A quick look at the 10 teams competing in the 2015 world junior hockey championship, starting Boxing Day in Toronto and Montreal:
POOL A (Montreal)
Last year: Gold
Skinny: The Finns feature seven players returning from their gold-medal squad, including both goalies: Juuse Saros and Ville Husso. . . . Saros was the tournament’s top goalie last year, going 5-1 with a .943 save mark. He spent most of this year in mandatory military service. . . . Also returning are forwards Artturi Lehkonen, Juuso Ikonen, Aleksi Mustonen and Otto Rauhala, plus defenceman Julius Honka, a Dallas Stars prospect who has eight points with the Texas Stars of the AHL. . . . Most players compete in the top Finnish league. Mustonen has 18 points, Ikonen 17. Kasperi Kapanen, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has 16.
Last year: Fourth
Skinny: The pressure to end Canada’s gold medal drought at five years is on. . . . Up to seven players will return from last year’s team, including Connor McDavid and Sam Reinhart, both expected to drive Canada’s offence. . . . Zach Fucale also returns and will probably carry the load in net. . . . Josh Morrissey and Darnell Nurse are the stalwarts on defence. . . . Thirteen players invited to camp won at the under-18 world championship two years ago. Leaf prospect Frederik Gauthier scored the golden goal in that tournament. . . . Team Canada got a boost when Ottawa allowed winger Curtis Lazar to play and the New York Rangers lent forward Anthony Duclair.
Last year: Fifth
Skinny: The Americans underachieved last time, one year removed from their gold medal performance in Russia. . . . The focus will be on Jack Eichel, McDavid’s rival for the No. 1 NHL draft position. Eichel’s size, speed and skill make him hard to contain. . . . Centre Auston Matthews, a 17-year-old centre, could go No. 1 in 2016. . . . Canucks prospect Thatcher Demko returns and should be the top goalie. . . . Also keep your eye on defenceman Noah Hanifin, the third-rated skater and top-ranked blue-liner for the upcoming draft. . . . Many players on this squad finished second to Canada at the world under-18s two years ago.
Last year: Eighth
Skinny: Always a team that can bite you, Canada needed a late rally to beat Slovakia in the prelims last year. . . . There isn’t much by way of NHL prospects, but 17-year-old Radovan Bondra can change that. He is a distant relation of former NHLer Petr Bondra and has been playing above his age level. . . . The only Slovak drafted is Peter Cehlarik, who plays for Lulea HF of Sweden’s top league. He was a Bruins third-rounder in 2013. . . . Slovakia won an invitational U-20 tournament in Fussen, Germany, in November.
Last year: Ninth
Skinny: The Germans play a tough, respectable brand of hockey but “in tough” is more like it this year. . . . They had 11 players from last year’s team in camp in Kingston. Germany is going with Pat Cortina as coach after two seasons with the senior national team. . . . The German U-20 team finished second in the Summer Challenge in Zuchwil, behind host Switzerland but ahead of Slovakia and the Czech U-19 nationals. . . . The Germans also finished second at a U-20 event they hosted. Andreas Eder was the top goal scorer with five. . . . Unless a miracle happens and the Edmonton Oilers release Leon Draisaitl, there will be no drafted players on the roster. Markus Eisenschmid plays junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers, while six others are on junior teams in the U.S. Frederik Tiffels plays at Western Michigan University.
POOL B (Toronto)
Last year: Silver
Skinny: Sweden won the U-20 Four Nations tournament in Prerov, Czech Republic. . . . Leafs prospect William Nylander promises to drive the offence. . . . The Swedes might be the youngest team with up to three players under 18. . . . If they’re made available, it would be the third world juniors for defenceman Robert Hagg and forward Jacob de la Rose, who play in the AHL, while forward Andre Burakowsky would see action for the second time if the Washington Capitals let him go.
Last year: Bronze
Skinny: Head coach Valeri Bragin, who engineered the last Russian U-20 triumph in Buffalo four years ago, is back behind the bench. . . . Eight Russians drafted by NHL clubs in 2014 were invited to camp, plus four drafted in 2013. . . . The Russians won the Subway Series 3-2 against three Canadian regional all-star teams and goaltender Igor Shesterkin — whom some call “Tretiak’s heir” — was a large reason why. He posted a 1.58 goals against average and .940 save mark with a record of 2-1-0. . . . Players to watch include flashy undersized forward Vladimir Tkachyov of the Moncton Wildcats, whom the Oilers tried to sign amid controversy even though he was ineligible, and dynamic forward Sergei Tolchinsky of the Soo Greyhounds.
Last year: Sixth
Skinny: You never know what you’re going to get with the Czechs. They could be great or fall apart. . . . They could have up to eight returnees from last year. The Boston Bruins let winger David Pastrnak play. . . . U-18 worlds hero Jakub Vrana is among the highest scoring junior forwards in the Swedish Hockey League. . . . Brothers David and Ondrej Kase are on the roster. . . . Miroslav Prerost is coaching for the third straight year.
Last year: Seventh
Skinny: Hosted and won the four-team Summer Challenge in Zuchwil. . . . Offence will centre on 18-year-old forward Kevin Fiala, drafted 11th overall by the Nashville Predators last summer. He dominated the Summer Challenge with seven points. . . . Denis Malgin, Noah Rod and Jonas Siegenthaler play in Switzerland’s top league. CHLers include Tim Wieser and Kay Schweri, top scorers for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, Timo Meier and Pius Suter. . . . John Fust, coach of the SC Langnau Tigers, is behind the bench.
Last year: Gold in lower division
Skinny: Went undefeated in Division I last year, led by Mikkel Aagaard (now of the Niagara IceDogs) with three goals and seven assists. . . . Offence will centre on Nikolaj Ehlers, the 2014 CHL rookie of the year after posting 104 points in 63 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. He was drafted ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets and will centre a line with Oliver Bjorkstrand (Portland Winterhawks, WHL) and Mads Eller (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL). . . . Coach Olaf Eller is the father of Mads and Lars (Montreal Canadiens).