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MHH Roundtable: World Junior Edition

As one of the most anticipated hockey events of the year is about to start, we figured we would see who we are excited too see and who we think will win

Which Avs prospect are you looking forward to watching?

Luke: Daniil Zhuravlyov. The Avs 2018 5th round Russian mystery defenseman. Going into last years WJC, I expected more of an offensive defenseman, what I saw was a guy who make smart plays, used his feet well but struggled some with the smaller ice surface. He also disappeared into the VHL no-mans land of hockey. Much to my surprise he made his KHL team and has produced well for his age and role on the team. I expect to see him as a leader playing big minutes and been an anchor on the Russians PK unit. Could he emerge as a gem of the 2018 draft? A solid performance here would be a solid step in the right direction.

Lauren: Justus Annunen. He’s been fantastic in the Finnish men’s league this season, set a shutout record, and he’s undoubtedly going to be the top goalie in Group A. He had a lights-out start to his season, with a 9-0-0 undefeated streak, had four straight shutouts, and set the Liiga record for the longest shutout streak at 302 minutes and five seconds. Annunen has a .947 save percentage in 13 games this season as a nineteen year old goalie, which also tops all goalies playing in Liiga this season by a wide margin. Annunen was stellar during the World Junior Summer Showcase back in August and I’m expecting another strong showing by him at the World Juniors as Finland pushes for back-to-back golds.

Jackie: Each of the four Avalanche prospects in this tournament (Justus Annunen, Bowen Byram, Sampo Ranta and Daniil Zhuravlyov) should have their chance to shine in the spotlight in pretty significant minutes but Bowen Byram is the one I’m most eager to see. I’ve watched a lot of him with the Vancouver Giants this season and on a team with limited talent Byram hasn’t been able to spread his wings. He’s very comfortable and familiar with the Hockey Canada system and I expect him to have a hand in a big goal sometime this tournament.

Tom: It has to be Annunen for me. After an unremarkable season last year, Annunen has been incredible during his rookie season in Finland’s top league. Speaking with a handful of goalie experts, they are very optimistic about what Annunen can grow into as he develops his game. It’s been a while since the Avalanche have had a true high-end “goalie of the future” prospect and Justus Annunen might be just that.

Which 2020 draft eligible prospect are you looking forward to watching?

Luke: Lucas Raymond, Sweden. One of my favorites coming into the draft, I’m really excited tonsee what he can do against his peer group as one of the youngest there. He possess really high hockey IQ and deadly offensive instincts. Much like Kaapo Kakko last year for Finland, I expect Raymond to make a case to be one of the top two best in this draft class.

Jackie: An opportunity to watch a very special player in Alexis Lafreniére in action in always a treat. But my draft eligibles eye is continually looking toward possible Avalanche selections and Dawson Mercer fits the bill as someone head scout Alan Hepple should have interest in and would possibly fall to their pick. He made team Canada as a 13th forward type but has continually impressed with his skill and relentless motor, which the Avalanche love. Mercer is also a Newfie so he will fit right in with Alex Newhook as well.

Lauren: There are way too many. I think it’s between the Terror Twins (Lucas Raymond & Alexander Holtz), Germany’s Trio (Tim Stutzle, JJ Peterka, & Lukas Reichel), and Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov. I’m also really interested to see how Simon Knak (Switzerland) and Samuel Knazko (Slovakia) play. I’m way too obsessed with the 2020 NHL Draft prospects. It’s going to be one of the strongest drafts in recent memory and I have no doubt that the 2020 guys will shine at this tournament for their countries. I just wish that Anton Lundell wasn’t injured and could play for Finland. (Oh, and a heads up for 2021 — Finland has Aatu Raty playing for them, and he’s the projected number one pick right now.)

Tom: Alex Lafreniére is special and Quentin Byfield is going to be a hell of a player in the NHL but Lucas Raymond is a player with the skill to be included in that top-tier this draft. Raymond is an incredible all-around winger who has the ability to make opponents look foolish every time he has the puck on his stick. You won’t be overly impreseed if you look at his HockeyDB page but don’t let the numbers fool you - mostly because of circumstances beyond his control this season - he has the talent to be a David Pastrnak level of superstar.

What is your favorite WJC moment?

