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World Juniors 2020: Alexis Lafrenière, Tim Stützle among 20 draft prospects to watch

One of the best ways for casual hockey fans to familiarize themselves with the top prospects in the 2020 NHL draft class is to watch the IIHF World Junior Championship, which begins on Dec. 26 from the Czech Republic.

Most of the time, only a handful of those privileged enough to participate in the prestigious event are considered the elite of a given draft class, and their roles on their respective national teams vary from prominent to insignificant. That shouldn’t be the case this year, as 15 of our top 100 prospects for the upcoming draft — including nine of the top 15 — are not only expected to suit up for the two-week-long tournament but should be given critical roles with their respective squads.

WJC 2020: Time, TV channel, livestream, where, when, schedule

Here’s a look at 20 draft prospects to watch with draft positioning, medal implications and national pride on the line.

Canada

Alexis Lafrenière

LW | Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) | 2020 draft projection: 1st overall 

The consensus top pick for the upcoming NHL draft, Lafrenière blends speed, skill and power into an impressive overall package rarely seen in a teenage winger. Just 18, the touch on his passes is phenomenal — especially around the net — and he also can wire an accurate wrister with a quick release. This is his second go-around at the world juniors, but the pressure is on for him to deliver from both a team and individual standpoint.

2020 Top 125: Lafrenière, Byfield continue to lead the pack

Quinton Byfield

C | Sudbury Wolves (OHL) | 2020 projection: 2nd overall

Byfield is a strong two-way center with size who can play the finesse game as well as any forward on the Canadian roster. Although he trails Lafrenière in midseason draft rankings, the general feeling is that the 17-year-old is a lock to be the second pick and a strong showing at the world juniors could strengthen his case to go first overall. Like Lafrenière, Byfield can kill penalties and be a shorthanded threat.

Jamie Drysdale

RHD | Erie Otters (OHL) | 2020 projection: early first round

An explosive offensive defenseman with a developing defensive game, Drysdale is the youngest rearguard to play for Team Canada at the world juniors since Aaron Ekblad in 2014. He can make coast-to-coast dashes with ease and he owns a devastating wrist shot from the high slot. Drysdale spends most of his shifts handling the puck inside the offensive end and he can fill in on the power play in the event one of the older players can’t get it done.

Dawson Mercer

C/RW | Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) | 2020 projection: Middle to late first round

A strong forward with a hard shot who can play center or wing, Mercer is energetic from start to finish of every shift while wielding an active stick and anticipating the direction of puck travel. He can be used in all situations, including centering a penalty-killing unit and taking — and winning — key faceoffs. He’s a bit of a hunched skater with a powerful stride and above-average straight-line speed, which when coupled with his high hockey sense and route taking, enables him to control the puck in open ice with frequency.

MORE: How to watch Canada’s games in the 2020 tournament

United States

Parker Ford (Providence College, HE)

LW | Providence College (HE) | 2020 projection: 4th to 6th round

An aggressive forward with a nonstop motor and excellent speed, Ford offers Team USA in-your-face forechecking and momentum-turning plays in the neutral zone. A 2000 birth year,  he was passed over in each of the last two drafts; however, Ford’s efforts on and off the puck for a powerful program like Providence, plus his selection to Team USA’s WJC (camp) roster make him one of the more desirable double overagers for 2020. He likely won’t be slotted on either of the first two lines or used on the power play but you can bank on Ford contributing on the PK and in key defensive-zone situations. He makes a ton of smart decisions — most of which may go unnoticed to the casual observer.

WORLD JUNIORS:  Team USA’s complete game schedule, results

Germany

Tim Stützle

C/LW | Adler Mannheim (DEL) | 2020 projection: Top-10 Pick

The centerpiece of Germany’s resurgence on the international stage, Stützle is a dynamic offensive force who can explode into open ice at a moment’s notice. You can expect him to be on the ice for all critical situations and opposing coaches will have their work cut out for them in attempting to slow his down. Stützle is slippery and agile in tight spaces and you simply cannot take your eyes off him for a second.

