Now that the World Junior Championship is complete, it’s time to evaluate how the Montreal
Canadiens prospects fared this year. After last year’s good showing by Alex Perezhogin,
Konstantin Korneev and Chris Higgins, there were high hopes that the five players we sent this year
would build off the prior year’s success. Out of the five players taking part in this year’s tournament,
two were from the 2002 draft, while the other three were recently drafted in June of 2003.
Representing Team Russia for his third visit, Konstantin Korneev was looked upon to help his team
win their third straight gold medal. Representing Team Czech Republic was Tomas Linhart who was
looked to use his size and physical play as one of the top defensemen for the Czechs. From the 2003
draft, representing Team Finland was Oskari Korpikari who would be used on the lower pairings, but
asked to play a steady safe stay at home type game while using his size whenever possible.
Representing Team Slovakia in nets was Jaroslav Halak, coming off being named the top goalie at the
U-18’s, Halak was given the starting job in nets, an impressive feat for the 18-year-old. And playing in
the Division I Group B, representing Team Belarus, Andrei Kastsitsyn was coming off a very
impressive showing at the U-18’s as he caused havoc to goalies and defensemen alike with his
impressive offensive abilities.
Konstantin Korneev, D. Taken in 2002 from the ninth round, 275th overall, Korneev made his third
and final trip to the World Junior Championship, taking home the gold in his first two visits. This year
Team Russia was not able to grab a medal, but Korneev did have another good tournament, as he was
tied for second in assists overall, and he was the top scoring defenseman on his team, and was tied for
second in team scoring as well. Russia finished fifth overall, beating Team Slovakia in their final game.
Tomas Linhart, D. Also taken in the 2002 draft in the second round, 45th overall, Linhart made his
first trip to the WJC’s, but was able to play on one of the top pairings, perhaps due to his experience
this year playing in the top men’s division in the Czech league. With the loss of their top defenseman,
Linhart had to pick up the slack, as his team played in the Bronze medal game, but could not beat the
host country in a closely fought game. Linhart used his size well, and with some improved skating, he
was able to keep up with the quick forwards and get a few crushing hits, but in his own end, he was
overmatched at times.
Oskari Korpikari, D. Taken in the 2003 draft, seventh round, 217th overall, Korpikari made his first
trip to the WJC tournament, as he has been a regular in the Sm-liiga for close to a full season now
starting from last year’s mid-season call up. Korpikari was playing on the third pairing for the host
country, where he hoped to help his team take home the gold, but unfortunately he was injured halfway
through the tournament, but his team did take home the bronze medal for a third straight year. The stay
at home defensemen injured his shoulder in the third game, a tough break for the young blueliner who
will not be able to play in the tournament again due to his age.
Jaroslav Halak, G. Taken in the 2003 draft, ninth round, 271st overall, Halak made his first
appearance at the WJC’s, yet he was named the team’s starter, as he helped his team take home the
silver at the last U-18 tournament, and was named the top goalie of that tournament. Having a very
impressive season this year so far, Halak was able to get some experience playing in the top men’s
league in the Slovak league, but he had his work cut out for him, as this year’s U-20 was facing some
very tough competition. Although he did give up a very costly goal against the rival Czech team, as his
team ended up sixth overall, he was still one of the top goalies in the tournament, finishing fourth overall
in save percentage, something for him to build on in next year’s tournament.
Andrei Kastsitsyn, F. Drafted in 2003, first round, 10th overall, Kastsistyn made his fourth trip to the
World Juniors, as his team was regulated to the Division I Group B after being knocked out of last
year’s WJC. Playing against some lesser talented teams, Kastsitsyn was able to rack up the points, as
he finished third overall in scoring in the tournament behind two of his teammates. Belarus was able to
win their group, meaning they will be playing in the championship tournament next year, where
Kastsitsyn would be eligible to play in an astounding fifth appearance.