This year's event takes place December 26 through January 5 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and pits the best under-20 players from their respective countries against each other in an international tournament that is absolutely worth all the hype it receives around the hockey circles. Many of the players in the tournament have already been drafted, but remain with their junior league teams, foreign elite league teams, or NCAA Division-I teams.
In terms of the Blue Jackets, Filatov, Mayorov, and Goloubef were all drafted by the organization in either 2008 or 2007. Mayorov is the oldest of the three drafted Jackets, born in February of '89, taken in the 4th round of the 2007 draft out of Russia. His comrade, Filatov, was the Jackets 1st round selection in 2008 with the 6th overall pick. Goloubef was the Jackets 2nd round pick in 2008, taken 37th overall out of the University of Wisconsin. The other Jacket in the tournament, Ted Ruth, was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft by the Washington Capitals. He was traded to the Blue Jackets in the deadline deal involving Sergei Fedorov in March of 2007.
Ruth, the University of Notre Dame standout, is just a sophomore and is playing big minutes for the Fighting Irish this season. The Irish are rolling along with a 14-3-2 record this season and Ruth has been an integral part of their success as they have allowed just 32 goals in 19 games. Ruth has just two points on the season, both goals, but his game is to be a shutdown, smooth-skating defenseman. Ruth is a graduate of the U.S. National Development program, so he has played with many of the players on the Team USA roster. Also on defense, Ryan McDonagh (MTL ‘07 1, 12) of the University of Wisconsin and Kevin Shattenkirk (COL ‘07 1, 14) will help to slow down some of the extremely skilled forwards that Team USA will face.
Team USA's defensemen are good in their own zone, but not nearly as explosive as other teams in the tournament. USA's strength will be their veteran forwards with good size and strength. USA returns leading scorer James van Riemsdyk, the 2nd overall pick by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He is currently 2nd in points in the NCAA with the University of New Hampshire. Van Riemsdyk, along with Mike Hoeffel (U of Minn.), Jimmy Hayes (Boston Coll.), and Eric Tangradi (Bellevue, OHL), round out the 6'3" forwards for Team USA. Other notable forwards include Colin Wilson (NSH '08 1, 7) of Boston University and Matt Rust (FLA '07 4, 101) of the University of Minnesota will help Team USA's offense with speed and skill.
Goloubef inherits the best team to play on for the World Juniors as the Canadians are absolutely stacked on defense. Canada's defense features four first round picks, all in the top 13, and two other second rounders from the 2008 draft. Another defenseman, Ryan Ellis, is 2009 draft-eligible and will likely add another first round pick to this year's Team Canada roster. Canada is looking to repeat after defeating the Swedes in last year's gold medal game.
For Goloubef, he was one of the youngest players in the WCHA. One of the few players to leave the true north to play the American college hockey game has 6 points in 18 games for the Badgers this season. According to the hockey prospect website, Hockey's Future, Goloubef is an "intelligent defenseman blessed with superb offensive skills". He will join a punishing defensive unit featuring 6' 7.5" Tyler Myers (BUF ‘08 1, 12) and 6'6" Keith Aulie (CGY '07 4, 116). Other notables on the blue line include returning gold medalists P.K. Subban (MTL '07 2, 43) and Thomas Hickey (LA '07 1, 4) and Alex Pietrangelo, the only Team Canada defenseman with significant NHL playing time. Pietrangelo, the St. Louis Blues 2008 1st round draft selection, had played in eight games before being returned to his junior team, the Niagara Ice Dogs.
The Russians profile as a typical Russian team in international competition. Speed, skill, more speed, more skill, and lots of offense. There was some question going in if Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson would release Filatov and Mayorov to play for Team Russia in the World Juniors, but, as evidenced by the Blue Jackets' offensive troubles and Filatov not getting a call-up, they are not rushing their pride and joy from the 2008 draft. The Russians definitely needed Filatov's offense in light of the untimely passing of gifted prospect Alexei Cherepanov back in October.
Filatov and Mayorov have been playing together for some time in Syracuse, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Jackets, and now, they get to showcase their skills on the bigger rink. International competitions use a 200 x 98.5' as opposed to the 200 x 85' rinks in NHL play. With more room behind the nets, the playmakers have more room to work with and it helps to take some of the physical element out of the game. The two Russians have combined for 17 points in the AHL this year, with this being both players' first seasons in North America.
Filatov was the second leading scorer in the 2008 tournament held in the Czech Republic. He will look to build on Russia's success where they beat the Americans in the bronze medal game. The Russians will look to Vjateslav Voinov (LA '08 2, 32). The Russians are a bit thin on defense, but, more often than not, their strength is in the offensive zone and this year's team is no different.
Many of these international tournaments are won by hot goaltenders. Sweden has arguably the best goaltender in Jakob Markstrom. Markstrom, Florida's 2nd round pick in the 2008 draft, is the best player on the Swedish team and will look to lead them to a medal. Canada will go with Chet Pickard in net, Nashville's 1st rounder in 2008 at 17th. The United States counters with Thomas McCollum, Detroit's 1st rounder in 2008 at 30th overall.
There are numerous other players currently in the NHL who were not released but met the requirements to play in the tournament. They include Patrick Kane, Viktor Tikhonov, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, Mikkel Boedker, Sam Gagner, Kyle Turris, and Jakub Voracek.
Many great players have gotten noticed among hockey circles as a part of World Juniors, including Columbus goaltender Steve Mason, Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf and so many more.
In terms of predictions on how the tournament will shake down, here's what I have come up with:
Gold: CanadaSilver: United StatesBronze: Sweden
For those of you lucky enough to have the NHL Network, you will be able to watch all of Team USA's games, as well as all of the games in the medal round. Also, Team Canada's preliminary round games will be on. If you happen to have TSN, their schedule includes all of Team Canada's games as well as the medal round.
Team USA's schedule:
Dec. 26 Germany 3:30 p.m.Dec. 28 Czech Republic 7:30 p.m.Dec. 30 Kazakhstan 7:30 p.m.Dec. 31 Canada 7:30 p.m.
The quarterfinals start January 2, the semifinals played on January 3, and the medal games on January 5.