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IIHF Worlds 2019: 5 Prospects To Watch

Some of the best prospects are gathered in Slovakia to play in the World Hockey Championships. But who should you really look out for?

On Friday, May 10th at 10:15 A.M. the World Championships start.  Canada takes on Finland in Košice, while Russia takes on Norway in Bratislava.

Some of the best players in the world are present for these first two games. A few of those names are the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares and Finnish superstar Kaapo Kakko. Kakko, especially, is interesting since he is one of many prospects in this tournament who are wanting to prove themselves on the big stage. Here are some of the best that will be playing in the World Championships. 

 

1: The Hughes Brothers

Jack and Quinn Hughes playing together is probably one of the most exciting things to watch doing the Worlds. The chance to watch them play together is an amazing storyline to follow as they try to help the US win their first gold medal in almost 60 years!

Jack Hughes, however, is the more interesting of the two brothers. My apologies to Quinn, but having a potential first-overall pick play in the Worlds has to take the cake when it comes top prospects. Jack notched 112 points in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP) and 48 points in 24 games in the United States Hockey League. Having a point of game is fantastic but two per game? Over an entire year? That should not be possible to do but Jack Hughes is doing it. He worst preformance came in the World Juniors, where to be honest did fairly well, but failed to grab a single goal as the US went on to lose in the final.

From what I’ve gathered, it looks like he will be playing with James Van Riemsdyk and Alex DeBrincat on the third line. If you ask me that’s a scary third line for all teams to face. Van Riemsdyk has always been good at winning net battles and if Jack can find him or get a shot through, the point potential is there. DeBrincat’s speed gives him a great outlet in the form of the breakouts as well as a nice option on offence to allow him space to get open. Especially if DeBrincat is as prolific as he was at last years Worlds.

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2: Kaapo Kakko

The Finnish wonderkid has to be the driving force for Finland if thay want to go anywhere in this year’s Worlds. Finland lacks a lot on paper with only two NHLers on the roster in the form of Juho Lammikko and Henri Jokiharju. Outside these two, its mostly players from the Liiga and SHL.

Although, one of those is Kakko and he will have to prove vital for Finland. In the friendlies leading up to the Worlds he has been the driving force of the offense and this will have to continue in the preliminaries for them to make it out the group. He will be given a lot of responsibility and if he can excel like he did at the Juniors, some might look to the 18-year-old as the number one pick at the National Hockey League Entry draft in June. 

During the Worlds, he will get first-line minutes and compared to the rest of the prospects, he will get more exposure. Something that makes watching Finland play a lot more exciting and should prove a good way to scout him before the draft. He will be playing against some of the best NHLers and on Friday, he will start with a baptism of fire vs. John Tavares and Canada.

 

3: Kirill Kaprizov

The savior of Minnesota, Olympic gold medalist, The Russian Crosby. Kirill Kaprizov has been described many ways. The last one I might have made up, but its not without reason, since he was the overtime hero of the 2018 Olympics for Russia (technically Olympic Athletes from Russia). The same as Sidney Crosby was for Canada in 2010.

Since that moment he hasn’t looked back, and his career in the Kontinental Hockey League has made him a staple on a very strong Russian team. He amassed 51 regular season points and 14 more in the playoffs (where he played on the fourth line for some of it), which speaks volume to his talent.

During the preseason Kaprizov has played with none other than Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. A line that torched the Czech Republic doing one of the pre-tournament games, combining for 11 points. Therefore, it’s hard to see this line split up during the Worlds so watch for Kaprizov to benefit greatly from this. Both in terms of assists but also with goals of his own. Personally, I would be stunned if he isn’t the top scorer at the end of the tournament with those line mates and his raw talent.

 

4: Moritz Seider

Captain of the Germany Under 20 squad that qualified to for the Juniors next year at just 17-years-old. Not only that, he also went on to win the Deutsche Eishockey Liga this season and was a key part of the Mannheim win during his first full season with the first team. The German defenseman has had a season to remember and its being capped off with a call up to the Worlds. If he performs well an already rising draft stock could go into overdrive.

