The World Junior exhibition games are finished, final rosters have been submitted, and 6 Red Wings prospects complete their final preparations to represent 5 different countries in the IIHF World Junior Championships. For the schedule and how to watch, check out our WJ Primer post and you can keep up with the stats and result via the IIHF's WJ site.
Let's take a closer look at the Wings WJ representative in this year's tournament. Click on the Team name for the full rosters.
Joe Hicketts "A" │Pos: Defense│Vitals: 5'8" 177#│Age: 19│Team: Canada
Joe Hicketts is one of my favorite stories and players in the Red Wings organization. An "undersized" and undrafted defenseman whose work ethic and determination is second to none, a Red Wings free agent signing in 2015, and World Junior gold medal winner with Team Canada, Hicketts has earned praise and success wherever he's gone. Hicketts will wear the Alternate Captain's "A" this year along with Lawson Crouse while Brayden Point will wear the Captain's "C". I don't think there was any question that Hicketts would be among the leadership core of this team, the only question was would he wear the "C" or an "A". Team Canada is going with a very young roster this year, which certainly has it's advantages and disadvantages, so it's no surprise that all three captains are returning veteran players. Canada is the reigning champion and one of the top 3 teams at the tournament this year, but I don't think they can be called the favorite, as they have been in many years past. With only 4 returning players from last year, Hicketts, Jake Virtanen, Crouse, and Pointe, Canada has a lot of young players, even by World Junior standards. Hicketts will be paired with Thomas Chabot (Ottawa) at coach Dave Lowry's top D pairing.
In 3 exhibition games, Hicketts had 1 assist and 2 penalty minutes, and was a key defenseman for his team. When Canada had an extended 5 on 3 penalty kill against Sweden, Hicketts was out there for a long time, blocking shots and garnering high praise from Ray Ferraro. Hicketts always leads by example, but he'll also speak up when something needs to be said and he'll be a key player for team Canada.
Joe Hicketts (Detroit Red Wings) wasn't even draft but was shrewdly plucked as a free agent signee by the Detroit Red Wings and the rest was history. Hicketts was a vital member to Canada's gold medal winning team last year and he'll be expected to bring that same success (and more) this season as the lone returnee on the blue line. A clever and smart distributor with a good point shot, the offence will run through him as the setup man. It appears that he will be paired with Chabot on one of the two powerplay units and at regular strength, playing his off-side on the right.- Dean Youngblood, Dobber Prospects
Here's a closer look at the rest of Team Canada's roster and what we can expect from the young team
Axel Holmstrom "A"│Pos: Center│Vitals: 6'1" 198#│Age: 19│Team: Sweden
Sweden might be my top pick to win Gold in the tournament and Axel Holmstrom is a key player for the team, centering either the 1st or 2nd line, depending on who you ask. They have 12 returning players from last year and
In 3 exhibition games, Holmstrom had 2 goals and 2 assists
Here's what some notable people are saying about Axel Holmstrom's role in this year's tournament.
Axel Holmstrom (Detroit Red Wings) - Coming off a standout first year SHL season, high hopes surround Holmstrom's future and for good reason. He blends sharp vision, deceptive passing abilities and a opportunistic scoring touch. He's the type of player who is always around the puck and quietly puts up points.-Dean Youngblood, Dobber Prospects
Taking on a bigger role, though, will be last season's biggest SHL discovery, Axel Holmstrom (DET), who led all SHL playoff scorers with 18 points in 15 games. Producing at a decent clip this season with 16 points in 27 games, Holmstrom is one of the most established pro players in the entire tournament. His leadership and strong physical play in all three zones will also be crucial for a player who once shone brightly on a line with William Nylander at the 2014 U18 World Championship- Hockey's Future
Holmstrom has played pretty well (albeit not amazing) this season in the SHL, after a historically good postseason (as a teenage player) last spring. He's a gifted playmaker who sees the ice at a top-end level, is able to make plays off the puck, and create in open ice. Holmstrom has added a gear to his skating; it remains his weakness, although it isn't as glaring now. Corey Pronman
Axel will have an increased leadership role with Sweden as well this year, being one of the alternate captains.
Christoffer Ehn│Pos: Center│Vitals: 6'3" 181#│Age: 19│Team: Sweden
I don't know for sure exactly where Ehn will slot in on Sweden, but my guess is either 4th line center, or possibly an extra forward who may not play in every game. With Sweden's depth I don't expect Ehn to be a star player or front and center, but his contributions as a bottom 6 checking, penalty killing, safe center can still be of value to Sweden. He didn't register a point in 3 exhibition games.
