Canadiens 2006 WJC preview

By Alexandre Beland-Bernard

The Montreal Canadiens will be fairly well represented at this year’s World Junior Championship, as five prospects will suit up for four different countries during the event.

Guillaume Latendresse, RW – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) – 2nd round (45th overall) in 2005

Latendresse will enjoy his first selection for Canada among the U-20 group of prospects, helped along the way both by his good performances this season both with the Voltigeurs as well as in Canadiens training camp.

Latendresse’s physical attributes (6’1, 216) will no doubt make him one of coach Brent Sutter’s favorites – and will probably grant Canada an edge over smaller (but quicker) European teams. He will be expected to provide a lot of offense, along with Sudbury winger Benoit Pouliot (MIN), on a squad hoping to defend last year’s gold medal.

Kyle Chipchura, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) – 1st round (18th overall) in 2004

Chipchura will finally be able to participate in the WJC for Canada, after missing a large part of last season with injury. He will be counted on for a much-needed leadership role, as well as some defensive savvy.

However, the defensive-minded center might well see time on one of his country’s top lines. His offensive ability might really come in handy for this edition of Canada’s junior team, with the loss of most of last year’s offensive punch (with players such as Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron playing in the NHL). He will also hope, as always, to stay away from injuries.

Juraj Mikus, C – Skalica HK 36 (Slovakia) – 4th round (121st overall) in 2005

Slovakian prospect Juraj Mikus returns to play on his national team. He played in last year’s U-18 WJC, where he led his squad in points, with 7 assists in 6 games.

Mikus has been playing for Team Slovakia at various levels in the past few years and will complement a team whose main strength is speed and agility. However, his willingness to crash the net and his versatility in the attack zone will probably be a plus for the squad.

Sergei Kostsitsyn, RW – London Knights (OHL) – 6th round (190th overall) in 2005

After a very good start with the Knights in Ontario, Sergei Kostsitsyn returns for another WJC tournament representing team Belarus. His team has already won its spot in the U-20 top pool, and it was in great part thanks to Kostsitsyn’s efforts. He led all tournament scorers with 4 goals and 5 assists in 10 games and, most notably, scored 2 goals and had 1 assist in his team’s decisive 5-2 win over Kazakhstan in order to secure the top pool spot.

Playing on a weaker national team is giving Kostsitsyn the occasion to really strut his stuff, just like his brother Andrei, also drafted by the Canadiens, had been doing for years at this sort of event. Sergei has been enjoying mixed success in past WJC tournaments. Last year, he shined with one goal, six points and a +5 rating over 4 games in the U-18 category, but failed to register a point in the tougher U-20 category.

Alexei Yemelin, D – Togliatti Lada (Russia) – 3rd round (84th overall) in 2004

Seen as a younger version of hard-hitting New York Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, Yemelin will be looked at to provide muscle and defense for the Russian team.

Playing in last year’s WJC, Yemelin demonstrated character, as indicated by his reaction to his team’s defeat to Team USA in the early games. Overall, he enjoyed a successful tournament for an 18-year-old and should have improved his play in the year since then.

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