Here's Your 2019 World Juniors Group B Preview, Part 1: Team USA Led By A Future Phenom In The Making

So yesterday we broke down all the key names and key dates you need to know in Group A of the 2019 World Juniors. In case you didn’t get a chance to read that blog, you can click on the link above. But those teams include Canada, Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland and Denmark. Obviously Canada is a wagon as they are year in and year out for this tournament, Czech Republic has a handful of high end prospects, and Russia has a few top level guys as well in the mix. But I think what you’ll see here is that Group B is an absolute gauntlet with the 2018 silver medalists Team Sweden, the 2018 bronze medalists Team USA, a Finnish team who has the projected 2nd overall pick in the upcoming draft and just got to add a couple of NHL caliber weapons like Eeli Tolvanen and Henri Jokiharju to the roster, and then Slovakia and Kazakhstan.

Now one of the best parts about the World Juniors tournament is that you get a chance to watch the kids who will be hearing their names called within the first few picks of the upcoming draft before they get to the NHL level. I mean just think about all the top draft picks we’ve got to see make a name for themselves at this tournament before they got drafted. Rasmus Dahlin helped lead Sweden to a silver medal last year. Nico Hischier really broke onto the scene his draft year playing for Switzerland and leading them to one of their best ever finishes. All eyes were on Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in 2016, with Laine leading Finland to a gold medal. All eyes were on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in 2015. Yakupov in 2012. Hall, Tavares, Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, the list goes on. All of these guys tore up the World Juniors tournament and then went on to be either the top pick or one of the top 2 picks in their respective drafts. This year is no different with 2019 projected 1st overall pick Jack Hughes playing for Team USA and 2019 projected 2nd overall pick Kaapo Kakko playing for Team Finland. So considering most of the action is going to be in Group B of this tournament, let’s get right to the preview.

***Quick Disclaimer: rosters aren’t finalized yet for the tournament so the rosters you see coming up here are just preliminary. But for the most part, there will only be a few changes here and there before the tournament***

***Double Disclaimer: As I started to write this blog, I realized that the Team USA section was way too long and way too in depth for it to not be it’s on blog. But here is the promise I need all of you to make me right now. I am publishing the Team USA preview as it’s on blog but you need to swear to me that you’ll still click part 2 of this blog for the preview of Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. That blog will also have key game times and predictions in it as well. But seriously. Still click on that blog please. I feel like I put a lot of work into the World Juniors coverage, all I ask in return is for some pageviews***

Team USA

When you take a look at last year’s roster for Team USA you’ll notice there’s been a decent amount of turnaround for this year’s tournament. Brady Tkachuk is currently in the NHL. Casey Mittelstadt is currently in the NHL. Joey Anderson is currently in the NHL. Kieffer Bellows, Max Jones, and Logan Brown are all in the AHL. If there’s one thing that USA Hockey has been doing more and more recently is having a quick turnaround on these young prospects making it to the pro level. Obviously most of those guys would have aged out of this tournament anyway but it’s a testament to how well USA Hockey is developing their players lately that so many of them can make the jump to the NHL or AHL either right out of the draft or in just a year or two afterwards. And what that also does is open up plenty of roster spots to some newcomers for this year’s tournament. There’s only a handful of returning guys from last year’s roster to this year’s, but there’s only 2 players on the preliminary roster that haven’t either been drafted or are eligible for the 2019 draft, which puts this USA roster right up there with Canada and Sweden in terms of depth from top to bottom.

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Now when you look at that group of forwards, obviously the most exciting name is Jack Hughes (2019 Draft). He’s been the consensus 1st overall pick in his class for a while and he led Team USA to a gold medal in the 2018 World Juniors U17 tournament last year as well as a silver medal in the World Juniors U18 tournament. He had the most points in both of those tournaments and was the MVP of the U18 WJC. So he’s already put up ridiculous numbers on the international stage and now he’ll get his first (and most likely last) opportunity to represent USA on the U20 big stage. In case you’re interested in what you can look forward to seeing out of him during this tournament, here’s a quick little teaser.

But Jack Hughes is just one player. And while he may be the only quote-unquote superstar within this group of forwards, this team is loaded with some high quality depth to go around him. Guys like Evan Barratt (2017 3rd, CHI) who currently leads the NCAA in scoring with 29 points in 17 games for Penn State. Barratt played for the Team USA at the WJC-18 a couple of seasons ago but wasn’t involved with the national team at all last season. This year he’ll find himself on one of the top 2 lines for this tournament because he has the skill to pull off shit like this right here.

