As we enter the holidays, we’re also closing in on a time of celebration, which for our purposes means a heavy dosage of logo grabs and a variety of flying into the boards at the World Juniors.
Historically, Team Canada has been the king of the tournament, leading the All-Time Gold Medal count with 17, four more than its nearest competitor. And this season’s edition of Team Canada should be very Kings-oriented, with three LA Kings prospects still donning the Maple Leaf on their sweater heading into pre-tournament games this week.
Let’s start with what we know – defenseman Markus Phillips, as reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, is in on the blueline. A 2017 fourth-round selection of the Kings, Phillips is currently in his fourth season with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack.
Phillips collected a career-high 13 goals and 43 points (13-27=40) during the 2016-17 season, and reports have noted that he has adapted more of a solid, defensive role thus far this season, while also chipping in 10 points (2-8=10) from 30 games played.
A pair of additional 2017 draft picks – the highly touted duo of Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan – also remain on the roster, coming off of injuries. As TSN’s Mark Masters reported, if both players are healthy, both will be on the final roster for the tournament. The Kings’ prospects are two of now 14 forwards still remaining on the Team Canada roster, part of a group that will eventually move down to 13 before the tournament.
With both Vilardi and Anderson-Dolan coming off of injuries, the pair are expected to skate in pre-tournament games (Canada will play in three, beginning on Wednesday against Switzerland) this week to gauge their game-readiness before any final roster decisions are made.
If healthy, both forwards could not only make the team, but play a large role for the red and white. Vilardi recently returned to the ice with the AHL’s Ontario Reign and, last season, scored at a 1.81 points-per-game pace with Kingston of the OHL, the second highest clip in the league.
Anderson-Dolan made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Kings, collecting an assist from five games played, and scored two goals from two games with the Spokane Chiefs, before a broken wrist halted his progress as one of the WHL’s elite forwards.
The Calgary native has collected 79 goals in the WHL over the past two seasons and is one of six players to pot 39 or more goals in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
Goaltender Matt Villalta, also recently returning to action after an injury, was the final goaltender released from Team Canada’s training camp on Friday evening.
So hey – this tournament isn’t ALL about Canada right? The United States has won three gold medals in the past nine editions of the event, the most among all nations in that timespan.
Defenseman Mikey Anderson, another 2017 Kings draft pick, represented the red, white and blue at the 2018 tournament, collecting an assist over seven games played, as he and his teammates earned a bronze medal on home soil.
Anderson currently plays his collegiate hockey at Minnesota Duluth and is one of five members from the 2018 team to be back on the training camp roster for another run. Anderson joins collegiate teammate Dylan Samberg, along with Quinn Hughes, Josh Norris and Ryan Poehlin as players vying for another crack at the roster.
Anderson is a player that is expected to make the team and could possibly wear a letter on his jersey at this year’s tournament.
Looking across the pond at the European teams – we start with a player that has no Swedish but a lot of Finnish, in 2018 first-round selection Rasmus Kupari.
The 20th overall pick in the most recent edition of the NHL Draft, Kupari has had a strong season playing in the top division in Finland, collecting 23 points (8-15-23) through 28 games played.
Kupari is a speedy, playmaking center, who should be a key member of Team Finland at this season’s tournament. Kupari was a member of the 2018 Finland team, going scoreless through five games played as an under-aged player. With another year of experience under his belt, playing quality hockey in a night in and night out against grown men, Kupari should be expected to be a major contributor for the Finnish team, who won two of the past five editions of the tournament.
Forward Johan Sodergran is the final Kings prospect vying for a spot at the tournament, but as a member of Team Sweden. Sodergran, who was one of 15 forwards named to Sweden’s preliminary roster, is a player that stood out positively at the Kings summer development camp, to which he came in as a bit of an unknown. A 2018 sixth-round selection, Sodergran has collected 10 points (7-3=10) playing for Linköping HC in the Swedish Hockey League, the top division in Sweden.
Sodergran is looking to follow in the footsteps of defenseman and Kings prospect Jacob Moverare (2018) as well as current Kings member Adrian Kempe (2015, 2016) in donning the three crowns in this tournament.
Sodergran’s Sweden will be the first team to play in a pre-tournament contest, skating against Russia on Tuesday. As noted above, Canada will play its first on Wednesday, along with Finland, who faces off against Denmark. The United States will begin its pre-tournament slate on Thursday against Russia.
See the full World Junior Championship Schedule!