Here's a closer look at Sweden's roster and what we can expect from one of the top 3 teams in the tournament.
Evgeny Svechnikov│Pos: Center│Vitals: 6'3" 203#│Age: 19│Team: Russia
Svechnikov will be centering Russia's top line, flanked by fellow Screaming Eagles linemate Maxim Lazarev and Russia's captain Vladislav Kamenev (Nashville). I'd place Russia in the middle tier of teams in the tournament , mostly due to lack of depth, and this top line is going to relied upon heavily for Russia's offense.
Here's what some notable people are saying about Svechnikov's role in this year's tournament.
EvgenI Svechnikov (Detroit Red Wings) - Rumblings following the 2015 NHL Draft were that the Red Wings were absolutely thrilled to land Svechnikov two-thirds through the opening round. Ya, ya, ya...every team says that but it's easy to see the truth behind it after watching Svechnikov over the past six months. He's big, powerful and very skilled with the puck - always making smart passes and capable of burning goaltenders with a sharp shot. He's not very swift on his skates leaving him to do his most of his damage in short attacks in the offensive zone attacking off the boards. When Svechnikov is in possession, there's a calmness that surrounds him.- Dean Youngblood, Dobber Prospects
Svechnikov has been one of the top QMJHL players this season. His skill level is high-end, especially relative to most players with his frame (6-3, 205 pounds). He can be tenacious on the puck, and set up a ton of scoring chances. His skating is the major flaw in his game, and we'll see how he fares on large ice, but he should be a top scorer for Russia. Corey Pronman
Russia played only a single exhibition game and it was a 5-0 win over Denmark and Svechnikov had a goal and 2 assists while Lazarev had 2 assists. Svechnikov has 39 points in 27 games for the Screaming Eagles (QMJHL). Svechnikov is in a great position to shoulder a large responsibility on this team and with Svechnikov coming to Grand Rapids next year, yes you heard that correctly, the Wings will be watching him very closely.
Vili Saarijarvi│Pos: Defense│Vitals: 5'10" 165#│Age: 18│Team: Finland
Vili had an outstanding 2015 World Junior performance on the under 18 team that won Silver, including U18 WJC All-Star Team, Best Defenseman, Most Assists by Defenseman (6), Most Goals by Defenseman (3), Most Points by Defenseman (9), and Top 3 Player on Team. This year he's moving up an age bracket and has the potential to be a dynamic piece of the team and could surprise a lot of people with just how much of a game changer he can be.3
Here's what some notable people are saying about Saarijarvi's role in this year's tournament.
Vili Saarijärvi (Detroit Red Wings) - After an outstanding Under-18 tournament, Saarijarvi has reached star status quickly as a first year OHLer. He got off to a blazing start in Flint recording 13 points in his first nine games but has leveled out lately (only four points in his past 16 games). The undersized defender is slick in possession using quick cuts and changes of direction to elude pressure at the blueline. He's creative and deceptive with the puck on his stick despite lacking ideal strength to handle attackers defensively. He's primed for a powerplay role on Finland's blueline..- Dean Youngblood, Dobber Prospects
Saarijarvi has been one of the top defensemen in the OHL, being a high-end offensive defender. He's really fun to scout because of how smart and creative he is moving the puck around. On the power play, he has a large arsenal of moves he uses to open up lanes and keep penalty killers guessing. His defense isn't great, partly due to his small stature, but he's OK in his own end, which is all he needs to be given his offensive talent. Corey Pronman
Saarijarvi didn't play in FInland's lone exhibition game, and that's usually an indication the coach knows what a player can do and wants a look at potential cuts instead. Keep an eye on this dynamic defenseman for Finland.
Joren van Pottelberghe│Pos: Goaltender│Vitals: 6'3" 187#│Age: 18│Team: Switzerland
Switzerland isn't a team expected to make a lot of noise in the tournament nor be a contender to medal. JvP wasn't on the Swiss team last year, and there are 3 goalies on the roster but from my understanding, it will come down to JvP or Gauthier Descloux as the starter. JvP played in Switzerland's first of 2 exhibition games in a 4-3 win over Finland making 27 saves on 30 shots, Descloux played in the 4-2 win over Slovakia. Jvp played with the U18 team last year, and the other 2 Swiss goalies are returning from last year so it'll be interesting to see who ends up being the starter.
Here's a more knowledgeable look at Switzerland's full roster.
For more reading on each of the WJ teams check out the 2016 World Junior Championship preview from Pension Plan Puppets.