World Juniors Preview
Five Oilers prospects get ready for tournament in Saskatchewan
A capsule look at teams participating in the world junior hockey championship:
Group A (Saskatoon)
|OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 3: Jordan Eberle #14 of Team Canada reacts after having scored the tying goal on Vadim Zhelobnyuk #1 of Team Russia forcing overtime during the semifinals at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Ottawa Civic Centre on January 03, 2009 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Team Canada defeated Team Russia 6-5 in a shootout. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)|
Canada - The five-time defending champions will be favourites again as host country despite the absence of eight players now in the NHL as well as injured centre Cody Hodgson. Key players are Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle and defence anchor Alex Piertrangelo, as well as four members of the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires: power play point man Ryan Ellis, centre Adam Henrique and wingers Greg Nemisz and Taylor Hall, a candidate to go first overall in the NHL draft. Canada is missing some offensive punch, but is strong on character and defence.
Slovakia - They will miss goaltender Jaroslav Janus, who was a big reason they upset Finland and the United States to reach the semifinals last year. Marek Celick is expected to take over in goal on a team with some firepower in Jakub Gasparovic and Richard Panik as well as Tomas Tatar of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. There's also the latest member of Slovakia's grand hockey clan - centre Andrei Stastny. The defence features Adam Janosik of the Gatineau Olympics.
United States - The perennial underachievers at this event finally followed Canada's lead by having a tryout camp. That could be a good idea with only three players returning from last year's fifth-place team: forwards Tyler Johnson, Danny Kristo and Jordan Schroeder, the ninth overall draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks who will play his third world juniors. One to watch is Windsor defenceman Cam Fowler, expect to be a top-five draft pick. They also have Ray Bourque's son Ryan, a forward.
Latvia - The Maroons didn't win a game in the round robin last year but staved off relegation with wins over Germany and Kazakhstan in knock-out play. The team comes mostly from Dinamo Riga's junior squad. But Roberts Bukarts and Roland Cinks are already playing for Dinamo's senior squad, and there are some skating in North America, including forward Leitans Edijis and goalies Ermics Raimonds and Dainis Vasilijevs.
Switzerland - After a year in the B-pool, the Swiss are back with a team pulled mainly from their domestic league. However, it should include defencemen Luca Sbisa of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Dominik Schlumpf of the Shawinigan Cataractes and forward Alain Berger of the Oshawa Generals. There is also forward Nino Niederreiter of the Portland Winter Hawks, who is the sixth-ranked skater in the Western Hockey League according to NHL Central Scouting.
Group B (Regina)
Sweden - After two straight silver medals, this talented group whose roster was announced live on Swedish television will be looking for its first gold since 1981. They will miss two key defencemen now in the NHL - Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay and Erik Karlsson of Ottawa - but they still have big Jacob Markstrom, the tournament's top goalie last year. Also returning to a team with 18 NHL-drafted players are defencemen David Rundblad and Tim Erixon, Oilers prospect Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and forwards Mattias Tedenby, Marcus Johansson, Andre Petersson and Jacob Josefsson. Oilers prospect Anton Lander makes his World Juniors debut.
Russia - Beaten in a shootout by Canada in the semifinals last year and having to settle for bronze, Russia will be a gold medal threat, especially with the gifted Nikita Filatov back after playing 13 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. They will miss defenceman Dmitri Kulikov, now with the Florida Panthers. Big draft-eligible right-winger Kirill Kabanov will be watched, as will Montreal prospect Maxim Trunev.
Czech Republic - After finishing sixth last year, the Czechs once again have a team loaded with players from North American junior squads, led by captain Michal Jordan of the Plymouth Whalers. Diminutive scorer Jan Kana of the Trecin club is also back after leading the team with nine points in Ottawa. Their top goalie is draft-eligible Pavel Francouz of the Plzen club. Another notable is forward Tomas Vincour of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Finland - There will be no jet lag for returning defenceman Tyri Niemi, a New York Islanders prospect who plays for the Saskatoon Blades. Defenceman Rasmus Rissanen of the Everett Silvertips and forward Matias Sointu of the Sudbury Wolves should also make a team steeped in physical Finnish hockey. Oilers prospect Toni Rajala should play a big role in the team's success as well.
Austria - It is only their second trip to the top level of junior hockey. Their last was in 2004, and they were immediately relegated, a scenario almost certain to be repeated.