The majority of Detroit Red Wings fans have thrown in the towel on this season considering there hasn’t been much to cheer about in ‘Hockeytown.’ And, with their eye on the prize for the top pick next June in the NHL Entry Draft, it’s also a good time of year to get a glimpse of what’s coming in their pipeline.
The puck is about to drop on this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships and all the attention will be on Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield on the Canadian roster. While Wings fans hope one of those two future stars will be donning the red and white soon, the team has five players spread across three countries at this year’s event.
Joining Byfield and Lafreniere on Team Canada will be Jared McIsaac and Joe Veleno. Representing Germany will be their 2019 first-round pick, Moritz Seider. And, wearing the blue and yellow for Sweden will be Jonathan Berggren and Jesper Eliasson. Let’s dive into how each of these player’s seasons have gone so far and what we can expect from them at this year’s tournament.
Current Team: Halifax Mooseheads / QMJHL
Drafted: Round 2 / 36th Overall / 2018
McIsaac returns on the blueline for Team Canada at this year’s World Juniors — he recorded a lone assist in four games last year — and is no stranger to the global stage having two other appearances at the U18 championships prior to this. He’s definitely an interesting story coming into this event having only appeared in three games in junior this year. This is due in large part to the offseason shoulder surgery he required that took up a near six month recovery.
With seven defenseman on this year’s roster, it will be interesting to see how much ice time McIsaac will see. He certainly poses a scoring threat after finishing with 62 points in 53 games last season, which was good enough for second among QMJHL defensemen. With hardly any game action under his belt to date he could see more of a reserve role to start the tournament. Drafted 36th overall in 2018, he has top-pairing upside and could be re-united with former Halifax teammate, Filip Zadina, at the NHL level as early as next year.
Current Team: Grand Rapids Griffins / AHL
Drafted: Round 1 / 30th Overall / 2018
Veleno is a player that many Wings fans can’t wait to see in the NHL and he was exciting to watch in Drummondville last year using his speed and vision to create high-end scoring chances. He absolutely lit the QMJHL up last year, finishing with 104 points in 59 games — one point behind Canadian teammate Lafreniere — to place him fourth in league scoring. Both Veleno and Lafreniere have been paired on the top line for Canada throughout exhibition play, with the latter being very pleased with the chemistry they have built.
Everything he did at the junior level last year had fans salivating over his potential, however, it hasn’t quite translated into offensive success in Grand Rapids this season where he has just 12 points in 29 games. That’s alright as he’s still finding his way in the pro game and getting another shot to compete for gold this year should help his development.
Veleno has a distinct eye for setting up his teammates in the offensive zone and the type of center that coaches can rely on in the defensive end late in games. It will be no different at this year’s tournament and if the Canadians have any success in the medal round, Veleno will have played a huge part in that.
Current Team: Grand Rapids Griffins / AHL
Drafted: Round 1 / 6th Overall / 2019
When Steve Yzerman took to the podium last June and announced Seider as the sixth overall pick, it left many in the hockey world with a puzzled look on their faces. But, you know what? I think the young German defenseman has impressed so far in his first taste of the North American game. Seider has 12 points in 28 games with the Griffins and what might be most notable is his physicality on the ice.
One aspect of Moritz Seider's (DET) game that has stood out a lot when watching him in AHL has been his physicality pic.twitter.com/MLdvB74Cuq— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) December 2, 2019
We can’t quite call him the next Niklas Kronwall, but give it time. One thing to keep an eye on with Seider at this year’s WJC is his puck-moving ability and if he can take that next step in the offensive zone. With his great size at 6’4 and 208 lbs, all the pieces to be a top end defenseman in the NHL one day are there and it will be fun to watch him play against the best of the best in his age group.
Current Team: Skelleftea AIK / SHL
Drafted: Round 2 / 33rd Overall / 2018
The selection of Berggren during the second round of the 2018 draft may have been overshadowed by Ken Holland sweeping in and scooping up Veleno just a few picks earlier. But, it was one of the lasting imprints Holland will leave on his Wings legacy because the Swedish forward projects to be one heck of a hockey player.
With a smaller stature at 5’11 and 183 lbs, you might think the 19-year-old is at a disadvantage against opposing defenders, but he plays a bigger game. He’s extremely tenacious on the forecheck and has excellent puck protection skills — think of fellow countryman Henrik Zetterberg.
This will be Berggren’s first appearance in the U20 tournament and he will surely provide offensive depth for the Swedes as they look to avenge a quarter finals loss to Switzerland from last year.
Current Team: Almtuna IS / Allsvenskan
Drafted: Round 3 / 84th Overall / 2018
Many wonder who might take the reins as the future in the Detroit crease once Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier are out of the picture. Well, look no further than Eliasson, who was a third-round pick of the Wings in 2018.
He’s a bigger netminder, standing 6’3 and 209 lbs, currently playing in Sweden’s Tier 2 league. There, he’s appeared in 14 games with a 4-10-0 record, 2.42 GAA and .906 SV% with Almtuna IS. Eliasson is relatively unproven and has a raw upside, but carries some experience at the U18 and U19 world championship levels.
With three other goalies on the Swedish roster, Eliasson could be set for more of a backup role if Sunday’s exhibition loss to the United States was any indication as Tampa Bay prospect, Hugo Alnefelt, started.