2016 World Juniors: Top 10 NHL-drafted prospects to watch

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Toronto's decision to send William Nylander to the WJC boosted Sweden's offense. (Matt Slocum, AP)
Toronto's decision to send William Nylander to the WJC boosted Sweden's offense. (Matt Slocum, AP)

The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the way among NHL clubs with high-end prospects set to take part in the 2016 world junior championship. Sweden’s William Nylander, the eighth overall pick in 2014, and Canada’s Mitch Marner, the fourth overall pick in 2015, are the organization’s most prized draftees in the tourney.

The Arizona Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers have strong cases to slot in behind Toronto. Arizona has a pair of elite forwards in Canada’s Dylan Strome and USA’s Christian Dvorak while Philadelphia has a pair of blueline studs in Canada’s Travis Sanheim and Russia’s Ivan Provorov.

Here is a look at 10 NHL-drafted prospects to watch in the Finland-based tournament.

1. William Nylander, wing, Sweden (Toronto Maple Leafs) – Look for the electrifying Swedish sensation to take a run at leading the tournament in points. He has been on fire with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies this season, as he leads the league in points with 14 goals and 34 points in 26 games. Moreover, he notched 10 points in seven matches for Sweden as an 18 year old at the 2015 WJC.

2. Dylan Strome, centre, Canada (Arizona Coyotes) – The 6-foot-3, 194-pound Strome, who was chosen third overall in 2015, is set to play a big part in Canada’s offense. He solidified himself as one of the top play-making centres in the OHL last season by leading the league in points with 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games. He hasn’t let up at all without Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid this year, netting 16 goals and 53 points in 25 matches for the Erie Otters.

3. Mitch Marner, centre/wing, Canada (Toronto Maple Leafs) – Like Strome, the London Knight forward is poised to eat up big minutes for The Great White North. He’s proven to be a dynamic offensive forward through the combination of his elite hockey sense, soft hands, high compete level and quick feet. His skill has translated into production, as he’s scored 22 goals and 58 points in 25 contests this season after posting 126 points last year.

4. Mikko Rantanen, wing, Finland (Colorado Avalanche) – The Avalanche’s decision to let Rantanen take part in the world junior tourney is a big boost for Finland’s offense. He’s used his imposing 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame, phenomenal play-making abilities and top-notch hockey smarts to make a smooth transition to the pro game in North America this year. He’s tallied nine goals and 23 points in 19 matches for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage.

5. Ilya Samsonov, goalie, Russia (Washington Capitals) – The 22nd overall selection of the 2015 NHL draft is one of the NHL's top netminder prospects. He’s posted a 1.87 average and a .929 save percentage in 14 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season.

“He has good size (6 foot 3, 201 pounds) and covers the net well. He plays at the top of the crease and effectively squares to the shooter. He shows good instincts and is well balanced. He can make acrobatic saves and is considered to be the best Russian goalie prospect in many years,” NHL Central Scouting’s Goran Stubb told NHL.com.

6. Christian Dvorak, wing, USA (Arizona Coyotes) – With 28 markers and 65 points in 27 games, the Frankfort, IL., native, who was Arizona’s second round pick in 2014, sits on top of the OHL’s scoring race. He’s thrived for London because of his potent blend of a strong skating ability, high-end speed, offensive prowess and a vigorous forecheck. Look for him to jive with Knights teammate Matthew Tkachuk in Team USA’s offense.

7. Pavel Zacha, wing, Czech Republic (New Jersey Devils) – Zacha, whom the Devils chose sixth overall in 2015, is the foundation of Team Czech Republic. He possesses a large 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame and a sleek combination of a high-end shot, solid stickhandling abilities, good footspeed and strong instincts. He’s racked up 17 goals and 30 points in 23 games with the OHL’s Saria Sting this season.

8. Brayden Point, centre, Canada (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Point has proven time and time again that he can get it done on the big stage despite his small 5-foot-11, 165-pound build. He’s started out his 19-year-old season on fire with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, tallying 18 goals and 43 points in 19 games. He should slot in as Canada’s No. 1 or 2 centre, that is as long as his previous shoulder injury is fully behind him.

9. Travis Sanheim, defence, Canada (Philadelphia Flyers) – The Elkhorn, MB., native is poised to play a big offensive role on Canada's back end. He’s shown he possesses an enticing blend of a smooth stride, a solid shot and elite offensive instincts with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. Look for the 6-foot-4, 199-pounder, along with Victoria’s Joe Hicketts, to anchor the club’s power play.

10. Colin White, centre, USA (Ottawa Senators) – White’s impressive start to his freshman season with Boston College has shown why the Senators chose him 21st overall in the 2015 draft. While showcasing his strong two-way play and elite skating ability, he’s racked up eight goals and 23 points in his first 16 NCAA games. His point total places him tied for seventh in the NCAA Div. 1 scoring race.

Honourable mention: Ivan Provorov, defence, Russia (Philadelphia Flyers) – The Brandon Wheat Kings sophomore is a dominant player at both ends of the ice. His play is key to Russia’s chances of capturing gold for the first time since 2011.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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