The 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships start on Boxing Day in Buffalo, New York. Over the next two days, we will give a short preview of the tournament, looking at the top few players to watch on each of the tournaments squads. Today, a look at Pool A.
Check out Pool B Here.
2018 World Junior Championships Pool A: Players To Watch
Casey Mittelstadt, Left Wing/Centre
A 2017 first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Mittelstadt is a natural centre but could find himself as the team’s top line left wing in this tournament. Mittelstadt is an outstanding skater. He has excellent top-end speed, as well as the quick first step, and strong acceleration to take advantage of it. This strong skating allows Mittelstadt to get loose pucks, and to play a strong two-way game.
Mittelstadt has excellent puck handling ability. He can beat defensemen one-on-one with a number of moves and has the soft hands to stick handle in a phone booth. He combines this with his skating ability to really create chances both on the rush or working down low. Mittelstadt is an excellent playmaker who creates passing lanes with his quick puck movement, stops and starts, and deceptive moves. He only needs a small opening and can make difficult passes through tight spaces, or the tough saucer pass. Add to this excellent hockey sense, and the intelligence to make smart plays with the puck, and Mittelstadt makes his linemates better. He can also be a goal scorer. Mittelstadt has a varied arsenal of shots. His wrist and snapshots both feature good power, accuracy, and a lightning quick release
Logan Brown, Centre
A 2016 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, Big and strong, Brown can be a dominant player below the hash marks. He has a powerful stride, protects the puck and takes it to the front of the net. Brown has the soft hands to finish plays in close to the net, and also has a powerful shot from further out. He has changed his game by using that shot more this season and this change has also opened up the ice and made him a better playmaker. Brown uses his size and strength to protect the puck in the cycle game, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. His long reach is a real asset in protecting the puck and keeping possession.
Brown has the ability to put the puck on the tape and make saucer passes to get it through traffic in order to set up teammates. He uses his size to be physical on the forecheck, as well as to win battles for pucks down low, and establish his position in front of the net. Brown is not throwing huge highlight reel checks, but he is more than willing to get involved in battles and does not shy away from contact.
Ryan Poehling, Centre
A first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens last year, Poehling was one of the best players at the summer warm-up tournament. He will likely be given a huge role, playing against the other team’s top lines, while also being expected to drive the second line offence for the Americans. Poehling plays a gritty game, battling in the corners and in front of the net; as well as being effective on the forecheck. He also has a very good wrist shot and release. Like Brown, Poehling is using his shot more, and its shown as he has nearly as many goals for St. Cloud as he had all last season.
Poehling’s stickhandling is decent, but he plays a very straightforward north-south style of game and is not the type to take on defenders in one-on-one situations. Instead, he looks to move the puck to an open teammate and then try to find an open area on the ice. He loves to run give-and-go style plays with his teammates. His vision is very good, and he seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck. Poehling is especially strong in the cycle game. He protects the puck well and extends plays, giving time for his linemates to get open.
Adam Fox, Defence
A third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2016, Fox is an undersized defenseman. He is still an elite offensive producer. Fox has excellent skating ability, moving around the ice with very good speed and acceleration. He can lead or join the rush, or pinch at the blue line and still get back to defend his own zone as well. Fox has extremely good stickhandling ability. He shows poise with the puck at the blue line, being patient, and willing to use his agility to walk the line to open up shooting and passing lanes.
Fox has the outstanding vision and the ability to feather a pass through the tightest of openings. He can use this ability while quarterbacking the power play, carrying the puck on the rush, or in making the first pass to start the rush. He is especially adept at making long breakaway passes. Fox’s wrist shot is accurate and features a quick release, but could use a bit more power. He has a knack for getting his slap shot through traffic and keeping it low and on the net.
Ryan Lindgren, Defence
A 2016 second-round pick of the Boston Bruins, Lindgren is better known for his defensive game than his offence at this point. He has strong positioning, keeping himself between his man and the net. He reads the play well and uses a quick stick to cut down passing lanes and create turnovers. Lindgren is not a huge hitter but he is physically involved in the corners and in front of the net, establishing leverage and using his strength and balance to its full advantage. He makes a good first pass out of the zone and gets the transition game going. He also has enough puckhandling ability to protect the puck while avoiding forecheckers.
Carter Hart, Goaltender
A 2016 second-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Hart has been remarkable this year with a .961 save percentage in the WHL. Hart is extremely athletic in the crease. His technique is solid. He is almost always square to the shooter, whether it be on a first shot or rebound. When he does get beaten he can make some incredible recoveries and reflex based stops. While most young goalies struggle with rebound control this is a strength of Hart’s game, as he often swallows up pucks or directs them into the corners, minimizing the number of second-chance opportunities that he will face. Hart keeps a cool and calm demeanour in the net. If he does give up a soft goal, which is rare, he does not get rattled and comes back ready to make the next stop.
He gets in and out of the butterfly very quickly. Hart takes away the bottom of the net with exceptionally fast legs. He also is an aggressive goalie who makes himself seem bigger. Hart takes full advantage of his ability to come out of the net and cut down angles. Strong skating, being able to move out and back quickly, as well as a good push and the ability to go side-to-side with ease allow Hart to fully take advantage of a style that sees him really challenge shooters and aggressively play the angles. He also has a quick glove hand.