Maximilian Glotzl 

LHD | Kolner Junghaie (DNL) | 2020 projection: 3rd to 5th round

A physical two-way defenseman who can play either side and looks to make big open-ice hits, Glotzl is the top 2002-born blueliner in Germany and for Kölner Junghaie (DNL). He runs the point on the power play and anchors the top penalty-killing unit for his club team, so expect the same at world juniors. He is a powerful skater who accelerates to top speed in only three or four strides, which is impressive for a thick-framed defender, and he works hard at keeping the crease clear. With his head always on a swivel, Glotzl steps up in a timely manner while he passes the puck crisply and without hesitation. He is able to get himself open to unload an excellent shot that is kept low and on net with consistency. The knee-jerk reaction is to compare him to 2019 first-round pick Moritz Seider, but you will soon see that Glotzl is impressive enough to deserve his own category.

Lukas Reichel

LW | Eisbaren Berlin (DEL) | 2020 projection: 2nd to 3rd round

A well-balanced and agile skater with excellent vision and playmaking skills, Reichel is a German Elite League regular who has performed well above expectations for the Berlin Polar Bears. He’s got solid speed and lateral quickness and good things happen once he can get into open ice. Although Stützle is getting all of the attention as far as draft eligibles from Germany, it’s important to identify Reichel’s production — 15 points in 24 games with very little power-play time —  and his 17.8 shooting percentage is 10th in the league among players with 45 or more shots. Berlin also relies on him in shootouts, so expect the same at the world juniors.

J.J. Peterka 

LW | Red Bull Munich (DEL) | 2020 projection: 2nd to 4th round

A fast dual-threat winger who has spent the entire season with Munich in the German Elite League, Peterka is a crafty and skilled forward who is a threat every time he hops over the boards. He has an explosive first step and always seems to be in open ice controlling the puck with confidence. Like most finesse players, Peterka can identify and create multiple scoring chances from the half wall or behind the net, and his elusiveness with strong edges keep goalies off the near post and expose more net than they would like. Although Germany might place him on the same unit with Stützle and Reichel, Peterka is more than capable of carrying his own line.

World Juniors primer: A team-by-team guide to the 2020 under-20 championship

Czech Republic

Jan Mysak

C/RW | Litvinov (Extraliga) | 2020 projection: Late 1st to 3rd round

One of the youngest players to perform in the adult-age Extraliga, Mysak had been a regular for Litvinov while producing at a higher rate than recent Czech League notables such as Martin Necas, Filip Zadina and Filip Chytil. He displays a commanding on-ice presence and is a creative forward who can finish as well as he can set up linemates. There was a lot of pressure on Mysak to deliver at the Ivan Hlinka but his overall performance was more on the nondescript side. That could change at the world juniors, where he’ll likely slot in on the wing on either of the first two lines in addition to seeing time on both the power play and penalty kill.

Jaromir Pytlik

C/LW | Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) | 2020 projection: Late 1st to 3rd round

A strong forward with soft hands and a nice touch around the net, Pytlik has been one of the OHL’s most versatile draft-eligible imports. He has played wing at international events and occupies center ice for the Soo, but he will likely slot down the middle for the Czechs. Pytlik loves to shoot the puck and is able to create his own shot, but he’s deceptively quick and nimble enough to go from a faked slapshot to a dash to the net while maintaining full control of the puck. An absolute horse along the boards, he spends a lot of time on the penalty kill and uses his long reach to keep lanes obstructed.

Simon Kubicek

RHD | Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) | 2020 projection: 3rd to 5th round

A hard-shooting defenseman with size, Kubicek is the top-scoring defenseman for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds while being used in all situations. His shot is a big part of his game, but he is able to handle the puck cleanly and transition from backhand to forehand in a controlled manner. Kubicek has a tremendous amount of poise when under an intense forecheck and is confident in his stickhandling abilities to outwait the aggressor before trapping him with a lead or bank pass. He tends to afford a little too much room when defending against zone entries, but Kubicek has quick closing speed and a strong upper body to put a puck carrier into the corner.

Adam Raska

RW | Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) | 2020 projection: 3rd to 5th round

A physical winger with underrated puck skills, Raska has been a solid role player for a Rimouski squad that relies heavily on a top line and lead power-play unit anchored by Lafrenière. He was playing his best hockey of his rookie season when he was shelved with an injury but his north-south style and penchant for delivering solid checks and crashing the crease should keep his name circulating within NHL scouting circles. Raska has been one of the top players for the Czechs at several recent U18 tournaments.

