J.C. Lipon has turned a lot of heads this year as he plays through his last season of draft eligibility. (Getty Images)
UFA, RUSSIA - The medal round is set here in Ufa, but the world juniors never fail to bring upsets. This year, it was Finland that crashed out of the tournament. They'll play in the relegation round after an opening game injury to sniper Miro Aaltonen sent them into a death spiral. That means NHL scouts will have to head to the smaller rink to see Sasha Barkov and friends from here on out. Here's a look at some of the other prospects making noise over here.
Back home in the Western League, Lipon has been the surprise of the season; an undrafted, unknown who burst on the scene to become one of the highest scorers in the nation before world junior duties took him to Russia. And while he plays on both special teams in Kamloops, the pecking order on Team Canada meant he was being used as a depth player and penalty killer in Ufa, which is fine by him.
“The calibre of players here is pretty high,” Lipon said. “So when you're on the penalty kill, you have to show speed if you're going to prevent goals and I like that role.”
A late bloomer who simply refused to give up on his dream, Lipon spent last season earning ice time and is now flourishing on a line with Habs pick Tim Bozon and Avalanche prospect Colin Smith. That persistence is helping him in Ufa, too.
“I've had my fair share of short shifts in the past,” he said. “You just have to keep your legs going on the bench and be ready when you get that call.”
Befitting of his underdog status, Lipon is still incredibly humble, even by hockey player standards. To wit, here's his assessment of the run he and his linemates have had in the first half of the season:
“We assembled as a line last year and we're going through a crappy stretch now, but hopefully we turn it around and make a run in the playoffs.”
Now note that Kamloops is still first in its division and second overall in The Dub. Of course, when the season has already featured a 14-game win streak, expectations are high. Lipon has them for himself and that's why he's on Team Canada now and primed to finally be selected high by an NHL team. Draft eligible in 2013.
The best thing about Wennberg is that he goes to the net and does so with purpose. He had two points to help Sweden knock the archrival Finns out of the tourney and has teamed up with fellow 2013 prospect Jacob De La Rose and undrafted Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall to form a very talented energy line. Draft eligible in 2013.
Injuries have defined Murphy's career so far, but he was (just) healthy enough to head to Ufa and is paying the Americans back for their patience. His perfect pass to OHL teammate Alex Galchenyuk may have come at the end of a blowout over Slovakia, but it sure was pretty. He also showed a nice physical side to his game. Drafted 20th overall by Phoenix in 2011.
NCAA fans know all about Gaudreau, who has one national title under his belt and another in his sights this sophomore campaign. Now on the international stage, he's reminded everyone else why he's one of the most dangerous offensive talents in his age bracket. Gaudreau's small stature rarely comes into play as he wins puck battles and uses his deft hands to make goalies look foolish. Drafted 104th overall by Calgary in 2011.
Many pundits were shocked when the Russians didn't bring draft-eligible giant Nikita Zadorov to the world juniors, but there is a 2013 prospect on the blueline and it's the steadier Koledov. Though he isn't as big a name, scouts are well aware of the mid-sized defenseman, who is tenacious in his own end. He has played against men this year in the KHL's farm league. Draft eligible in 2013.
Drouin definitely has an “office” and it's located about eight feet from the goalie's left side. From there he can dish or accept any pass, or make his way behind the net, where he proved to be lethal against the Russians with a wraparound goal. Seeing time on Canada's top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele further proved just how primetime Drouin is looking lately. Draft eligible in 2013.
In previous years, Makarov drove scouts nuts with his inconsistency. The big netminder would veer from brilliant to bad and back again, but right now in Ufa he's in a good space. Makarov held the Russians in the game against Canada, with two of his three goals allowed coming on a five-minute power play. If the home team is going to medal, he'll be a big factor. Signed as free agent by Buffalo in 2012.
The Americans must be careful in the quarterfinal because the Czechs are loaded up front. Jaskin carried the water in a crucial win over the Swiss, notching three assists, including one on Tomas Hertl's overtime winner. The big-bodied forward is using his physicality to his advantage and is a top-10 scorer in Ufa with five points in four games. Drafted 41st overall by St. Louis in 2011.
The Swiss have a tall order in drawing the Russians in the quarterfinal, but anything can happen in single elimination. If they're going to quell the local attack, Mueller will be key on the back end. He's a well-positioned blueliner with great size at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and leads the Swiss with a plus-5 rating. Draft eligible in 2013.
The top junior scorer in Sweden's second-best circuit, Forsberg has been a point per game player at the WJC and captain of the Tre Kroner. In terms of results, he's led them to a perfect 4-0 record and a bye to the semis. The potential scouts saw last season has now come to fruition and he's already looking like a draft-day steal for the Capitals. Drafted 11th overall by Washington in 2012.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play their first NHL game.
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