Victor Mete, Defence
A fourth-round pick in 2016, Mete made the Montreal Canadiens out of camp and has been loaned to Team Canada for the tournament. Mete is an outstanding skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. He has quick feet, with excellent pivots allowing him to transition from offence to defence, and with very good agility. Mete makes quick cuts and maneuvers away from forecheckers in his own end as well as through the neutral zone. He also has the ability to walk the line in the offensive zone, opening up passing and shooting lanes.
Mete plays a strong two-way game and will play big minutes, and all situations for Canada. He has outstanding puck handling skills. Combine these with his skating and he is excellent at carrying the puck out of his own zone and leading the rush. He also makes a great first pass, allowing him to start the transition game. Mete has excellent vision and sets up things with his end to end rushes. He can also play the role of quarterback on the power-play. Mete shows excellent hockey IQ though, as he sees plays developing and makes his passes at the right time to maximize the offensive opportunity. Defensively, Mete’s quick feet allow him to keep attackers in front of him, and maintain great gap control. He is very difficult to beat off the rush, especially in one-on-one situations.
Kale Clague, Defence
Clague will also be a key member of the Canadian defence and might be their most important defenseman in the tournament. A Los Angeles Kings prospect, Clague is an outstanding skater. He has great top-end speed and acceleration in both directions allowing him to be an effective two-way defender. Clague can join the rush or make pinches in the offensive zone and still get back quickly on defence. He has good stick handling ability and can use his agility to avoid forecheckers and create space to lead the rush. He can also start the transition game with a strong first pass out of the zone and often follows that pass to continue the attack. A natural power-play quarterback, Clague can walk the line, throws strong, crisp passes, and has excellent vision. His slap shot is decent, but not overpowering.
Sam Steel, Centre
An Anaheim Ducks prospect, Steel is an outstanding skater with strong speed and great acceleration. He is smooth on his skates and also shows outstanding edge work and agility. Once he gets a step on a defender, he is gone. Steel has outstanding stick handling ability and very soft hands. He weaves through traffic and creates plays off the rush. Steel also has a good wrist shot and quick release, allowing him to use defenders as a screen and fire it on the net if they back off. Add in excellent vision and passing skills and Steel excels as a playmaker. His playmaking ability is probably the biggest strength of his game right now. Steel has outstanding hockey IQ, and thinks the game a step ahead of others. He seems to always make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He should centre the first line.
Jordan Kyrou, Right Wing
The St. Louis Blues prospect is leading the OHL in points right now and appears headed for a top line role for Canada. Kyrou is an excellent playmaker. He has good vision and the ability to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open before feathering them a tape to tape pass. He reads the play well and makes good decisions on when to make that pass to an open teammate. Kyrou’s speed makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, however, he also controls the puck well in the cycle game and works hard down low. He is using his wrist shot more this year. It shows off increased power and a quicker release. The improvements in his game have made Kyrou a dynamic player.
Kasper Krog, Goaltender
Krog played in last year’s tournament and backstopped Denmark to a win over Finland in one of the biggest upsets in World Junior history. A smaller goalie at just 5’9″ tall, Krog relies on his reflexes and athleticism in net. He is exceptionally quick, taking away openings that seem to be there. Krog gets across his crease quickly. He tracks the puck very well, and has shown the ability to remain calm and cool while under a siege of shots. This will serve him well, as he could face a lot of rubber in the Denmark net.
Joachim Blichfeld, Right Wing
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks, Blichfeld has 13 goals and 30 points in 26 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season. He is not the flashiest player, but Blichfeld plays a very smart game. He finds openings in the defence and gets set up for his shot. His wrist shot is heavy and accurate, but he could work on getting an even quicker release. At 6’2″ he has the size to get to the front of the net and provide screens and pounce on rebounds. Most of Blichfeld’s assists come through good puck control on the cycle game and keeping possession in the offensive zone.
Jonas Rondbjerg, Left Wing
A third-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, Rondbjerg plays for Vaxjo in the SHL. He is an excellent skater with good speed, and a powerful stride. Rondbjerg is very hard to knock off the puck and can protect it in the cycle. He has excellent vision and instincts and almost always makes the smart play with the puck. Rondbjerg has a hard and accurate wrist shot. He is also wiling to get to the front of the net to create offence. Rondbjerg works hard in all three zones, and is a very smart defensive forward.
Adam Ruzicka, Centre
A 2017 Calgary Flames draft pick, Ruzicka can play a power forward style of game. When he is at his best, he works the puck along the boards and out of the corners and drives it to the front of the net. He has the hands necessary to bury pucks in close. Ruzicka also has an excellent wrist shot and snapshot. He can also play the role of playmaker. Ruzicka has the ability to make saucer passes, or to get the puck through tight spaces. He has the vision to wait for a teammate to get open. Ruzicka makes tape-to-tape passes in good areas. When Ruzicka is on his game, his size and power can make him very effective protecting the puck, working the cycle game, and waiting for an opportunity. His biggest issue is inconsistency.