If there’s one player to really watch out for to potentially be a dark horse leading point scorer in this tournament, I’d say Barratt is the pick. He’s also a local product out of the Philly area, not a big deal or anything. Now a great center to go along with Evan Barratt will be Josh Norris (2017 1st, SJS/OTT) who is one of the few returning forwards to this team from last year. Norris was involved as a piece in the Erik Karlsson trade so that should speak volumes to his potential. Ottawa traded away one of the most electrifying players in their organization’s history and figured that bringing a guy like Josh Norris back in return could make up for that loss. You get traded for a superstar like that, it shows you have potential. He currently has 19 points in 17 games for Michigan this year but I think the biggest thing he’ll do is provide some leadership and experience to this roster to allow some of the younger guys to just worry about their skill. Speaking of young guys with a ton of skill, this could be a big tournament for Oliver Wahlstrom (2018 1st, NYI). He hasn’t been able to get himself going much at BC so far this season but he has great hands and this could be a confidence boosting tournament for him if he gets on the board a couple times in the first few days.

Now I’m going to write a blog either later today or tomorrow breaking down all the Flyers’ prospects in this tournament but right now I’ll just mention that Joel Farabee (2018 1st, PHI) currently has 11 points in 16 games at BU this year and was the captain of that U18 National Development Team last year so you can expect him to be getting top 6 minutes this tournament. Jay O’Brien (2018 1st, PHI) hasn’t gotten himself going yet at Providence this year but like Wahlstrom, this could be a breakout tournament for him if he can crack his way into the lineup. Noah Cates (2017 5th, PHI) will be one of the oldest players for this forward group and he has some good size on the wing at 6’2″. And then finally there’s Jack St. Ivany (2018 4th, PHI) on the blue line who has been putting together a decent freshman year at Yale so far with 8 points in 12 games. Speaking of the blue line…

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So maybe the first thing that sticks out about this roster on the back end is that Team USA will have 3 new goalies at this tournament. For the past 2 years, we got used to seeing BC’s Joseph Woll and BU’s Jake Oettinger in net. This year I have to imagine that Team USA will roll with Kyle Keyser (2017 Undrafted, BOS) and Cayden Primeau (2017 7th, MTL) as their top 2 goalies just considering Spencer Knight is still so young as a 2019 draft prospect. Keyser is currently 2nd in the OHL in GAA at 2.37 and only behind Michael DiPietro of Team Canada. And he also leads the OHL in save percentage at 0.931 right now. Cayden Primeau is the son of former Flyer, Keith Primeau, and was the Hockey East goaltender of the year last year with Northeastern. Spencer Knight is one of the top 3 goalie prospects for this upcoming draft but I still think they probably ride with the ’99 birth years for this tournament.

Now just as Jack Hughes is one of the most exciting names on this team at the forward position, Quinn Hughes (2018 1st, VAN) is the most electrifying player on defense for this team. He has 20 points in 17 games as a defenseman for Michigan so far this year. Now this tournament is going to be loaded with elite puck moving and point scoring defensemen like Adam Boqvsit, Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Henri Jokiharju and Evan Bouchard. You’re going to see a lot of defense immediately turning into offense this tournament, and Quinn Hughes is right up there with the best of them in that department. So having someone like him to start the party for Team USA will be huge. The other two returning defensemen from last year’s team are Mikey Anderson (2017 4th, LAK) and Dylan Samberg (2017 2nd, WPG). I’d say the newcomer to this defensive group that most excites me will be K’Andre Miller (2018 1st, NYR) who currently has 17 points in 18 games as a freshman at Wisconsin right now. He has a massive shot and some massive size as well.

Along with Miller and speaking of massive size, keep an eye out for Mattias Samuelsson (2018 2nd, BUF). If you see on the roster there, he’s listed at 6’4″ 218 lbs. If you’re wondering what a kid with a name like Mattias Samuelsson is doing playing for Team USA, it’s because his dad is Kjell Samuelsson so he’s the 2nd son of a former Philadelphia Flyer on this roster with Cayden Primeau. I know that both Samuelsson and Evan Barratt played for Team Comcast here in South Jersey but not sure if they ever got to play on the same team or not. Either way, Samuelsson has ridiculous size and has 8 points in 16 games so far at Western Michigan.

Like I said, Team USA has the 2nd most amount of NHL prospects in this tournament behind Team Canada so depth wise, this team is loaded. They can come at you in waves and there is a ton of skill on all areas of the ice. The one thing they might be missing, however, is a true legitimate superstar. I know that Jack Hughes is pegged to be the next star in the NHL but you have to keep in mind that he’s still an ’01 birth year playing in this tournament. And when we get to the preview for Team Finland you’ll see names like Eeli Tolvanen and Henri Jokiharju who have already proven themselves at the pro level. And even though Sweden won’t have Elias Pettersson or Rasmus Dahlin this year, they still have some studs defensively who I’d probably give an edge to over USA’s defensive group on paper. So I see this USA team medaling but the preliminary round is definitely going to be a gauntlet for them to get through. Luckily they get to start off with Slovakia (Dec 26 @ 6pm) and Kazakhstan (Dec 28 @ 10pm) first but keep in mind that the US lost to Slovakia in the preliminary round last year so it’s not necessarily a guaranteed W.

Now it’s on to part 2 of the Group B preview blog featuring Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. I’ll put a link here to make it easier for everybody to jump over to that part. Remember, you promised me at the beginning that you would click on both blogs.

World Juniors Group B Preview Part 2: Finland, Sweden and the rest