By Thomas Harrington
Of the four Anaheim prospects who were named to their country’s perspective preliminary rosters for the World Junior Tournament, three of them have been named to the final rosters: Troy Terry for Team USA, Julius Nattinen for Team Finland, and Jacob Larsson for Team Sweden. Sam Steel did not make Canada’s roster, a surprise to many. Max Jones is the other high profile Anaheim prospect to not make the tournament, but he has been battling injuries this year.
Terry is definitely the happy surprise of the tournament, at least from an Anaheim perspective. If an Anaheim prospect was going to be on Team USA this year, it was expected to be Jones. Terry is currently a sophomore at the University of Denver and having a very strong season. After scoring nine goals and 22 points in 41 games as a freshman, he has already matched his nine goals from a year ago, in just 18 games. It’s safe to say that he’s going to set several career offensive highs this year. Team USA only has a couple of returning players from last year’s team that claimed the bronze medal, and Terry is just one of the many new faces on the team. He probably won’t be counted on to be one of the team’s scoring leaders, but will hopefully fit in nicely in a bottom six role on the team. Terry beat out some highly regarded NHL US prospects for this spot, most notably Alex DeBrincat and Logan Brown. This will be the first time I’ll have a chance to see Terry play, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Nattinen was a member of Team Finland at the World Juniors a year ago and helped them bring home the gold. He scored one goal and three points in that tournament, and as one of the returning veterans on the team, he will hopefully take on a larger offensive role for them this year. A year ago, he was one of Finland’s better defensive players, and if he can become one of their offensive leaders, he could be one of the stars of the tournament. Finland will be looking to defend their title, and if they are able to do so, Nattinen will likely be one of the main reasons why.
Sweden has yet to release their final roster, so Larsson hasn’t officially made the roster, but considering the fact that he’s part of Sweden’s leadership group, it’s a pretty safe assumption that he will represent Sweden for the second year in a row at the World Juniors. Expect him to be one of Sweden’s top defensemen in the tournament. He scored a goal and three points at the tournament last year and hopes to improve on those numbers this year. Anaheim got a taste of what this kid can do at the start of the season, and he has played in 13 games since returning to the SHL with three assists. Sweden finished a disappointing fourth last year and was embarrassed by the US in the bronze medal game; they will be looking for some revenge this year.
While Terry was the pleasant surprise for Anaheim, Steel not making Canada’s roster was definitely the unpleasant surprise for the Ducks. He’s currently leading the WHL in points, has done so for pretty much the entire season, and is averaging over two points per game for Regina. He scores at even strength, on the powerplay, and even has seven shorthanded points on the season, showing what a versatile player he is. However, the WHL does not have many players among Canada’s forward group, as Dillon Dube is the only forward from the WHL to make Canada’s roster (both goalies and three of their defensemen of from the WHL). Steel’s absence from the tournament surprised most people, and if Canada struggles to score and/or fails to medal this year, Steel’s absence from the roster will look even worse. For now, he’ll stay in the WHL and continue to refine his game. Assuming he doesn’t turn pro after this season, he should be in contention for a spot on Canada at next year’s tournament.
The World Junior Tournament gets started on December 26th, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. If you have the chance, I highly encourage you to watch it. Some of the best hockey that I’ve watched over the last several years has happened at this tournament. Plus, it’ll give you a glimpse at the future of the NHL. Not every NHL star plays in this tournament, but a lot of have, including Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Corey Perry, Cam Fowler, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine. Watching this tournament the day after Christmas has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.
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December 25, 2016