The 2020 world junior hockey championship starts Thursday in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic. The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the players to watch at this year's under-20 tournament.
Expected to be the first goalie off the board at the 2020 NHL draft in June, the 17-year-old should provide Russia a solid backbone in the crease. The Omsk native helped his country grab silver at April's 2019 under-18 worlds and gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, where he capped a standout performance with 35 saves in a 3-2 victory over Canada in the final. In 16 games in Russia's second-tier professional division this season, Askarov has a 2.38 goals-against average to go along with a .922 save percentage.
The centre for the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves has scouts drooling over his size, speed and skill. The 17-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., is also expected to hear his name called early at June's draft, perhaps even first overall. At six foot five and 215 pounds, Byfield has all the physical attributes to dominate, and should get a chance to show what he can do on the big ice in Canada's top-6 forward group. "He's an ox," said world junior teammate Ty Dellandrea. "That's the best way to describe him." Byfield has 57 points in 30 OHL games this season.
What the diminutive Montreal Canadiens' draft pick lacks in size, he certainly makes up for with his nose for the net. The five-foot-seven, 165-pound Caufield has 12 goals and 20 points in 18 games so far this season with the NCAA's Wisconsin Badgers. The 15th overall selection last June, Caufield scored a record 126 goals in two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Set to turn 19 on Jan. 2, he also put on a show this summer at a tournament in suburban Detroit involving a number of fellow world junior hopefuls, even catching the eye of some current NHLers, including one with Caufield's exact physical dimensions. "We're both small and like to score goals," Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat said. "He can really put a puck in a small spot."
Picked 20th overall by the Winnipeg Jets at the 2019 draft, the 18-year-old figures to be a key piece of Finland's blue line as the country looks to repeat as gold medallists. Heinola played eight games for the Jets this season, registering one goal and four assists, and suited up for three contests with the AHL's Manitoba Moose. He's since returned to Finland to play professionally with Lukko Rauma for the rest of 2019-20. Heinola had a goal and an assist in five games at last year's world juniors.
The first goalie selected at the 2019 draft, Knight is having a standout freshman season at Boston College in the NCAA. The 13th pick in June by the Florida Panthers, Knight is 11-4-0 and has a 1.73 GAA with a .940 save percentage. Knight, 18, got into two games for the U.S. at last year's world juniors. "I think he can play (in the NHL) now," former NHL netminder John Vanbiesbrouck, the Americans' assistant executive director of hockey operations, said of the six-foot-three, 192-pound Knight.
The 18-year-old winger for the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic had 70 points in 32 games this season to lead the Canadian Hockey League in scoring when he left to join Canada. Projected to go No. 1 in June on many NHL draft boards, the native of Saint Eustache, Que., has all the tools to dominate at the next level — speed, skill and vision. The six-foot-one, 194-pound Lafreniere made the Canadian roster at last year's world juniors as the 13th forward, but will be counted on to lead his country both on and off the ice in the Czech Republic. "He commands the puck," Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said. "He's such a confident player. He wants to be in that moment and make the play."
Another player tabbed to go high at the 2020 NHL draft, Raymond scored the goal that won Sweden its first world under-18 title — on home soil, no less — back in April. The 17-year-old winger had 48 points in 37 outings in his country's top junior division last season. Raymond also had two goals in 10 games in the Swedish Hockey League playing against pros for the first time in 2018-19, and has five points in 16 games at the same level so far in 2019-20.
Selected 29th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2018 draft, Sandin has been loaned to Sweden for the duration of the tournament. The five-foot-11, 183-pound defenceman made his NHL debut this season before the club returned the defenceman to the American Hockey League. Sandin recorded two assists in six games with the Leafs, and has added 12 points in 19 outings with the AHL Marlies. The smooth-skating defender should provide offensive punch for his country from the back end after putting up two goals and two assists at last year's tournament.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2019.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press