Russia

Yaroslav Askarov

G | SKA-Neva (VHL) | 2020 projection: Top-10

The top goaltending prospect for the draft already has taken down Canada (2020 Ivan Hlinka) and the United States (2019 U-18 World Championship) before the age of 18 — so it makes sense Russian head coach Valeri Bragin has earmarked Askarov as the primary starter during preliminary-round play. Beyond stopping pucks, it’s hard not to notice the netminder because he always is in constant motion and loves to make every save look easy. His flair and on-ice charisma, however, won’t guarantee Russia the gold medal that has eluded them for nearly a decade. Still, if there was ever a 17-year-old goalie with the confidence and technical superiority to thwart the lethal attacks of two North American powerhouses in the same tournament, it’s Askarov.

Maxim Groshev

RW | Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL) | 2020 projection: 2nd to 4th round

A sturdy winger with excellent balance and puck control, Groshev is the rare first-year eligible who has seen a significant amount of time in the KHL. He uses his thick frame and strong lower body to wear down defenders during the cycle. Like Mercer for Canada, he distinguished himself at the U20 Super Series in November after he was a key member of Russia’s silver-medal winning entry at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. 

WJC 2020: Dustin Wolf | Dylan Cozens | Alexis Lafreniere

Sweden

Lucas Raymond

LW | Frolunda Indians (SHL) | 2020 projection: Top-10

An up-and-down draft year with a sprinkling of demotions, injuries and inconsistent play, Raymond could use a boost of confidence a strong tournament would bring. From a natural skill standpoint, few players in this tournament will have the smarts and high compete level that complements his elite play on the puck. Although Raymond didn’t produce to his standards at the Summer Showcase or the recent U20 Four Nations Cup, he is an impact player who likes to take the puck inside and make world-class setups. He also puts forth a strong effort on the forecheck and is fast enough to catch up to runaway defensemen to pick their pockets for a quick transition the other way.

Alexander Holtz

RW | Djurgarden (SHL) | 2020 projection: Top-10

A pure goal scorer with a howitzer for a shot, Holtz has proven in multiple international tournaments that he doesn’t need to fill the stat sheet to be an effective player. He has a very high compete level and gives it his all from the beginning of every shift to the end. A forward who can play physical, muck it up in the corners and battle bigger defensemen for pucks along the boards he can also slip into the slot undetected for a snipe labeled for the top corner. Holtz will see a lot of power-play time and should play with Raymond on Sweden’s second or third line

Switzerland

Simon Knak

RW | Portland Winterhawks (WHL) | 2020 projection: 5th to 7th round

A strong winger with good size and sound anticipation, Knak has filled in nicely as a rookie import for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. He has above-average speed but excellent balance and tight-quarter agility where defenders have to be wary of his quick curls inside off of board play that can result in an open path to the net. Knak adds value to the power play by keeping his feet moving and always looking to slip into soft spots for a quick shot off the pass. The 17-year-old distributes the puck confidently and with accuracy, and he will exploit the cross-ice seam if opposing sticks are poorly positioned.

Slovakia

Marko Stacha

LHD | Dukla Trencin (Tipsport Liga) | 2020 projection: 4th to 6th round

A swift offensive-minded defender with an active stick who has been a bottom-pairing defender in Slovakia’s elite Tipsport Liga, Stacha was solid for the Slovaks at the Ivan Hlinka where he displayed a quick first step and timely step-ups. Stacha can play physical when necessary and will use his upper-body strength to knock on-rushing puck carriers off balance or to shove them hard into the boards. He is, however, a puck rusher by nature and will look to join the rush or activate well below the faceoff dots to keep plays alive. Stacha delivers a crisp first pass and can use his footwork to fool aggressive forecheckers, but he still is learning the ropes on how to position himself properly and defend odd-man rushes.

Samuel Knazko

LHD | TPS Turku U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga) | 2020 projection: 2nd to 4th round

A swift two-way defenseman who has been one of the better teenage rearguards in Finland’s competitive Junior SM-Liiga, Knazko can tailor his game to fit any situation in any zone. He uses his wheels or hard stretch passes to initiate breakouts, control the pace and flow of a possession while manning the point on the power play or to step up with timely reads to break up plays in the neutral zone. Knazko can be both elusive and cerebral during chip-and-chase retrievals, with a series of jukes and directional changes to create time and space. He loves to shoot the puck but does so with a purpose — be on the look out for his patented carom shots that sneaks onto the stick blade of an awaiting teammate at the open side of the net.

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