Top players to watch at the 2016 World Junior Championship
Arielle Aronson and Tommy Chalk
Auston Matthews - Team USA
Auston Matthews will surely be the number one overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he very well could be the best player in the tournament. Matthews was born just two days after the 2015 NHL draft cutoff date, and, had he been eligible, he may have been drafted ahead of Jack Eichel as the second-overall pick. Matthews opted to play in the Swiss National League for the ZSC Lions this year, and in 22 games so far this season, the 18-year-old has 14 goals and 11 assists. At 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Matthews won't be difficult to find on the ice as Team USA's top forward. This is Matthews' second U-20 World Junior Championship. He finished with a goal and two assists in the 2015 tournament.
Matthew Tkachuk - Team USA
The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, 18-year-old Matthew will look to step out of his father’s shadow as a member of Team USA this winter. The younger Tkachuk is playing his draft year with the London Knights in the OHL, and he currently ranks second in scoring with 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 29 games. A left-shot winger, Tkachuk could be a deadly compliment to USA star center Auston Matthews. The pair were roommates and line mates at Team USA selection camp earlier this month.
Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
William Nylander - Team Sweden
Blessed with incredibly quick hands and a nose for the net, William Nylander will once again gracefully power Sweden through the tournament. In the 2015 tournament, Nylander finished second in scoring with 10 points in seven games. Nylander, drafted with the eighth-overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has torn up the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, leading the entire league in scoring with 14 goals and 20 assists in 27 games. Nylander, the son of former NHLer Michael, will be joined by his brother, Alexander, a high-end 2016 draft-eligible prospect, in the tournament.
Toronto Star via Getty ImagesColin McConnell
Ilya Samsonov - Team Russia
Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov will capture the attention of a few Americans, as he was the first goaltender selected in the 2015 NHL Draft when the Washington Capitals grabbed him with the 22nd overall pick. Samsonov has dominated the competition at his age level, as he was named the top goaltender at the 2015 U18 Five Nations tournament. As an interesting sidenote, Samsonov hails from Magnitogorsk, Russia, the same town as Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Alex DeBrincat - Team USA
It's difficult to garner some attention when you're playing behind guys like Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome as Alex DeBrincat did just last year in the OHL with the Erie Otters. But this year, that spotlight is shining directly on DeBrincat, whose 2016 draft stock is growing by the day. Last year -- his first season in the OHL -- DeBrincat finished with 104 points in 68 games, leading all OHL rookies in goals, assists and points. But this season, DeBrincat has brought his game up to seemingly impossible levels, scoring 33 goals and 23 assists in just 30 games, making him the highest goal-scorer in the OHL. Should Team USA's head coach Ron Wilson choose to put DeBrincat on a line with Matthews and Tkachuk, Team USA could have the most electric line in the tournament.
Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
Mitchell Marner - Team Canada
The 18-year-old Marner is the captain of the OHL’s London Knights and was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marner has been a key part of a high-flying Knights offense which boasts the top three scorers in the OHL (Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk). Marner is currently ranked third among the trio in scoring with 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 25 games, but the threesome have been trading places in the rankings all season.
Getty ImagesClaus Andersen
Jesse Puljujarvi - Team Finland
Jesse Puljujarvi has all of the tools to be the next big, literally big, thing out of Finland. Puljujarvi (pronounced pool-you-YAR-vee) stands at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and he knows exactly how to use his large frame to his advantage. This will be Puljujarvi's second U-20 World Junior tournament. Though he failed to record a goal in his first U-20 championship, Puljujarvi is expected to lead the home team Finland deep into the tournament this year. Puljujarvi, a likely top pick in the 2016 draft, plays in the professional league in Finland. At just 17, he has five goals and seven assists in 31 games for Kärpät.
Getty ImagesMinas Panagiotakis
Colin White - Team USA
Currently a freshman at Boston College, Colin White has already made a small name for himself in the NHL, as White was drafted 21st overall in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The 6-foot, 180-pound forward adjusted well to the NCAA so far this season, tallying 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 16 games. Team USA head coach Ron Wilson must have been impressed with White’s maturity at camp; White was named an alternate captain along with Matthews and defenseman Louie Belpedio while defenseman Zach Werenski was tabbed as Team USA’s captain.
Getty ImagesRichard T Gagnon
Dylan Strome - Team Canada
If Team Canada is to repeat as World Junior Champions in 2016, guys like Dylan Strome are going to have to take the reigns and lead the team to victory. Strome, who captains the Erie Otters, is strong at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, and he relies on that big frame and an intelligent overall game to succeed. The 2015 third-overall pick to the Arizona Coyotes has 16 goals and 37 assists in 25 games with the Otters this year. That makes him the fifth-highest scorer in the OHL, three points behind team mate DeBrincat. Just the year prior, Strome led the OHL in points with 129 in 68 games. Strome was talented enough to play for the 2015 team, but the Canadian team was so deep in talent that there was simply no room for Strome. This year, it's Strome's team, and he very well could find himself as the tournament's leader in points.
Getty ImagesVaughn Ridley
Kaapo Kahkonen - Team Finland
Team Finland goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen is a goalie with more than just an interesting name. The Minnesota Wild draft pick is a confident player who has been described by scouts as a third defenseman given his puck-handling abilities. He also has strong rebound control, another trait which is sure to make him a favorite among defenseman. Watch out for Kahkonen on the offensive side of the ice as well; he once managed to score a goal while playing for Finland’s national team.
NHLI via Getty ImagesJeff Vinnick
Patrik Laine - Team Finland
Puljujarvi isn't the only Finnish player in the tournament that will stand out. Meet Patrik Laine, who will tower over the opposition at 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, and he'll play an incredibly physical style of hockey. Laine (pronounced LIE-nay) is another Finnish forward that will likely find himself as a top pick in the 2016 draft. Like Puljujarvi, Laine plays in the Finnish professional league, and he has eight goals and eight assists in 24 games for Tappara. This will be Laine's first time in the U-20 World Junior Championship, but if he performs exactly like he performed at last year's U-18 tournament, he will dominate. The now-17-year-old finished with eight goals and three assists in just seven games for Finland, leading the tournament in goals and leading his team to a silver medal.
Brandon Hickey - Team Canada
As the first NCAA player to crack Team Canada’s roster since Jaden Schwartz did so in 2012, Hickey has plenty of pressure on him to perform. But pressure is something the 19-year-old defenseman from Leduc, Alberta knows plenty about, as Hickey was one of the anchors on the blue line last season for the national runners-up Boston University Terriers. Hickey also helped BU to three championships (Beanpot, Hockey East regular season, Hockey East tournament) last season, meaning he knows what it takes for a team to come out on top.