World Junior A Challenge 2008 preview

By Guy Flaming

As NHL and NCAA scouts flock to Camrose, Alberta for the next nine days, Hockey’s Future will be there too with player features and reports from the key international tournament.

This is the third year of this event which has largely replaced the successful Viking Cup that was held bi-annually in Camrose for the past two and a half decades. Hockey Canada knows they are bringing the tournament to a community that is well versed in international hockey with this age group so a successful event is practically a foregone conclusion.

Six teams will battle for gold including two teams representing Canada, made up of Junior A players from across the nation but seperated at the Manitoba/Ontario border. Belarus, Russia, Germany and the United States complete the field and have enough talent on their rosters to potentially get into the gold medal game for the first time.

Canada West will be looking to capture their third straight gold medal win while Canada East has settled for silver each year of the young tournament.

The 2006 WJAC produced 12 NHL draft picks including first rounders Riley Nash (EDM) and Brendan Smith (DET) as well as Russians Sergei Korostin (DAL) and Maxim Mayorov (CLB) as well as German Denis Reul (BOS). 

There were 16 participants from the 2007 WJAC who went on to be selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft including eight in the top two rounds. Nikita Filatov (CLB), Joe Colborne (BOS), Viatcheslav Voinov (LA), Corey Trivino (NYI), Brandon Burlon (NJ) and Evgeny Grachev (NYR) are just some of the players who appeared in Trail, BC at last year’s event.

Here is a look at the six teams involved in the 2008 World Junior A Challenge and the names to watch for.

Belarus

You won’t find any household names on the Belarussian squad, but you will find heart and determination. The team pretty much could be called Shinnik Bobruisk considering 18 of the 24 players named to the team all play for the club squad. There are five players back for 2008 that also played in the 2007 WJAC.

None of the Belarus players have been drafted by NHL teams and in fact only two are in their draft year now; forward Kiryl Brykun who missed the 2008 draft by two days and Mikalai Susla, the only ’91 born player on the roster. The rest of the team consists of 19-year-olds which will give Belarus a small edge in the physical maturity department against some of their younger compeition.

It’s interesting to note that one of the three goalies on the Belarus list, Vitali Bialinski, checks in at just 5’7. There are also two dimiunitve forwards in Yauheni Salamonau (5’7) and Dzmitry Verameichyk (5’6). However, there are a couple big men on the squad too. Blueliners Ilya Kaznadzei tilts the scales at 6’3 and 204 lbs with Dzmitry Korabau is listed at 6’2 and 217 lbs. Their biggest player is found up front with 6’5, 205 lb Andrei Kolasau leading the way.

Canada East

The Canadian side not considered the home team has a number of players that scouts will be watching although none of them are considered top tier talents. Ethan Werek, a member of last year’s team, would have been a key player in this tournament but he jumped to the OHL‘s Kingston Frontenacs in August taking him out of consideration.

All in all, Canada East has 10 players eligible for the 2009 NHL Draft and a pair who were selected last year. Braden Birch (CHI) and Nick D’Agostino (PIT) were both late round picks in 2008 and will be counted on heavily by head coach Mark Grady for leadership on his blueline.

Seven members of the Eastern squad have been scoring leaders for thier respective club teams this season including 2009 eligible Jordan Escott (Amherst, MJAHL) and Brandon Pirri (Streetsville, OJHL). Forward Jeremy Franklin is a returning member of last year’s squad so will be one of the leaders for his teammates.

6’3 forward David Pacan (Cumberland, CJHL) has the size that scouts are attracted to and he is currently second on his team in scoring, a team coached by the same bench boss who will be calling the shots in Camrose.

Canada West

The odds-on favorites heading into the tournament are the hosts and the only team to win gold thus far in the brief history of the event. Coach Boris Rybalka has a perfect record in international play and will look to end his tournament career in the same fashion.

