dmitrij Jaskin. But to be fair, this team is not totally bereft of talented players.
Dallas first-rounder Radek Faksa, pictured above, of the Ontario League’s Kitchener Rangers will lead the charge and will be playing in his third world juniors. Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak are both playing in Sweden this season and are also the top Czechs available for the NHL draft. Both are potential first-rounders who will add to the offensive attack, while Vrana can also play a two-way game.
In net, Marek Langhamer (Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012) of the Western League’s Medicine Hat Tigers is one of the few players on the roster besides Faksa who has been drafted.
There will also be help from the homeland in draft-eligible right winger Ondrej Kase and defenseman Jan Stencel, both of whom are playing against men in the Czech pro ranks.
THN Predicted Finish: 7th
As the Swiss have worked their way up into the middle of the WJC pack, they’ve usually been paced by at least one standout player supported by a disciplined core. This year, there will be no Nino Niederreiter, Sven Baertschi or Sven Andrighetto, though Christoph Bertschy (Minnesota, 158th overall in 2012) is a good candidate to lead the team in scoring. (UPDATE: Unfortunately for the Swiss - and for all fans who won't get the opportunity to see him play - it appears Bertschy will miss the tournament due to injury.)
San Jose first-rounder Mirco Mueller (18th in ’13) is the most talented player available and he will anchor a defense corps with some interesting pieces, including 2014 draft prospect Phil Baltisberger of the OHL’s Guelph Storm.
In net, the return of Melvin Nyffeler will be a huge boon for the team. He pushed the Russians to the brink in last year’s quarterfinal and helped Switzerland earn a crucial point against Finland in a round-robin shootout loss, stopping 52 attempts.
Now the mission will be to win a round or two in the playoff rounds – not simply to scare teams.
THN Predicted Finish: 8th
Depth is going to be a huge issue for the Slovakians in this tournament and, just like last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them tumble into the relegation round, doing just enough to stay above water for next year.
Columbus first-rounder Marko Dano (27th in ’13) is a dogged competitor with skill who piled up points at the end of last year’s tourney and will once again be the jewel in the team’s crown. Joining him up front once again will be Montreal prospect Martin Reway (116th in ’13), a diminutive yet dazzling offensive force with the Quebec League’s Gatineau Olympiques who has been soaring in his second North American season.
Big winger Peter Cehlarik (Boston, 90th in ’13) was a high riser in his draft year, while Richard Sabol will be counted on in net. He’s been hot and cold internationally and may end up the bellwether for Slovakia’s fortunes overall.
THN Predicted Finish: 9th
Simply surviving last year’s tourney and not getting relegated was an historic accomplishment for the Germans, but this year expectations will be higher.
Leading the charge will be 2014 draft prospect Leon Draisaitl of the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. A potential top-10 selection, Draisaitl is an incredibly dangerous offensive force up front. With points on Germany’s first three goals in last year’s lose-and-be-relegated tilt against Latvia, he assured his country glory in a 5-2 comeback. Quebec Leaguer Marvin Cupper was in net for that win and now knows what to expect, while Dominik Kahun (OHL Sudbury) and Frederik Tiffels (Fargo of the United States League) will contribute up front.
On the back end, OHL London’s Tim Bender was given a chance to play on an elite junior team thanks to Olli Maatta’s departure for the NHL’s Penguins and Bender will bring that savvy to his national squad. This team knows it’s going to take its lumps in the round-robin, but has the talent to avoid relegation again.
THN Predicted Finish: 10th
Like many teams that get promoted to the top tier of the world juniors, the Norwegians did so by winning their division with a lot of players now too old to reap the rewards of promotion. Their starting goalie and leading scorer from last year’s 1A bracket won’t be in Malmo, though there is some experienced talent left over.
At the top of the list is Columbus pick Markus Soberg (165th in ’13), who plays in Sweden for Frolunda. Fast, agile and gritty, Soberg has been a stalwart for the Vikings internationally. His older brother Steffen was Norway’s star netminder last time out. Also returning from last year’s under-20 team is Jorgen Karterud, a towering 6-foot-5 winger with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. He was nearly a point-per-game player before a knee injury in late October. He was expected back well in advance of the world juniors, however.
Nonetheless, the Norwegians have just six returning players eligible for the tournament and are the most likely to be relegated this year.
Check back on the 26th for previews for Canada, the United States, Russia and Sweden.