Boxing Day means two things in the hockey world – one, it means you can probably head down to your local hockey shop and stock up on gear at reduced prices as the new lines begin to roll into stores.
Two, it means you get that shopping done early so that you’re back in time to kick back with a beer to catch the opening of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championships – or just call them “World Juniors,” like most people do.
The World Junior tradition of starting on Boxing Day is almost a way of giving hockey fans an extra Christmas present once the initial “Christmas high” wears off. It’s also good timing for the competition itself, as the NHL will be on its holiday break during the majority of the round robin portion of the tournament (and the IIHF is not worried about ratings for the playoff rounds, especially in Canada).
For keener fans, the World Juniors also provides an opportunity to see the game’s brightest young stars from across the world shine under the most intense spotlight they will ever be under before reaching the National Hockey League. Some strive under the intense pressure of carrying a nation’s hopes and dreams on 19, 18, 17, and sometimes even 16-year-old shoulders. Others falter, their one chance to dazzle on junior hockey’s biggest stage providing a load too heavy for some – but those who do step up are remembered as heroes forever, no matter what happens during their professional hockey career.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the World Juniors present an on-ice product that is as close to “pure” as we will get in today’s hockey landscape. No fighting, no grinders, and an emphasis on speed and skill – the best in the world under twenty years old with an inextinguishable fire burning in their eyes, a flame that a select few can harness and use to lead their team to gold. The names on this list are players their countries hope will be able to do just that.
15 David Pastrnak, Czech Republic
14 Kasperi Kapanen, Finland
13 Oliver Bjorkstrand, Denmark
12 Jacob de la Rose, Sweden
11 Ivan Barbashev, Russia
10 Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark
9 Sam Reinhart, Canada
8 Ilya Sorokin, Russia
7 Noah Hanifin, United States
6 Max Domi, Canada
5 Jack Eichel, United States
4 Connor McDavid, Canada
3 Curtis Lazar, Canada
Some may wonder why McDavid and Eichel are not topping this list. Why, you ask? It's because guys like Curtis Lazar are on the team. Lazar was doing fairly well with the Ottawa Senators, and while he only had seven points in 27 games with the Sens, he showed enough to warrant sticking around for that long in the first place. Lazar will now be asked to lead Team Canada as their captain in what might be the most pressure a Canadian team has felt in quite some time. They must bring gold home...at home. In the two biggest hockey cities in the world.
2 William Nylander, Sweden
1 Anthony Duclair, Canada
Anthony Duclair lands at the top of this list for a couple of reasons. For starters, he's not a junior player - he's an NHLer on loan to the junior team. He was good enough to crack the New York Rangers roster and stick around for 18 games. While he only put up 7 points, he showed he could at least keep up - so he'll be skating circles around the other "kids" at the World Juniors. Duclair has blazing fast speed and a knack for the net - he only scored one goal in the pros, so, as a guy who scored 50 times last season with the Quebec Remparts, you know he misses the feeling, and he'll be taking advantage of the softer opposition as much as possible over the next couple of weeks.
And he's a Montreal boy - he's got to put on a show for the family!
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