The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship opens on Thursday, December 26 from Ostrava and Trinec, the Czech Republic, with the best under-20-year-old players from around the hockey world squaring off in a round-robin format followed by a medal round ending on Jan 5th.
With Canada and the United Staes always a threat to win, it will be Russia and Sweden likely providing the stiffest competition, but in a tournament this short, you can never tell. With this year’s crop of talent, it will certainly be an exciting tournament that is wide open.
While there are a few prospects that remain to be drafted, potentially in this summers NHL draft, the tournament is predominantly a haven for 19-year-old skaters with high-rated NHL prospects littered throughout the teams. Team Canada has arguably the top-two selections in next summers NHL draft with Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves/OHL) and Alexis Lafreniere (Rimouski Oceanic/QMJHL).
The Washington Capitals have two prospects who will look to bring home a medal for their respective countries. Forward Connor McMichael (1st round/25th overall ‘19) will suit up for his native Team Canada squad, while Martin Hugo Has (5th round/153 overall ‘19) looks to be a leader for the home-team Czech Republic.
The two will be assured of playing each other as they will matchup in the preliminary round on December 31st. With a deep Canadian squad, McMichael has been playing a secondary role while seeing time on both special teams units during the team’s training camp, though it’s expected this could change as lines in these tournaments can be notoriously versatile, with coaches looking to find their hot hands in a short window.
McMichael has an advantage some on his team don’t and it’s why he has become one of the more talked about players at last year’s draft. He can fit anywhere in the line-up. Some of Canada’s players in the top-six are not as good away from the puck but do have the offensive ability McMichael would have there. It is for this reason, he is being trusted to provide stabilization to the teams bottom-six where he’ll likely see mismatches versus some of the squads without the depth of the stronger teams, much like Lars Eller does now.
Hugo Has will be looked to help mitigate goals against in what may be the weakness of a challenged Czech club. At 6’4” he is part of a big, but less mobile defense, that will play more of a trap system trying to control the speed of their opponents. Hugo Has will have his hands full, much like Martin Fehervary in last year’s tournament, but it will be a great test for him, as his skating can be a bit of an issue in terms of mobility. The Czech team does boast quality goal scorers, led by ‘20 NHL prospect Jan Jenik (Hamilton BullDogs/OHL) but will need strong goaltending from Lukas Dostal to have a chance.
Team USA also has great talent to watch for and is one of the favourites to win the gold medal, as they look like they could score plenty of goals. The only OHL players are Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton Bulldogs/OHL) and Nick Robertson (Peterborough Petes/OHL) who’ve both been tearing up the league this season in a race with McMichael for the goal-scoring crown.
Spencer Knight (Boston College) is one of the strongest goaltenders at the tournament and Montreal prospect Cole Caufield (Univ of Wisconson/NCAA) looks to lead a healthy offence. McMichael’s OHL teammate in London Alec Regula was one of the last cuts for the American team.
One of the biggest moments in a Capitals prospects junior career happened back in 2010 when John Carlson scored in OT to give the United States a win over Team Canada.
Since 1999, Canada leads with seven gold medals won followed by the USA who have taken home four (‘04,’10,’13,’17). Finland has had a hotter hand in recent tournaments winning three times in the last six years.
Canada and the USA open their tournament against each other at 1 PM EST on December 26th as the two rivals get the tournament off with a bang. Montreal Canadians prospect Cole Caufield expects this game will be no different than in the past for his USA teammates taking on Canada as its never a game of just team against a team with these two. It is about your country.
Canada Schedule (McMichael):
Dec 26 vs USA 1 PM EST
Dec 28 vs Russia 1 PM EST
Dec 30 vs Germany 9 AM EST
Dec 31 vs Czech Republic 1 PM EST
Czech Republic Schedule (Hugo Has):
Dec 26 vs Russia 9 AM EST
Dec 28 vs Germany 9 AM EST
Dec 30 vs USA 9 AM EST
Dec 31 vs Canada 1 PM EST
Dec 26 vs Canada 1 PM EST
Dec 27 vs Germany 1 PM EST
Dec 29 vs Russia 1 PM EST
Dec 30 vs Czech Republic 1 PM EST
Jan 2 – Jan 5 (Medal Round)
Gold Medal Game: Jan 5, 1 PM EST
By Marcus Boutilier