Luke: Jonathan Toews 3 shootout goals. I was driving when it was on the radio which made that more intense. But what a crazy game against the USA and soon to be teammate for Toews in Kane.

Jackie: Cale Makar and Conor Timmins winning the gold medal together for Canada and in impact roles two years ago was a great overall moment. However the first favorite game which comes to mind is the 2-1 Russia over Czech Republic game last year. It was an epic, emotional, and tight battle. The fact that Nikolai Kovalenko scored short handed and was named best player of the game made it even sweeter but the game was great theater and entertaining hockey from some of the world’s best outside the NHL and that’s exactly what makes the World Junior Championship so enchanting.

Lauren: Uh, how much time do we have? The Hey Baby Veggie Squad (2018 Canadians, featuring our Avalanche veggie Cale Makar) is forever my favourite World Junior team. Watching Jordan Eberle’s heroics in 2009 and 2010 was incredible. But I was able to attend the bronze and gold medal games at the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto. Being in that atmosphere when Canadian fans chanted Slovakian goalie Denis Godla’s name after the bronze medal game, and in the arena once Canada had won gold, is indescribable, and something I’ll never forget.

Tom: I was in the building for “the goal” Jordan Eberele scored with five seconds to go in the 2009 semi-finals in Russia. It was one of the most incredible in-person experiences I’ve ever been a part of as a sports fan (second only to the Edmin Encarnacion extra inning walk off during the 2016 Wild Card game). Canada had been trailing all game at it looked like the Russians were going to be able to hold on. The shot from the point was blocked and bounced perfectly to Eberle. The arena in Ottawa legitimately felt like it was shaking.

Team Canada went on to win in overtime and then beat Sweden in the gold medal game.

Finally, which team will disappoint and which team will take home gold?

Luke: The one to disappoint: Canada. They have the largest talent pool to pick from and I just cant get myself to believe in this group. Its talented yes, but once again goal tending will be front and center, and can this defensive group (which is very very talented and mobile) be able to come together weather the storm when they cant get the puck. My Gold medal winner of the 2020 WJC is… USA! It starts from the back end with Knight and just work your way out. They are stacked at every position. They’ve come ever so close in recent tournaments but run into crazy hot goalies (Yaroslav Askarov anyone) and some strange calls (2018 Hlinka) but I think this is the states year to win it all.

Jackie: Russia is my pick to win gold. The tournament is on big ice so the Russians will be more familiar and can play their defensive style well. It’s been a strong era for the Russians and they look to build on their bronze medal from last year. Their forwards are dynamic with Grigori Denisenko leading the way, a strong back end which is usually their weakness with Alexander Romanov and our own Zhuravlyov, and then excellent goaltending from draft eligible phenom Yaroslav Askarov plus Amir Miftakhov makes an excellent tandem. As for disappointment, any team who doesn’t medal will feel that way but I worry for the Czech Republic as hosts who are in a very tough group with Russia, Canada and USA plus Germany who brings some firepower with their promotion.

Lauren: If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m not sold on the Canadian team whatsoever. I just think they’re in a stacked group (Group of Death), they left a lot of talent at home (cough Alex Newhook), and their goaltending isn’t going to hold up against an American or Russian offensive onslaught in the round robin games. The United States are my pick to win gold — they have zero weaknesses, aside from missing Jack Hughes and Joel Farabee — and even then, they’re ridiculously good. And strong at every position. The two teams I could see challenging them for gold are Russia, because they’ve looked terrifying in pre-tournament play, and Finland, because they’ve gone head-to-head with the Americans at every international tournament in the gold medal game for several years now.

Tom: This one is likely be Team USA’s to lose. Despite missing Jack Hughes, they are one of the most talented teams I can remember at the tournament. Add to that the fact that this is a group of American players that have grown up together winning international tournaments. If you’re forcing me to put money on anyone, it would be Team USA.

I think it’s going to be the Russias that are going to let people down this year. As mentioned above, they’re in an incredibly tough group for the preliminary round which could give them a very tough matchup in the quarter finals. The Russian offense is really good but they are going to give up a lot of scoring chances against. They’ll be relying on Askarov to be one of their best players and while he’s a very good goalie, some are starting to over-hype him as a draft prospect. Can he steal the show and prove he belongs in the discussion as a top-5 pick next June? I’m no so sure.