The last game for Germany before the Worlds was against the USA. In this game Seider got to play with 35-year-old Yannic Seidenberg in a mix of young and old. A partnership where Seider’s youth and speed has to show but it’s a great window for him to show his talent on the biggest stage and like Kakko, show the scouts in attendance that he is able to hang with men and play against NHLers and some of the world’s best. Is a top-15 spot at the draft out the question if he does this? I don’t think so.

 

5: Joachim Blichfeld

Okay, this one might have a little bias to it. I’m Danish after all. However, I wouldn’t add him on the list if I didn’t think he was deserving of it. And with 119 points in the Western Hockey League, he is hard to look past on a list like this. On top of that he was the WHL player of the year. Even at the age of 20 that is a impressive feat for the Danish San Jose Sharks prospect.

Blichfeld has a goalscoring touch, that Denmark could be need of in terms of the depth scoring. Lars Eller and Mikkel Bødker will be playing many minutes and so will the second line. Therefore, they need Blichfeld to score on third line. This has become even more important for Denmark with Nikolaj Ehlers being hurt and Oliver Bjorkstand also declining the invite, so expect him to be handed a lot of responsability to provide depth scoring and chances with Mathias From potentially.

Statistics Provided By hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

After 68 games, it is time to begin the best part of the season, the postseason. In the West, it was the US Division that saw a lot of success, as teams from the States took five out of the eight playoff spots. The divisional matchups will make for some great action, while the lone inter-divisional matchup should be intriguing to fans on both sides.

B.C. Division

(1) Vancouver Giants vs. (WC2) Seattle Thunderbirds

Vancouver has had one of the best seasons the franchise has had in recent memory. Just a few years removed from three-straight last place finishes, the Giants finished the regular season atop the Western Conference standings. Thanks in large part to a very solid defence core and incredible goaltending. Bowen Byram has been solid on the blueline for Vancouver. While his +33 plus-minus is best on the team, his 71 points is second in team scoring behind Davis Koch, and third in WHL defencemen scoring. David Tendeck and Trent Miner have been the best goaltending tandem in the league. They are third and fourth in goals-against-average with Miner’s 1.98 GAA and Tendeck’s 2.48 GAA.

The Thunderbirds come into the playoffs on quite a roll, winning eight of their final 11 games, including a big win over Victoria, and a sweep over Portland in the final weekend of the regular season. Matthew Wedman has been a bruiser for Seattle, while leading the team points with 77, he also led the team in penalty minutes with 110. Noah Philip has been an incredible playmaker for the Thunderbirds, leading the team with 49 helpers. Off his 75 points he scored this season, 33 of them came on the power play. 

Between these two teams, yes the mismatches are eminent. However, the teams are fairly matched on the offencive side of the puck, as the Giants, in total, scored 228 goals, while Seattle potted 231. Home ice has not been a factor in any of the four games between these two, as the road club won all four matchups.

My Pick

This will be a battle between the pipes, as good as rookie Ross Roddy has been lately for Seattle, he does not measure up to the level that Miner and Tendeck are at. Seattle will give everything they have, but the Giants will find a way to take the series in seven.

(2) Victoria Royals vs. (3) Kamloops Blazers

Talk about “blazing” your way into a playoff spot, Kamloops won five of their last six games to catch Kelowna on the final day of the regular season to force a tiebreaker matchup, which the Blazers won on Tuesday night. It was quite a run for a team that does not have a whole lot of offence in their arsenal, as they have scored the fewest goals among any team in the WHL playoffs. That means it will be up to rookie Dylan Garand to step up for the Blazers in this series. After Dylan Ferguson fell into a slump in the second half of the season, Garand took the reigns and was phenomenal, as he only gave up more than two goals once in his final six starts. 

