The World Junior Championship is largely considered a 19 year old tournament, but every year a number of high level youngsters who are in their draft year sneak into the event and their draft stock either rises or falls. Jack Campbell, Alex Burmistrov and Nino Niederrreiter were all guys who parlayed a strong tournament into a top 11 draft position.
Here now are 5 guys, not named Sean Couturier who could be ones to watch. I say could be as some countries haven't finalized their teams yet.
5. Vladislav Namestnikov-Russia - The London Knights forward falls into the category of who knows, as the Russians will be using a tune up game on the 23rd to finalize their team. Namestnikov is on the preliminary roster for a team that drastically imploded at last year's event in Saskatoon. Nikita Filatov questioned his coach, was stripped of the captains C and the team looked to quit on their coaching staff. This year's edition is bigger and more physical as witnessed by their victory in the Subway Super Series on Rogers Sportsnet. While Russia does have some skilled 19 year olds like Maxim Kitsyn and Vladamir Tarasenko, Namestnikov is so slick it might be hard to ignore him. He's just below a point per game pace with London and while he didn't register a point during his one game in the Subway Series his nose for the net matches up with the best in the tournament. Namestnikov could be this year's Alexander Burmistrov. Namestnikov's coming out party was the U17's where he notched 13 points in 5 games.
4. Sven Bartschi-Switzerland - Nino Niederreiter made the hockey world take notice of Switzerland at last year's extravaganza, leading them to a bronze medal game entry where they simply ran out of gas against Sweden. Bartschi is following up El Nino's work this year with a terrific start in Portland. He's not as big, and doesn't have Niederreitter's mean streak but can fill the net with 21 goals in 36 games for Portland. The 2 big stars played together against Canada in a pre tournament game, failing to put up any points, but Bartschi will have his moments in Buffalo. Scouts will be have their eyes trained on this Swiss who they hope won't miss all tournament long.
3. Brandon Saad-U.S.A - Yes the Americans are the pre tournament favourites because they have so many returning players, including 6 forwards and a goalie, but they'll surely have to make room for this budding power forward. Team USA officials will hunker down after tonight's game and make some cuts, but Saad shouldn't be there. He's 6.02 and over 200 lbs with a love for rolling over defenders on his way to the net. Saad scored a goal every other game last year in the USHL and has 20 in 36 games with Saginaw this season. The Pennsylvania forward skates well and has a good feel for his own end. While he might not be a top 6 guy for the stars and stripes, at some point Saad will make his presence known...as long as they're smart enough to take him.
2. Gabriel Landeskog-Sweden - Landeskog will be making his debut for Sweden at this year's tournament, and if you haven't seen him play yet, you'll be in for a treat. Last year in Kitchener the super Swede scored 24 goals and 46 points, he's just one goal and point away from those totals already this season. Landeskog speaks perfect english and this tournament would be a perfect way for him to vault himself into the top 3 for the NHL draft. Our CHL insider Sam Cosentino recently told us he thinks Landeskog will be a top 3 pick at this year's draft and after watching the power forward, who isn't afraid to drop the gloves, in Buffalo scouts might be agreeing with Cosentino.
1. Adam Larsson-Sweden- I was blown away watching a 16 year old Adam Larsson at last year's tournament in Saskatoon. Running the power play and PK units for Sweden with the poise of a 19 year old. While Sean Couturier is the odds on favourite to go number 1 right now, Larsson might just sway a few scouts this year. Already he's tied the record for most points for anyone under 18 in the Swedish Elite League when he had 17 last year.
Here's a few others to keep you eyes on as well:
Tobias Rieder - Germany
David Musil (if healthy) - Czech Republic
Tomas Jurco - Slovakia