Marian Studenic, Right Wing
A New Jersey Devils prospect, Studenic plays for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and has 30 points in 32 games this year. He is a very good skater, with excellent speed and acceleration. Studenic loves to take a defender wide and then cut to the front of the net. If a defender backs off to respect his speed, he can use him as a screen and quickly get off a powerful and accurate wrist shot. He controls the puck well down low and creates plays for teammates with his good vision and passing skills. Studenic is a hard-working forward and plays a two-hundred-foot game.
David Hrenak, Goaltender
Hrenak has not seen a lot of playing time but has been outstanding for the St. Cloud State Huskies in the NCAA this year. In six games he has put up a 1.82 goals against average and .947 save percentage in six games. Last season, he played for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, putting up a .923 save percentage. At 6’1″ Hrenak is not the biggest goalie out there, but he shows a solid butterfly technique and good post-to-post coverage. He gets across the crease very well and his puck-tracking is very strong. Hrenak has quick legs and is good at taking away the bottom of the net.
Miro Heiskanen, Defence
Drafted third overall by the Dallas Stars, Heiskanen is a good passer and can start the rush by making a move to avoid a forechecker and getting the puck up the ice to a teammate. He can also lead or make plays on the point on the power play. Heiskanen’s passing skills extend to his ability to man the point on the power play, where he can set things up on the back end. He is an excellent stick handler. He can lead the rush and make plays through the neutral zone, and also has the poise to make plays at the blue line.
Heiskanen is very good in his own end. He has excellent gap control and is very tough to beat one-on-one. Positioning is a real strength, as he gets himself into good positions and uses his stick and his body to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He could stand to be a bit more physical both in the corners and in front of the net. Heiskanen is quick to retrieve pucks in corners and get the puck out of dangerous areas, and start the transition game.
Olli Juolevi, Defence
Juolevi’s strong two-way game is based on his strong skating ability. He has very good speed in both directions and good acceleration. His pivots are crisp and his edge work is very solid. This allows him to quickly transition from offence-to-defence or vice-versa. This skating allows Juolevi to cover a ton of ice, and to be able to join the rush, or make pinches at the blueline and still get back defensively. He is very strong at protecting the middle of the ice, using his good footwork to keep himself between attacking forwards and the net. He forces opponents to the outside against the rush and keeps those cycling the puck to the boards. Juolevi has a quick stick and uses it to poke the puck off of opponents sticks.
Juolevi can quarterback the power play with good skating ability, a powerful slap shot, strong wrist shot, and very good passing skills. He has excellent vision and the shows the smarts to make the smart play, whether it is in running the point on that powerplay or in starting the rush out of his end. Juolevi walks the line well and opens up passing and shooting lanes with his agility and poise with the puck on his stick. He understands how to keep the puck low and on net in order to maximize his teammates’ ability to get tip-ins, screens and rebounds. In addition to making good breakout passes, he has the skating and puck handling skills to avoid the forecheck and start the play that way as well.
Aleksi Heponiemi, Centre/Left Wing
The Florida Panthers prospect is leading the WHL in points. Heponiemi is very fast, with an excellent first step and acceleration. Defenders must respect Heponiemi’s speed, as he can beat them to the outside, and cut back to the net. He changes speeds very well, which can fool a defender or catch them flat-footed. He is also very elusive in one-on-one situations.
Heponiemi has outstanding hands. He can make dekes in a phone booth and is extremely dangerous one-on-one. Heponiemi sees plays developing, and makes smart passes. He is an excellent playmaker, making tape-to-tape passes through tight openings. He also uses his stickhandling and skating to extend plays, waiting for a teammate to get open. Heponiemi has an accurate wrist shot, with a good release.
Eeli Tolvanen, Left Wing
A Nashville Predators prospect, Tolvanen is a pure sniper who scores goals in a variety of different ways. He reads the play extremely well and gets himself into the right position to create a scoring chance. Tolvanen has an outstanding one-timer, with great power and accuracy. He also has a lightning quick release on his wrist shot. That wrist shot is heavy, and he is also very accurate. Tolvanen has the soft hands to make quick moves and beat defenders with his stick handling ability. Tolvanen’s snapshot is also deadly. He can fire that vast assortment of shots in stride. He can also bury rebounds and has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections in front of the net as well.
Janne Kuokkanen, Centre/Wing
A Carolina Hurricanes prospect, Kuokkanen is a smart and efficient playmaker. He has very good stickhandling ability, able to protect the puck and make quick moves in tight spaces. His vision and passing skill are excellent.
He slows the play down and finds openings that most other players do not see, and is able to put a pass through a tight opening or make a saucer pass that lands on a teammates tape. Kuokkanen has very good anticipation and hockey sense as he seems to see openings before they are there. His shot could stand to be harder but is very accurate and he possesses a very quick release. Kuokkanen seems to defer to passing though, and could stand to use his shot more often. He could also seem to get more involved in the dirty areas of the ice, as Kuokkanen prefers to play more of a perimeter game at this point in his career.