Canucks 2007 WJC preview

By Matt MacInnis

Despite the Vancouver Canucks’ relatively bare prospect cupboard, the team has four players playing in the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden. Canucks fans in Canada are guaranteed to have the opportunity to see three of the players at least once as three of the players play for either Canada or a team that will meet Canada in the round-robin stage of the tournament.

Canucks prospects will meet each other a minimum of three times during this event: Dec. 26 (Sweden vs Canada); Dec. 28 (Slovakia vs Sweden); and Dec. 31 (Canada vs Slovakia).

Canada: Luc Bourdon (1st round, 2005)

Named to the 2006 WJC All-Star Team, Bourdon was an obvious fan favorite during the 2006 tourney which was staged in Vancouver, eliciting a loud chant of “Luuuuuuuuc” every time the New Brunswick native touched the puck or delivered a big hit. Bourdon was a key part of the team that won Canada’s second consecutive World Junior title and is expected to be a major component of this year’s team that is trying to “three-peat.”

Bourdon will almost certainly be paired with former Val-d’Or Foreurs teammate and this year’s Captain Canada, Kris Letang (PIT) in what could be this year’s most dominating pairing. Both players spent the first few weeks of the NHL season with their respective clubs before being returned to junior, and should use be able to use the experience of playing at the top level to elevate their play in the big games.

The tournament may ultimately be the highlight of a season that Bourdon likely feels has been a disappointment and failure this season. After nearly earning a spot on the Canucks roster during the 2005 training camp, Bourdon limped through this year’s camp and many felt he was outplayed by other young defensemen such as Patrick Coulombe. Nonetheless, he made the team out of camp, but found himself a frequent scratch before the team was forced to deal with injuries to their defensive corps. After nine games, the Acadian was demoted all the way back to junior, where he has been playing with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL). He has amassed 14 points in 13 major junior games before being called away for Team Canada’s tryout camp.

Slovakia: Mario Bliznak (7th round, 2005)

Despite spending the past season and a half playing minutes away from GM Place with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, yet he remains one of the least talked about prospects in the organization’s fold. This is largely due to the fact that Bliznak’s first season in North America was far from an offensive success, as he scored 21 points in 69 games.

The 6’0, 197 lbs forward will likely play a depth role with a Slovakian team that is not considered to be a medal favourite, although the World Juniors has produced surprises in the past. Bliznak did score for Slovakia in their exhibition game prior to the tourney against Belarus.

His second major junior season has been far more successful offensively than his rookie campaign, as Bliznak has nearly matches last season’s point total after just 33 games with seven goals and 19 total points already. The organization will have no shortage of opportunities to see Bliznak play under pressure this year between his appearance in the WJC and the Memorial Cup in Vancouver in May.

Sweden: Daniel Rahimi (3rd round, 2006)

The surprising 83rd overall pick in the 2006 draft (Rahimi was unlisted in any of the preparatory draft materials provided by the NHL to the media) came over to the Canucks’ rookie camp and demonstrated that he has the size at 6’3, 215 lbs and mobility to be an NHL player, although he clearly needs to refine his all-around game – not surprising for a 19-year-old defenseman.

The Björklöven product was talked about by the Canucks scouting staff immediately after the draft as a potential captain for the Swedish U-20 squad, but the formidable defensive presence was not selected as captain or to be an associate. However, it is clear that the organization is enamoured with his character, and Swedish scout Thomas Gradin explained that part of the reason they selected him so early in the draft was because he is more of a man than teenager.

Rahimi will be an important part of the Swedish defense, especially against the more physical teams such as Canada and the United States. His size, strength and hitting prowess will be vital to this team’s success. Sweden is a legitimate threat for a medal in this tournament, especially if their big defensive unit can physically dominate the opposition.

Switzerland: Juraj Simek (6th round, 2006)

Ironically it was last year at the Vancouver World Juniors that made the Canucks interested in Simek. The slick puck handler is currently playing his first season in North America and has been quite successful early in his major junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings. After 32 games, Simek has potted 22 goals and 18 assists for 40 points, good for second on his team for goals and third in points.

Simek will be one of the top offensive players for the Swiss, who face an uphill battle going into the tournament and know that their increased strength in previous years guarantees that teams will bring their “A” game against them. If Switzerland is going to be successful, Simek must produce and create the bulk of the team’s scoring. It will be interesting to watch how Simek reacts with the added pressure of being the go-to guy for a team.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.