Before they became NHLers, a number of the current Colorado Avalanche players got the privilege of representing their countries at the IIHF Wold Junior Hockey Championship. Some were stars on a gold medal winning team like Cale Makar and Conor Timmins, while others were youngsters putting themselves on the map during their draft year the way Mikko Rantanen did. Whatever impact they ultimately make, this tournament is a big opportunity.
Avalanche fans have the good fortune of getting to cheer on four of their top prospects a their year’s tournament. Drew Helleson will be playing a huge role for Team USA while Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Justin Barron will all be in the lineup trying to help Canada repeat as champion.
Before we see the latest crop of Avalanche prospects do their thing, let’s take a look back at how the current Avs performed at the tournament.
Erik Johnson - 2006 & 2007
Johnson grew up in the U.S. development system and was a part of the World Juniors teams in both the years before and after he was drafted first overall. Even as one of the younger players, Johnson played on Team USA’s top defense pairing and was able to record four points en route to a fourth place finish. A year later, Johnson was back and was absolutely dominant. His 10 points in seven games led the tournament in scoring. Unfortunately, Team USA had to settle for a bronze medal after Carey Price stole the semifinals from it in a shootout.
Ian Cole - 2008 & 2009
After being selected by the St. Louis Blue in the first round of the 2007 entry draft, Cole was playing at Notre Dame when he was a member of the World Junior teams during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Cole went without a point in 2008 as a part of a Team USA that finished fourth. He played a much bigger role in 2009 and added four points in six games despite his team not qualifying for the semifinals.
Nazem Kadri - 2010
A year after being selected seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kadri went back to the OHL to dominate. As a part of his final year in junior, Kadri went to the World Juniors as a part of a pretty loaded Team Canada. With Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo leading the way, Kadri was asked to play the type of middle-six energy role we’re used to seeing him in today. He finished the tournament with three goals and five assists in seven games, but had to settle for a silver medal after USA beat Canada in one of the best games to ever take place at the tournament.
Philipp Grubauer - 2009 & 2011
Before Leon Draisaitl and Tim Stützle were staring for Germany, Grubauer made a couple of appearances himself. At 17 years old, Grubauer was the starter for a team that went 1-3 in the preliminary round—including a 7-1 loss to Ian Cole’s Team USA—before eventually losing to Latvia in the relegation round and being forced out of the 2010 tournament. The team made its way back to the A-Division World Juniors for 2011, and Grubauer was back in net. The team went 0-3-0-1 and was eventually relegated once again.
Pavel Francouz - 2010
The year in between Grubauer’s appearances at the World Juniors his partner in the Avalanche net was at the tournament. Francouz was at the tournament to back up Jakub Sedlacek for the Czech Republic, but after Sedlacek let in five goals against Sweden in the team’s first period of the tournament, Francouz took over and stopped 25 of 31 shots over the next 40 minutes. He made one more appearance, making 27 saves in his team’s relegation round game against Slovakia.
Gabriel Landeskog - 2011
Like Rantanen, Landeskog made the national junior team in his draft year. Unfortunately, his time with Team Sweden was cut short by a high ankle sprain. Landeskog only played in one game, but he was able to register a goal and an assist. Sweden was likely hoping they’d have him back the next year as a 19-year-old, but the Avalanche had different plans as they decided to keep the rookie in the NHL all season before making him the youngest captain in franchise history.
Joonas Donskoi - 2011 & 2012
Donskoi had been a part of the Finnish national team system from the time he was 15 years old. When it came time to play for the U20 team, the Avs winger was named to two different World Junior teams. During his first appearance at the 2011 tournament, Donskoi scored a point per game (3 goals, 3 assists) when his Finnish team ultimately fell in the quarter finals to the eventual champions from Russia. A year later he returned as the assistant captain as his team fell short of a medal once again—this time losing to Canada in the bronze medal game.
Brandon Saad - 2012
Despite leaving the U.S. Hockey National Team Development Program to play for Saginaw in the OHL, Saad joined his former teammates for the World Juniors. Unfortunately, Team USA ended up being a huge disappointment, going 1-3 and not even making it to the quarter finals. Saad finished the tournament with a goal and five assists in six games despite his team’s early exit.
Nathan MacKinnon - 2013
After being named the captain of Canada’s U17 team a year earlier, a very young MacKinnon made the World Juniors team in his draft year. With older players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome on the team, MacKinnon was forced down the depth chart, playing mostly as the 12th or 13th forward. MacKinnon finished the tournament with only one assist on the way to a fourth place finish for Canada.
Val Nichushkin - 2013
Nichushkin was a part of the Russian team that beat MacKinnon for the bronze medal in 2013. Also in his draft year, Nichushkin played a depth role, putting up a goal and an assist. What was more impressive was that he was able to tally 25 penalty minutes in only five games—most of which came against Canada in the preliminary round game.
Andre Burakovsky - 2014
Following the same path as Landeskog, Burakovsky went from Sweden to the OHL to the World Juniors. Playing on a line with Filip Forsberg and Alexander Wennberg, Burakovsky played a big role in Sweden’s offense, averaging a point per game (3 goals, four assists) on the way to a loss in the gold medal game to bitter rivals, Finland.
J.T. Compher - 2015
A key member of the U.S. Hockey National Team Development Program growing up, Compher eventually got his chance to play at the 2015 World Juniors. Anchored by Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews and Zach Werenski, this Team USA fell well short of expectations. The team left without even making it to the quarter finals and Compher finished the tournament with no points in his five games played.
Mikko Rantanen - 2015 & 2016
Going into the 2015 World Juniors, Rantanen was viewed as a late first round pick. With four goals in five games, he was the only Finnish player to leave the tournament with more than one goal. Playing on a very young team, Rantanen was one of the best forwards in the tournament and raised his stock enough to turn him into a top-10 pick in the draft later that year.
Rantanen returned the next year as the captain of a loaded Finnish team. Instead of standing out, this time he was overshadowed by Finland’s top line of Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. That trio was absolutely dominant offensively, putting up 14, 13 and 17 points, respectively, en route to a gold medal. Rantanen finished the tournament with five points in his team’s seven games.
Tyson Jost - 2017
Eighteen months after being drafted by the Avalanche, Tyson Jost found his way onto Team Canada at the World Juniors. The captain of the team back at the U18 tournament, Jost was a depth veteran on a Canadian team led by Dylan Strome and Mathew Barzal. He played both wing and center, and was bounced up and down the lineup where needed—much like the role he plays now for the Avs. Jost finished the tournament with four points in seven games as his team went home with the silver medal.
Cale Makar - 2018
Coming from the NCAA, Cale Makar had never played for Team Canada at an international tournament. As a result, he began the tournament as Canada’s seventh defenseman and a power play specialist.
After a few hiccups in early games, Makar worked through the growing pains and was able to move up the depth chart, eventually leading the tournament in scoring among defenders. He wasn’t Canada’s best all-around defenseman and didn’t quite show the defensive game he’s shown at the NHL level, but Makar’s offense from the back end was instrumental in Canada capturing the gold medal.
Conor Timmins - 2018
Makar wasn’t Canada’s best all-around defender at the 2018 World Juniors because the honor went to Timmins. Drafted 32nd overall by the Avalanche the previous summer, Timmins showed the hockey world what OHL fans already knew: that he was one of the best do-everything defensemen in junior hockey and far more valuable than his draft stock. Timmins played big minutes in all situations and was counted on to anchor the defense—similarly to how Canada will lean on Bo Byram this year.