The World Junior Hockey Championship is an annual holiday tradition, hugely popular here in Canada and gaining traction in the other traditional hockey-playing nations. The tournament is hosted by the Russians this year, in the city of Ufa.
The tournament uses a round-robin format, with two groups of five teams. Group A features Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia. Meanwhile, Group B is comprised of Canada, Russia, Slovakia, the United States and Germany.
The various teams have either already named their rosters, or have invited players to evaluation camps. The Jackets have five prospects earning invites to their respective nation's camp, and each of those prospects stands a good chance of earning the chance to wear the sweater of their homeland.
Boone Jenner is a lock for Canada. He was a member of last year's squad, and is having a phenomenal season with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL. Canada is one team that would benefit greatly from the lockout, with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau being available, when under normal NHL circumstances they wouldn't be. Lockout or not, Boone will almost assuredly fill the third line center spot for Canada, where his excellent defensive game, work ethic and ability to chip in offensively will be perfectly suited. A letter on his chest isn't out of the question.
Sticking with Canada, top 2012 Columbus draft pick Ryan Murray would have been a lock for the team, but his injured shoulder will prevent him from participating.
Lukas Sedlak is another sure bet. He was a member of the Czech team last season, and will be able to provide offense and experience. I watched him play recently when his Chicoutimi Sagueneens visited Halifax and the Mooseheads. He showed some creativity in the offensive zone, and looked like he had the build of a power forward. Though I would have liked to see him use that bulk more often, you can't argue his ability to go to the net.
One prospect who really intrigues me is Mike Reilly. He's off to a solid start to his freshman season with Minnesota of the WCHA, but has some stiff competition for a spot on the US blueline. He has a ton of offensive talent, and with the big ice in Ufa he would be able to really work his magic. Even just as a powerplay specialist he'd be lethal.
Top goaltending prospect Oscar Dansk has been invited to Sweden's camp, and there's a good chance he'll be the starter. All three goaltenders will travel with the team, so it really comes down to who gets the starts. He's been having a very difficult year with the OHL's Erie Otters, so it will be a treat to watch him play with and against top players. This marks the second consecutive year that the Jackets have a Swedish goaltender taking part in this tournament, as Anton Forsberg participated last season.
Joonas Korpisalo will travel with the Finns to Ufa. Again, it will come down to who will get the starts. I'm not familiar enough with the Finnish goaltenders to form an opinion on who will be the top dog, so let's just hope that it's Joonas.
The tournament runs from December 26 to January 5th.