With yet another international break on the horizon, most of North America is setting their sights on the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship, considered to be the top junior level tournament on the planet. But in Whitby and Cobourg, Ontario, six teams from five countries will compete in a week-long tournament known as the “World Junior A Challenge”. While many of the European players don’t in fact play in Junior A, it does give a chance to showcase some top end talent that don’t steal all the headlines in the CHL or NCAA but still play at a high level.
Team Canada is bringing two teams to the tournament, so in an attempt to focus on the other talent, they got their own post. So who are the best of the rest? Take a look at five players who truly could make an impact at the professional level in the near future.
5. Kristian Oldham, G (USA): This won’t be Oldham’s first shot at playing for the Americans at an international event, and after a good showing at a Five Nations event a few years ago, you can imagine the team is excited to have him back between the pipes. A draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Oldham is having a good season with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, putting up a .928 SP by the time he was named to the Americans for the tournament. Oldham is a long-shot candidate for the third US goalie spot at the World Juniors later in December, but at just 18, he has a chance to fight his way onto the team in a better role once he joins the University of Nebraska-Omaha next season. With the Americans heading into the event with a 13 game win streak over the past few seasons, there’s a little pressure for Oldham to keep the crease safe and hold on to every lead possible, but that should be no problem for the young netminder.
4. Artur Kayumov, F (Russia): One of the better MHL prospects heading into the 2016 NHL Draft, Kayumov should easily be a standout player at the World Junior A Challenge. A talented Russian star playing with the Under-18 national team development program in the MHL (Russian junior league), Kayumov had recorded 20 points in 23 games for his team at the time the roster was announced, good for 17th in the league despite playing against kids as much as three years older than him. Kayumov could end up being a good top 90 pick in the NHL Draft in 2016, and with NHL scouts in attendance to see what he can do, a strong performance could help boost his attractiveness to teams who may not get many chances to see him on a regular basis. They may still remember his strong Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup performance, where the 17-year-old went on to finish with six points in five games, but this could be a chance for Kayumov to one-up his own performance and compete for a gold medal.
3. Lukas Doudera, D (Czech Republic): For such a young man, Doudera has already seen a lot of action in big-time events. After years playing in the HC Kladno system in the Czech Republic, Lukas and his older brother Milan transferred to Oceláři Třinec in 2014 in order to make the professional Czech league. While he has had some solid seasons at the Czech junior level, which tends to be weaker than in Finland or Sweden, Doudera does have some defensive brain farts that have taken away from his game at times. Considered to be a potential top 60 option for the 2016 draft, Doudera has had a big hurdle to overcome this season after making the jump to the pro’s full-time at such a young age. Regardless, Doudera has shined in two separate performances at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup on home soil, and if the quick puck-moving defenseman is to fight back into higher draft territory this June, he’ll need to have a similar performance when the Czech’s use their Under-18 team in Cobourg. The question is, can Doudera stay consistent throughout the entire tournament, or will he get outmatched by the stronger defensive stylings of Canada West and USA?
2. Chase Pearson, F (USA): In a unique situation, Chase Pearson will be playing in the World Junior A Challenge for the Americans this year. But what makes that different? Two years ago, Pearson actually represented Team Canada during his time with the Cornwall Colts in 2013-2014. Now, Pearson, a dual-citizen, will have a chance to represent the United States in his second full year with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms. Pearson should be able to finish off the season as a much more impactful forward than a year ago when the Detroit Red Wings prospect finished with just 26 points in 57 games. Set to join the University of Maine next year following his final season of Junior A hockey, Pearson should compete for a medal with the United States this year thanks to their typical dominance at the event. It’s not totally clear on how much of an impact he’ll have, but as an NHL drafted forward getting ready to make the jump to the NCAA next year, he’ll be looking to have one last crack at taking home a gold medal at a tournament that the Americans should easily be strong in.
1. Nico Hischier, F (Switzerland): He may only be just 16-years-old, but Nico Hischier is going to be one heck of an NHL prospect someday. Considered to be one of the best forwards to come out of Switzerland in some time, Hischier has already seen action with the Swiss U20 team, with a chance at playing at the 2016 World Juniors up for grabs. In fact, he was the best player at the Four Nations tournament in early November despite being as much as three years younger than some of his counterparts. A top prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft, Hischier had a strong Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer for the Swiss, putting up six points in just four games for the team in red and white. An elite offensive star with the Bern U20 club in Switzerland, Hischier has already played in a few games with the top Bern team in the Swiss NLA league, one of the strongest leagues in all of Europe. If the former U15 scoring legend can earn the trust of Bern to allow him to play at such a young age, clearly he’s good enough to make a big impact at this event. Look for Hischier to be an offensive catalyst for the Swiss, while also looking to earn a spot for the main World Junior tournament taking place a week later.
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