Last five finishes:(most recent first): bronze, silver, silver, gold, gold
The NHL lockout has significantly boosted Canada’s always deep roster, making top talent like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Jonathan Huberdeau (Panthers), Dougie Hamilton (Bruins) and Ryan Strome (Islanders) available when they all could well be playing at the pro level. All eyes, however, are going to be on the goalies, as Canada has struggled between the pipes three years in a row. Projected No. 1 Malcolm Subban (Bruins) has yet to look comfortable in pretournament play. Can Jordan Binnington (Blues) take over and save the day?
Watch for: Morgan Rielly (Maple Leafs)
Last five finishes: fifth, seventh, seventh, sixth, fifth
The Czechs and Slovaks are both in what may be a long-term downswing in terms of hockey talent, with neither country producing a world junior medal of late or nearly as many NHL stars as they did 10 or 15 years ago. The majority of the Czech team will come out of the Canadian Hockey League – one sign of how weak the country’s junior system has become – and will be led by big first-rounders Tomas Hertl (Sharks) and Radek Faksa (Stars). As a team, they’re solidly in the second tier, and a medal would be a surprise.
Watch for: Tomas Hertl
Last five finishes: fourth, sixth, fifth, seventh, sixth
The Finns haven’t taken home a medal since 2006, but they surprised Canada with an exhibition win on Thursday and are always a plucky underdog in this tournament. Aleksander Barkov, the Finn with a Russian name, has excelled playing with men this season as a 17-year-old and is likely to go in the top three or four picks in the 2013 NHL draft. This should be his coming-out party. Three already drafted prospects to keep an eye on are Markus Granlund (Flames), Olli Maatta (Penguins) and Joel Armia (Sabres), although WHL observers will tell you that undrafted Swift Current Broncos netminder Eetu Laurikainen may wind up as the surprise of the tournament if he gets the starting role.
Watch for: Aleksander Barkov
Last five finishes: DNQ, 10th, DNQ, ninth, DNQ
Germany winning a game in the round robin looks unlikely, and avoiding relegation could well come down to beating Latvia at the end. Any chance the Germans have could rest with the health of Tobias Rieder, the Edmonton Oilers’ prospect who has been a star for the Kitchener Rangers the past two seasons but is battling an injury. Pint-size Sudbury Wolves winger Dominik Kahun, 17, can contribute, too.
Watch for: Tobias Rieder
Prediction: 10th (relegated)
Last five finishes: ninth, DNQ, ninth, eighth, DNQ
The tiny Baltic country (2.2 million people) is likely always going to be in tough in these international events, but the hockey-loving Latvians have a couple of high-end forward prospects to keep an eye on. Gritty centre Zemgus Girgensons was taken 14th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the draft while Teddy Blueger was picked in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins and is now playing in the NCAA. Then there’s 18-year-old Roberts Lipsbergs, who has a point a game with Seattle in the WHL. A relegation showdown with Germany likely awaits at the end of the tournament.
Watch for: Teddy Blueger
Last five finishes: silver, gold, sixth, bronze, bronze
Canada’s weakness in this tournament is one of the home team’s strengths. Russia is generally never particularly known for its goaltending, but this time around it has two returnees who are capable of stealing games. Andrei Vasilevski, in particular, was a stud in last year’s tournament with a .953 save percentage as a 17-year-old, a performance that led to the Tampa Bay Lightning taking him 19th overall in the draft. He alone may make the Russians the favourites. Add in their firepower – with Quebec Remparts star Mikhail Grigorenko (Sabres) having a phenomenal season (29 goals in 30 games) – and they’ll be the Canadians’ biggest challenge on the big ice.
Watch for: Nail Yakupov (Oilers)
Last five finishes: sixth, eighth, eighth, fourth, seventh
It’s probably safe to rule the Slovaks out of hockey’s “big seven” countries in international play. They’re obviously a step behind these days, often battling it out with Switzerland, Latvia and Germany with only an outside shot at upsetting one of the favourites. This year’s edition is low on North American content (with big Rangers prospect Peter Ceresnak the exception on the blueline) and they don’t have many returning bodies from 2012. The good news is that many of these teens play together in Bratislava and there may be some chemistry, but they’re still in tough.
Watch for: Martin Reway (2013 eligible)
Last five finishes: gold, fourth, bronze, silver, silver
Key injuries on the blueline will make repeating as champs difficult for the Swedes, who nonetheless boast an impressive group of forwards led by Filip Forsberg, the Washington Capitals’ 11th overall pick last June, and top 2013 prospect Elias Lindholm, who has made an impact in the Elitserien despite turning 18 only two weeks ago. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk is likely to take the starting role in goal and, despite a tough adjustment in North America in the OHL this season, has the ability to be a difference maker.
Watch for: Elias Lindholm
Last five finishes: eighth, fifth, fourth, DNQ, ninth
Always dependable in goal and stingy defensively, the Swiss have increasingly been putting scoring prospects into the Canadian Hockey League, and it’s that talent that will have to lead the way for them to get out of the round robin. They’re small and quick but have more offensive punch than usual. The majority of the team played in this tournament last year, which isn’t always the case given the turnover rate, so that’s one small advantage. Also of note: They’re coached by Canadian Sean Simpson, a star with the Ottawa 67s some 30 years ago.
Watch for:Sven Andrighetto (undrafted)
Last five finishes: seventh, bronze, gold, fifth, fourth
Embarrassed a year ago in this tournament, the Americans have turned over almost their entire roster and should be much more competitive this time around. They’ll be led by returnees centre J.T. Miller (Rangers first-rounder currently in the AHL), defenceman Jacob Trouba (Jets) and netminder John Gibson (Ducks), as well as newcomer Alex Galchenyuk, who was taken third overall by the Montreal Canadiens last June and has nearly two points a game in the OHL this season. The U.S. will be coached by former NHLer Phil Housley, who won’t allow this team to be as unprepared as last time.
Watch for: Seth Jones (potential No. 1 pick in 2013)