Tomorrow is the first day of December, and that means it is almost time for the IIHF U-20 World Junior Championship. Normally the WJC is the biggest international tournament (in North America, anyway) on the hockey calendar, but that little get together in February in Vancouver is going to overshadow this year’s WJC.
Here’s a sobering thought for the other 29 teams in the NHL: As well as the Capitals have populated their current roster with draft picks, the franchise may be doing a better job now than ever before. That could be evident when the WJC rosters are announced — there could be as many as SIX Caps draft picks in Saskatoon/Regina, Saskatchewan for this year’s event.
Both the Caps prospects who played in last year’s tournament, Stefan Della Rovere and Dmitry Kugryshev are eligible to return and should be safe bets to make it. Kugryshev’s numbers are down a bit in the QMJHL this year, though and Team Russia is known for its preplexing WJC decisions.
A Russian who is probably more of a lock for the team is defenseman Dmitri Orlov, who has three goals in 25 KHL games as an 18-year-old this year. Expect him to be an anchor on the Russian blue line.
2009 first-round pick Marcus Johansson played in this event last year before the Caps drafted him, and he could captain Team Sweden. Johansson has seven goals and 13 points for his team in the Swedish Elitel League. Caps scouting director Ross Mahoney said Johansson’s getting big minutes for Farjestads.
A guy who, despite his great start, is probably a dark horse at this point is 2009 third-round pick Cody Eakin. He leads the WHL with 25 goals, but cracking Canada’s forward corps is not going to be easy.
That leaves the most interesting case from the Caps’ system: defenseman John Carlson. Even with their somtimes vexing selection process, Team USA has to want Carlson — who would possibly be the team’s No. 1 defenseman.
But do the Caps want to send Carlson to the tournament? General manager George McPhee said “it has been discussed, but no decision has been made yet” on making Carlson available for the tournament.
There are pros and cons for letting him play. It would be great experience for him to play on such a pressure-packed stage, but is it better experience than playing against men in the AHL? Also, what happens if the Caps are hit with injuries again and he’s not available because he’s in Saskatchewan?
Even if Carlson doesn’t go, the Caps should be well-represented at this year’s WJC. McPhee said he couldn’t remember a year in which his franchise had more than three prospects playing in the tournament, so this should be the most during his tenure.