We take a look at the players who will make a difference in the 2018 WJC by handing out honors before the action gets going.
As always, there’s a lot of talent at the World Junior Championship, but who will have the biggest impact? That was my task here as I have chosen my pre-tournament all-star teams. The criterion is pretty simple: three forwards (regardless of position), two defensemen and a goalie. Given the breadth of talent available, I’m doing three squads. Let’s get to it.
Forwards: Eeli Tolvanen (Fin.), Elias Pettersson (Swe.), Kailer Yamamoto (USA)
Defense: Miro Heiskanen (Fin.), Adam Fox (USA)
Goalie: Carter Hart (Can.)
The Skinny: Given the way he has dominated the SHL this season, I believe Pettersson will be the most important player in the tournament. The Vancouver Canucks pick has the talent and the drive to take Sweden all the way. Tolvanen (NSH) has been similarly excellent in the KHL and if the sniper can find the right center, he’ll pile up points. Yamamoto (EDM) brings NHL and WJC experience. Heiskanen (DAL) is the best defenseman in the tournament, while Fox (CGY) has proven to be an excellent quarteback on the back end. Hart (PHI) has been a brick wall in the WHL since returning from mono.
Forwards: Vitalii Abramov (Rus.), Lias Andersson (Swe.), Casey Mittelstadt (USA)
Defense: Victor Mete (Can.), Rasmus Dahlin (Swe.)
Goalie: Filip Gustavsson (Swe.)
The Skinny: Andersson (NYR) has the experience and two-way ability to make a big impact at center for Sweden, while Mittelstadt (BUF) has the high-end skill to bring the local Sabres fans out of their seats. Abramov (CBJ) has been tearing up the QMJHL and is one of several Russian players with great skill. Dahlin (2018) will be the most watched player in the tournament thanks to his electrifying skill, while Mete (MTL) brings skating, defense and NHL experience. Gustavsson (PIT) is a big netminder who can steal games and he brings great experience.
Forwards: Alex Nylander (Swe.), Jordan Kyrou (Can.), Filip Chytil (Cze.)
Defense: Olli Juolevi (Fin.), Erik Brannstrom (Swe.)
Goalie: Jakub Skarek (Cze.)
The Skinny: Kyrou (STL) is having an amazing season in the OHL and his skating ability will be serve him very well in this tournament. Chytil (NYR) has NHL and AHL experience, plus a great international resume. While you may think Nylander (BUF) should be higher here, there will be a ton of pressure on him and he has only played 15 games due to injury this year. On defense, Juolevi (VAN) has been rejuvenated back in Finland, while Brannstrom (VGK) has the rushing game that drives modern attacks. Skarek (2018) plays against men back home and steered the Czechs to Ivan Hlinka gold in 2016.