While some rush out for Boxing Day sales, many of us sit down to watch the World Junior Championships. The WJC is the most magnificent showcase of young hockey players, and this year’s event features an abundance of talent. The Vancouver Canucks have four prospects, all from Europe, that their fans should be eager to see play. Those four players all play in professional leagues in their various countries and to see them play versus their age group will be intriguing.
Perhaps the most controversial selection the Canucks made at the 2019 NHL draft was their first pick. The Canucks used the tenth overall spot to grab Russian forward Vasili Podkolzin, who is under contract to SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League through the 2020-2021 season. Podkolzin dominated at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the World Junior A Challenge that same year. However, his questionable deployment and lack of ice-time with his KHL club, have hindered his development. Although he is now playing with SKA Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL, his offensive production of eight points in 16 games is less than anticipated. This tournament could go along way to restoring his confidence.
The most exciting player selected by the Canucks at the 2019 NHL draft was undoubtedly Nils Hoglander. The Swedish winger has been a human highlight package ever since. The Canucks’ scouting staff were ecstatic with his second-round selection.
This season Hoglander plays for Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League, where he has six goals and nine points in 19 games. Fans anxiously await his arrival in North America and the day he lineups up alongside Elias Pettersson.
A member of last year’s gold-medal-winning Team Finland, Toni Utunen returns to this tournament with fond memories. Utunen broke the hearts of Canadian fans a year ago, scoring the overtime goal that eliminated Team Canada from gold-medal contention. The goal came against fellow Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro.
Utunen was selected by the Canucks at the 2018 NHL draft, in the fifth round, with the 130th overall pick. The stay-at-home defenceman plays for Tappara in the Finnish Liiga. His steady, dependable play and leadership qualities are his best assets. Although he doesn’t have the flash that the other Finnish defenders possess, his defensive zone play will play a crucial part if Finland is to repeat their performance of a year ago.
The fourth and final Canucks prospect is a member of the host nation, the Czech Republic. The Canucks chose Karel Plasek in the sixth round, with their 175th overall selection in 2019. Plasek has played most of this season with Kometo Brno in the Czech Extraliga on a line with former Montreal Canadiens star Thomas Plekanec. However, Plasek is now on loan to HC Prerov, who play in the Chance Liga, where he will see significantly more ice-time.
While playing internationally with the Czech Republic U20 team, he has recorded five points in eight games. Plasek, is a terrific playmaker and possesses an accurate shot that he needs to use more often.
The depth of the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect pool continues to increase. The talent of these four young players exemplifies that fact. It is an exciting time to be a fan of the Canucks and the WJC will undoubtedly be a joy to watch.
Related Article: 2020 NHL Draft: WJC Preview
Rick Warman is a Vancouver Canucks and prospects contributor for Overtime Heroics. Follow him @statman1956 on Twitter
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