Times are tough for the Red Wings at the moment. Detroit currently sits at the bottom of the standings heading into December, with a good amount of breathing room at that. So fans have turned their attention to the farm system for enjoyable hockey. With that, many will have their eyes on Ostrava, Czech Republic, towards the end of the month and into 2020 for the World Junior Championships, the pinnacle event of junior hockey.
The Red Wings should be well represented at this tournament. Unlike previous years, Detroit should have some of the premier players participating, including Canada’s No. 1 center and arguably the best defenseman in the entire tournament. Note: Only under-20 players are eligible to play. So 2018 draft picks Filip Zadina, Seth Barton, and Victor Brattstrom are not eligible.
Below is an outline of the chances facing some of the Detroit prospects in contention to represent their home country. Other names that might peak interest, that will not be discussed for obvious reasons, include 2020 draft eligibles Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield of Canada, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz of Sweden, and Rodion Amirov of Russia.
Joseph Veleno – Lock
Veleno played for Team Canada last year in a limited fourth line role. Cracking Canada’s roster as an 18-year-old is no easy task, so you won’t typically see the same player be passed over as a 19-year-old. In the summer, Veleno played first line right wing for Canada next to Kirby Dach and Lafreniere. A strong indication Veleno will be relied upon heavily. With the success Dach is having in the NHL, its unlikely he’ll be released to play. Meaning, there is a good chance Veleno will serve as Canada’s No. 1 center.
Maybe a more interesting storyline to follow is Canada’s captaincy. Veleno captained his U18 age group. He’ll be in contention for the “C” along with a few other 19-year-olds.
Jared McIsaac – Lock
Like Veleno, McIsaac played on the team last year. The chances of him being passed over are slim to none. Luckily, McIsaac just returned from a lengthy injury on Friday. His availability was in question a few months ago, but he should be good to go heading into camp in a few weeks. Expect McIsaac to play a pivotal role in Canada’s top-4.
Otto Kivenmaki – Likely
Kivenmaki has been present for both of Finland’s top U20 events — the World Junior Summer Showcase and November Four Nations. A good indication he has an inside track to make the final roster. He has mainly served in a middle-6 role for the Finns. Despite being a 19-year-old, Finland has shown no hesitation to play their top-end underage players. So age doesn’t necessarily play in Kivenmaki’s favor, as it would with other nations. Anton Lundell and Aatu Raty, 2020 and 2021 draft eligibles, respectively, will most likely hold the top-6 center positions. Expect Kivenmaki to sub in on the third-line center spot with some powerplay time.
Antti Tuomisto – Unlikely/Maybe
Unlike Kivenmaki, Tuomisto wasn’t on the main team at the Four Nations in November. Finland’s defensive corps is loaded, featuring Ville Heinola, Anttoni Honka, Mikko Kokkonen, Lassi Thomson, and Toni Utunen. Some other names will be in the mix, but it looks like Tuomisto is on the outside looking in. Due to Tuomisto’s plans on playing college hockey next season, he hasn’t been able to play professionally in Finland. The aforementioned names all have the advantage of having pro experience. If he does somehow crack the roster it will be in a minimal role.
Moritz Seider – Lock
Not only is Seider a lock, but his roster spot has essentially been confirmed at this point. The 2019 first rounder has enjoyed an excellent start to his first North American pro season, proving he is a legitimate blue-chip prospect. One of the key points of Seider’s draft year came at the 2019 World Junior B-pool, where he lead Germany to first place and a spot in this upcoming WJC.
Germany will be bare of NHL talent on defense after Seider. Expect him to eat massive minutes on the blue-line in all situations. Considering his experience on the mens team, captaincy might be a lock as well.
Kirill Tyutyayev – Maybe/Unlikely
Russia doesn’t typically take underage players to the WJC unless they have an Andrei Svechnikov-like talent on their hands. But what is important to remember about Tyutyayev is that he originally went undrafted in his draft year. So this is his last year of eligibility. Now playing in the VHL, the 7th round pick is getting some pro experience. Combined with the skill and speed element he brings, Team Russia might think twice about Tyutyayev. I’d give him a 50/50 chance of making the roster.
Jonatan Berggren – Likely
Berggren missed out on Sweden’s roster last year due to a season ending injury sustained in November. The shifty winger is back and playing at a much higher level. He’s already tripled his point totals from last season in the SHL, scoring 2 goals and 11 points in 21 games. A promising stat-line for a 19-year-old in Sweden’s top pro league.
Listed as likely rather than lock, mainly due to Sweden’s abundance of wingers. Samuel Fagemo, Nils Hoglander, Albin Eriksson, and Simon Holmstrom, are all in play. Aside for Fagemo, Berggren should have the latter three beat. If it wasn’t for the injury, and Berggren ultimately playing last year, he’d be listed as lock here. His chances are pretty good this time around.
Jesper Eliasson – Likely
Eliasson made an appearance in net for Sweden at the Four Nations, but it came due to Olof Lindblom being sidelined with injury. If healthy, Lindblom and Hugo Alnefelt will be Sweden’s one-two punch in net. There is a good chance Eliasson slips in as the third goaltender on the roster, having pro experience under his belt. However, that doesn’t guarantee playing time. Unless an injury occurs, teams typically only start their top-two options for the entirety of the tournament.
Albin Grewe – Unlikely/Maybe
Grewe’s chances don’t seem that great, mainly due to the reasons listed under the Berggren analysis. There are a lot of quality Swedish wingers in the running, and Grewe hasn’t had the type of season to knock one of them out. However, there is typically a surprise name that gets the nod. With the bullish, sandpaper style Grewe plays with, who knows, the coaching staff might be in love with him. He brings an element that is missing to their projected lineup. It could just be enough to put them over the edge.
Albert Johansson – Unlikely
Johansson has been with Farjestad of the SHL this season, playing in a fairly decent sized role. 4 points in 16 games is a great stat-line for an 18-year-old defenseman. Alas, Sweden is stacked on the blue-line, boasting names like Tobias Bjornfot, Adam Boqvist, Philip Broberg, Nils Lundkvist, Rasmus Sandin, and Victor Soderstrom. There is a chance they might be leaving off a first rounder or two. This just isn’t Johansson’s year.
Elmer Soderblom – Slim to none
The Red Wings might have nabbed a legitimate prospect in Soderblom in the 6th round of the 2019 NHL draft. The big man has torched the Swedish junior ranks and was rewarded with a few SHL games. However, with so little pro experience, Soderblom is more than just on the outside looking in. Keep in mind, Soderblom was a regular on Sweden’s U18 group, so he’ll have a decent chance at next years squad.
Robert Mastrosimone – Likely
Mastrosimone’s relationship with USA Hockey has been an interesting one. Despite failing to make the National Team Develop Program, USA Hockey still brought Mastrosimone on for a few games with the program last season. He was also slated on their World Junior Summer Showcase roster before being injured. However, Team USA will have some high-end players making up the roster, including first rounders Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, and Trevor Zegras. Bobby Brink and Arthur Kaliyev should be in the mix as well, among others. Mastrosimone has played well this season with Boston University, so I think his chances of playing are pretty good. But a top-6 role will be hard to come by.