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Top Players To Watch For In The 2016 World Junior Championship

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We are now just 3 days away from the start of the 2016 World Junior Championship tournament kicking off in Helsinki. I know that the 25th is always a great day for everybody but the real Christmas day comes on the 26th as this tournament opens up with Russia vs Czech Republic at 7 am, Sweden taking on the Swiss at 9 am, Belarus vs host nation Finland at 11 and then the marquee match up of the day, USA vs Canada at 1 pm (all times are EST). Then from Saturday until the Gold medal game on the 5th, we get to enjoy one of the best tournaments of the year not just in hockey, but in all of sports. It’s a time when you get to get a quick glimpse of the next crop of NHL superstars as they play for their country on one of the world’s biggest stages. There’s nothign to not love about it.

So this year, there are 5 teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the Gold medal. Those are Canada, Sweden, USA, Russia and Finland. Each of these nations have a roster filled with star players that will all be making meaningful impacts in the NHL over the next few years. While there are plenty of great young players from other countries in this tournament as well, here are the top players to watch for from each of the Big 5.

William Nylander – Sweden – 2014 1st round draft pick to Toronto – Toronto Marlies (AHL)

A lot of people believe that William Nylander is the best player in the world who is not currently playing in the NHL. Through 27 games in the AHL this season with Toronto, the 19-year-old leads the league in points with 34 and has built a nice little 6 point cushion for himself. He’ll be playing in this tournament along side of his younger brother Alex (2016 Draft Eligible) and 2015 1st round draft pick for the Minnesota Wild Joel Eriksson Ek. This line is going to put up a ridiculous amount of points in this short tournament and William Nylander will be leading the way. Expect him to leave Finland as the tournaments point leader and with at least some sort of medal. I’d say the Swedish team has the best chance of knocking off the Canadians so it might be gold.

Auston Matthews – USA – 2016 Draft Eligible – ZSC Lions (Swiss League)

If Auston Matthews was born just 2 weeks earlier, the Scottsdale, Arizona native would be playing in the NHL today. However, he just missed the 2015 draft cut off and has since been playing professionally in Switzerland preparing himself to be the #1 overall selection come June. To start off the tournament, he’ll be playing alongside fellow 2016 first round draft picks Matthew Tkachuk (son of Keith) and Alex DeBrincat. Both of whom are in the top 5 in scoring this year in the OHL. This line is going to be the key to Team USA’s success in this tournament as they look to medal for the first time since 2013. USA’s strength is obviously their offense and they’re going to need to rely heavily on scoring a shit ton of goals to help out a defense and goaltending duo who lack experience. Blue Jackets prospect Zach Werenski was just named the team’s captain and will certainly do his part to hold down the blue line. But if USA wants to find themselves playing in that gold medal game, Auston Matthews is going to have to prove to the world why he’ll be the #1 pick in June and put on a clinic.

Mitch Marner – Canada – 2015 1st round draft pick to Toronto – London Knights (OHL)

Now I fully believe that Ottawa 67s captain and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Travis Konecny will be the best and most consistent player for Team Canada in this tournament. With that being said, however, the most electrifying guy on the roster is obviously Marner. He is teammates in London with Team USA’s Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuck and together, the 3 of them lead the league in scoring. That’s not just because they’re teammates, but because they are all unbelievable hockey players. Marner is going to be right up there with William Nylander by the end of the tournament in points. This is going to be a very fun tournament to watch if you’re either a Toronto Maple Leafs fan or a Philadelphia Flyers fan. Because each team has a ton of prospects that will be making serious contributions for their respective nations.

Mikko Rantanen – Finland – 2015 1st round draft pick to Colorado – San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

Mikko Rantanen is 19 years old. He’s listed at 6’4″ and 211 lbs. He’s a man child and through 22 games so far this season in the AHL, he’s scored 26 points off of 10 goals and 16 assists. Finland has an interesting team this year. They have a lot of kids that are going to be drafted very early on in June and then they have Rantanen and Kasperi Kapanen who have been playing in the AHL. Couple in the fact that they are the host nation playing on home ice in front of a home crowd and you’ve got yourself a team that can really sneak up on you. Rantanen is expected to be the guy for Team Finland and you just can’t push aside the fact that playing in front of his fellow Finns puts an extra chip on his shoulder.

Ivan Provorov – Russia – 2015 1st round draft pick to Philadelphia – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Ivan Provorov is one of only 3 players returning to Team Russia from last year’s silver medal team. Since the tournament last year, Provorov was selected 7th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers and returned to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL where he has 28 points in 30 games as a defenseman so far this year. I’ve said this with Provorov plenty of times before but as a defenseman, playing in the WHL is so much better for his development than staying in Russia to play in the KHL. It’s a tougher brand of hockey and it’s not a league that is built to to showcase goal scorers like the OHL and the KHL is set up for. Provorov is probably as close to being NHL ready right now as you could possibly be without being NHL ready, if that makes any sense at all. Expect him to stifle the opposing team’s offense in his own zone and then lead the rush the other way and put up some serious numbers for himself offensively.

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Team USA Schedule

USA vs Canada – Saturday December 26 @ 1 pm

USA vs Sweden – Monday December 28 @ 9 am

USA vs Switzerland – Wednesday December 30 @ 1 pm

USA vs Denmark – Thursday December 31 @ 9 am

Those are 2 really tough games to start off with but I think if they’re able to go 1-1 to start this tournament, they’ll put themselves in a very good position to medal. See you all on Saturday

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@BarstoolJordie