Goaltending: Let’s face it, losing George Sorenson is going to be a huge blow for the Danes. He practically saved the team throughout most of the World Juniors last year, but, this time, he’s too old to playing with the kids. The good news is his backup from a year ago, Thomas Lillie, isn’t too shabby himself. Having participated in various international tournaments for the Danes at different age levels, Lillie was named the top goaltender of the Danish U17 league two years in a row before making his way up to the top pro league with SønderjyskE. Currently backstopping the Växjö Lakers HC J20 club for the second year in a row, Lillie looked good in his three previous U20 World Junior events split over the past two years, so look for him to be a potential surprise once his team finds out what it’s like to get shelled with shots. Lasse Munk Petersen could also be given a chance after a strong performance at the Division IA World Under-18 tournament a year ago, posting the best stats in the tournament to help lead Denmark to the gold medal and earn promotion. Currently playing with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs, Petersen is capable of winning a few games if needed along the way but Lillie will probably end up taking the starting role.
Defensemen: The seven defense that will make up this squad will easily have their work cut out for them thanks to being outmatched in pretty much every game they’ll suit up for. Matias Lassen is most likely going to be the Danish defensive leader, having looked good at the World Juniors last year as well as at a Four Nations event earlier in the year. A defensive defenseman with Leksands IF in the second Swedish pro league, Lassen is always one of the big minute crunchers for the Danes when he represents them internationally, something he’s done close to 50 times since 2011. Christian Mieritz is also a decent option in the top four, with the Hamilton Bulldogs defenseman transitioning well into an OHLer this year. A fairly physical player that looked great in both Under-18 tournaments he played in for Denmark, Mieritz could use a bit of a break from major junior to recharge with the Danish national team as the group looks to avoid relegation for the second straight year. Jeppe Holmberg should help add some experience to the Danes, with the 19-year-old returning to the World Juniors after nearly 20 games played with the Under-20 team in 2014-2015. He and Anders Krogsgaard played together during the 2015 tournament, so keeping some familiarity in the top four could help things run smoother. Krogsgaard has proven himself to be a valuable offensive contributor in the Danish men’s pro league this year and with two major U20 tournaments already under his belt, he’ll surely look for a good performance in his final international tournament as a junior hockey player.
Forwards: Great news, Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand are back! Wait, no, sorry, that’s incorrect. So, who’s next to try and save Denmark from their untimely demotion back to Division IA? Well, let’s start with Kristian Jensen. Jensen will come in as one of just three returning forwards from the Danes a year ago, but with most of the scoring coming from the same few individuals on the roster, Jensen finished the event with zero points as an 18-year-old. Currently looking solid with the Luleå HF J20 team in the Swedish SuperElit league, Jensen will likely be counted on more than a year ago to help step up and score the odd goal or two. Alexander True is a very intriguing option for the Danes, as the star of the Division IA U18 team a year ago comes into the tournament teetering on the point-per-game mark with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. As a player who failed to record a point in 18 U20 games a year ago, you can imagine True wants to put up a much stronger performance in Finland this year, and he’ll be used as the number one centre most likely. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the cousin on Ehlers, either. Søren Nielsen also returns as yet another forward with no offensive production a year ago, but when he was hot at the U18 level, he was one of the best players on the ice. Nielsen crushed the competition in the second Danish league during a stint with the club early in the season, scoring 10 points in his first three games with Esbjerg IK. Will it translate to the U20 Danish team? We’ll have to see. Mathias From and Jeppe Jul Korsgaard are the two highest scoring forwards that have made the transition from the Under-18 Division IA gold medalists to the top division U20 World Junior team this year, with both players putting up six points in five games for the Danes.
Projection: With no Ehlers or Bjorkstrand to set the pace up front, the Danes are going to really struggle to find something that’ll set them apart. They were a tremendous surprise at the 2015 event, earning a spot in the quarter-finals but expecting them to do that again this year will be a big stretch. When you have Canada, Sweden and the United States on your schedule, you really need to hope for a lot of luck along the way. Look for Denmark to meet with Belarus in the regulation round, a series of games that’ll be on at 5am ET for those in North America.
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