While the Blazers have the least amount of goals scored, the Royals have the second-least amount of goals scored with 199 goals this season. Where they differ from their counterparts is how they ended the regular season. Victoria lost five of their last six games heading into the playoffs, including an 8-0 thumping at the hands of Kamloops. No Royal has more than 50 points this season, but five players have more than 40, including defenceman Scott Walford, who finished second on the team with 47 points.

Don’t expect a lot of high flying offence in this series, as neither team has any game-changing talent up front. It’s going to be a battle of defencive systems between Blazers Head Coach Serge Lajoie and Victoria’s Dan Price. Each game in this series may come out as a one-goal game, making each contest exciting until the final buzzer. Despite the last meeting of the regular season, the Royals have handled themselves well against the Blazers, winning all four games on home ice.

My Pick

If it comes down to the netminders, you have to give Kamloops the advantage with Garand in net, especially the way he’s been playing, Blazers in six.

U.S. Division

(1) Everett Silvertips vs. (WC1) Tri-City Americans

The ‘Tips Finished third in the WHL behind Vancouver and Prince Albert with 99 points this season. In a season where the team was expected to take a dip following the graduation of, now-Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart, Everett has flourished. Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp have been outstanding on the top line, and the addition of Zack Andrusiak from Seattle has added a huge offencive boost. However, it has been the goaltender who has once again garnered the spotlight, as Dustin Wolf has made his case for the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. Wolf finished first in the league in wins (41), goals-against-average (1.69), and save-percentage (.936).

Tri-City is not looking in the best of shape heading into this first round. Along with losing their final five games of the regular season, the Americans also lost 10 out of their last 11. It will be huge for Tri-City’s leading scorer, Parker AuCoin, to step up if they want any chance in this series. The Americans possess one of the best youngsters in the WHL, as Krystof Hrabik finished third in rookie scoring with 51 points. Defenceman Aaron Hyman has helped the offencive effort as well, as his 50 points his tied for 10th in blueline scoring.

Given that Everett has been so consistent this season, it will be difficult for the struggling Americans to trip them up in this series. With the tight-knit defence from the Silvertips, along with the timely scoring from their top-two lines, expect Tri-City to have their handsful on both ends of the rink. Even when Tri-Cityis able to break through for a scoring chance, they run into Dustin Wolf.

My Pick

A defencive juggernaut against a team that has struggled at times to find goals, ‘Tips in four.

(2) Spokane Chiefs vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks

Portland sure has had a very interesting season. The team started out looking to contend for a division title, and continued to impress well past the Holiday Break. Then, on February 23rd, Cody Glass suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury that ended his season. The Winterhawks have not been the same in his absence. Joachim Blichfeld continued to produce in his absence, and ended up leading the WHL in points with 114, and tied for the most goals with 53. Players such as Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk have had to pick up the slack, but have only done so mildly with Gricius posting 61 points, while Newkirk amassed 59 points.

The Chiefs on the other hand, were able to make a late run in the final month of the season to snag home-ice advantage right from underneath the Winterhawks. Spokane went 7-2 in the month of March, and riding high heading into the playoffs. Riley Woods had a solid end to his season, as the Chiefs’ leading-scorer registered 10 points in the month of March. Ty Smith was a big player at both ends of the rink for Spokane this year, including putting up 69 points, good for fourth among WHL defencemen in scoring.

Two teams heading different directions heading into this series, the Winterhawks need to find some form of consistency if they want to knock off the Chiefs. While Blichfeld has been good, Portland will need more from their second and third line to step up. Each team took three of the six games during the regular season. However since Glass’ injury, the Chiefs have taken the last two meetings, both in Portland.

My Pick

Without the x-factor that Glass is, Blichfeld cannot carry the team himself against a hot Chiefs club. The ‘Hawks keep it close, but the Chiefs pull it out in six.

All stats and records found from the WHL and Elite Prospects.