Key players to watch for the Western Canadian team include Rylan Schwartz (Notre Dame, SJHL) who leads his league in scoring and will head to Colorado College next season. blueliner Dylan Olsen (Camrose, AJHL) is the highest rated player in the tournament for both International Scouting Services and NHL Central Scouting. Ohio State bound Forward Tanner Fritz (Grande Prairie, AJHL) is a player of note and there are three NHL draftees dressing for Canada West; Justin Shultz (ANH), Andrew MacWilliam (TOR) and Derek Grant (OTT). Jaden Schwartz, born in 1992, is the youngest member of the team.

Defenseman Wade Epp (Drumheller, AJHL) was a late addition to the team as an injury replacement. The 6’5, 210 lb rearguard failed to crack the WHL this year with Edmonton but has found success in the AJHL this season as he prepares for his move to Northern Michigan University next year.

Nineteen-year-old Brodie Reid (Burnaby, BCHL) has been strong in games leading up to the tournament and should be a leader for his side once action begins. Reid is headed to Northeastern next season.

Germany

As usual, the Germans will play the role of the underdog in this tournament but do have a handful of names worth paying attention to. The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Jerome Flaake in the fifth round of 2008 so teams will know to pay attention to him. Connor Morrison, born in Switzerland and playing for Salmon Arm of the BCHL is using small print to suit up for the Germans.

Germany‘s roster is dominated by 1989 and 1990-born players so like Belarus, they will hope that their slightly older and more physically developed players will have some sort of advantage in that department.

There are eight players returning to the WJAC who played for Germany in the 2007 edition, the most of any team involved and another positive for them heading in.

Russia

No question, the Russians are bringing the youngest team to Camrose as every player on the roster is born in either 1991 or 92. After a very strong team last year, by comparison it appears to be a weaker line-up coming to the WJAC in 2008. International Scouting does not list any Russians in their first-round rankings for 2009’s NHL Draft but a few that do appear in the top 30 European list will be in Camrose although top-ranked Russian Anton Burdasov is not among them.

Dmitry Orlov, a 5’11 and 179 lb defenseman from Novokuznetsk will be one to watch as will 6’1, 179 lb blueliner Georgy Berdyukov.

Russia will showcase five players with ’92 birthdays including a pair or forwards who are getting some early hype for the 2010 draft — Maxim Kitsyn and Karill Kabanov. Despite their young age many of the Russians have above average size including Kabanov who is listed as 6’3 and 177 lbs.

United States 

They might as well be called Team USHL as every player on the roster comes from the American tier I Junior league, as does head coach Mark Carlson. The USHL is generally considered to be below any of the Canadian Major Junior leagues when it comes to talent yet above any single Jr A league North of the border. That considered, it will be interesting to see how an All-Star from the USHL matches up with Canada East and West.

USA’s blueline will be a strength featuring 2009 eligible Seth Helgason (Sioux City) and Colorado College bound John Moore (Chicago) both of whom are highly regarded by ISS. Helgason will join the Golden Gophers of Minnesota next fall. Also on the backend will be Max Nicastro (Chicago), a third-round selection of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, and Matt Donovan (Cedar Rapids) from the New York Islanders.

Up front, the Americans will be led by returning forwards Nick Larson (Waterloo), a fourth-round selection of the Calgary Flames, and Danny Kristo (Omaha), a Montreal Canadiens second-round pick last June. Rounding out the number of drafted Americans in the tournament is Greg Burke (Cedar Rapids) who was chosen by Washington in the sixth round last year.

Last but not least, netminder Mike Lee (Fargo) will be a focus for scouts after being ranked as the USHL’s top draft eligible netminder for 2009. Lee is destined to play for St. Cloud once he gets to the NCAA.

Final thoughts

– The six teams are split into two pools; Pool A has Canada West, Russia and Belarus while B features Canada East, Germany and USA.

– Canada East beat Canada West by a 4-2 score in their pre-tournament exhibition game.

– The tournament officially begins today with Canada West hosting Belarus and goes all week with the gold medal game wrapping things up on Sunday Nov. 9.