Red Wings WJC preview

By Zoran Manojlovic

The Detroit Red Wings have been well represented at the past few World Junior Championships.

Two years ago the Wings had six prospects in the tourney: Igor Grigorenko, Jiri Hudler, Pär Bäcker, Andreas Jämtin, Miroslav Blatak and Tomas Kopecky.

Miroslav Blatak, a Czech defenseman, had an outstanding 2002 tournament, scoring 7 points in 7 games. Tomas Kopecky, who was representing Slovakia for the third and final time also had a strong showing, scoring 8 points in 7 games for team Slovakia.

Last year the Red Wings again had six prospects at the WJC: Jiri Hudler, Igor Grigorenko, Tomas Fleischmann, Valtteri Filppula, Andreas Jämtin and goalie James Howard.

Wings top prospect Igor Grigorenko had an impressive 2003 tournament, scoring 6 goals and 10 points in just 6 games. His play earned him the event’s best forward and a tournament all-star selection. Jiri Hudler was also notable, scoring 7 points in 6 games for Czech Republic.

This year the Red Wings will be represented by five prospects: Jiri Hudler and Tomas Fleischmann (Czech Republic), Vatteri Filppula (Finland), Vladimir Kutny (Slovakia) and Derek Meech (Canada). The Wings would have had six prospects for the third consecutive year if it hadn´t been for a knee injury to goalie prospect James Howard (USA).

Jiri Hudler, C, Czech Republic

Hudler has had an up and down year with the Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins. Not being able to secure a spot with the Red Wings, Hudler was sent down to the farm where he has blossomed with 16 points in just 14 games.

The 19-year-old center has been named team captain and is expected to lead the Czech team to the promised land with his offensive skills. He led the team in scoring last year and is expected to do the same this year. He is playing in his third and final WJC, and he has expressed his will to win a medal for his native country.

Projection: Expect Hudler to be among the top-5 scorers in the tournament and with an all-star team selection not out of reach.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Czech Republic

The 19-year-old left wing/center has had an outstanding first half of the season with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. Before leaving for WJC preparations he was leading the league in scoring with impressive 15 goals and 47 points in just 32 games.

Fleischmann is expected to be among the offensive leaders on the Czech team that features many high draft selections. Fleischmann had only two goals at the last year’s tournament, but he still got rave reviews for his performance.

This year he will most likely play on the wing of fellow Red Wings prospect, Jiri Hudler along with Jakub Koreis, the 2002 first round selection of the Phoenix Coyotes on the other wing.

Projection: Fleischmann will be among the top scorers at the tournament as he is expected to get lots of ice time on the first line. He could also be a member of the all-star team.

Vatteri Filppula, C, Finland

Filppula is playing in his second and final WJC for Finland. Filppula, who is having a great rookie season in SM-Liga, will be counted on to lead the host nation in the fight for the medals.

The 19-year-old center was a member of the Finnish team that participated at last year’s championships in Halifax, Canada. He wasn’t able to earn a good amount of ice time and scored only one assist in six games.

Filppula, who has 15 points in 33 games with Jokerit, will center the first line that most likely will include the team’s biggest star and NHL rookie Sean Bergenheim of the New York Islanders.

Projection: Filppula will get tons of ice time and will most likely be one of the best scorers at the tournament. He will not only be an important offensive player, but also a defensive and dressing room leader.

Vladimir Kutny, LW, Slovakia

Kutny who was selected in this summer’s NHL entry draft, will make his first appearance at the WJC for Slovakia.

The huge winger is having another disappointing season in the QMJHL. With only 14 points in 30 games, Kutny will not be expected to lead the Slovakian team in scoring, but he might be one of the dark horses on the team that might end up scoring some important goals.

During his WJC preparations, Kutny learned that he was traded from Quebec to Val D’Or in the QMJHL. This might serve the talented Slovakian well as he will come to a new team that could give him more quality ice time.

Projection: Kutny will most likely play on one of the top-3 lines and could chip in with some points. Slovakia has a decent team that could go far in this years tournament, and Kutny will gain valuable experience for the future.

Derek Meech, D, Canada

Meech is one of the bigger surprises among the Red Wings prospects that will participate at this year’s WJC.

The 19-year-old defenseman who is playing in his fourth season in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels is having a career season. He is currently 11th in defenseman scoring in the WHL with 21 points in 35 games.

Meech had a strong selection camp where he showcased his great passing skills and a smart two-way game. His defensive zone coverage is sound because he plays a smart positioning game and isn’t afraid of using his body to clear the zone.

Projection: The Rebels captain is expected to provide some valuable mobility and a solid two-way game for the Canadian team. He is the smallest defenseman on the team, but he will earn a good amount of ice time as he is expected to play with last years ninth pick overall, Dion Phaneuf (Calgary Flames).