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3 Things to Watch From Wild Players in the World Junior Championships

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Ho, Ho, Ho. Santa came down the chimney last night and left hockey fans the best present imaginable — the World Junior Championships. Combining the international competition of the Olympics and the ability to see the best prospect on the biggest stage, the WJCs are one of the biggest and most fun events on the hockey calendar.

Since Minnesotans were such great guys, gals, and non-binary pals this year, Minnesota Wild fans get a little something extra under the tree. Wild fans will get extra rooting interest in the tournament this year, with five Minnesota prospects taking the ice. 2020 first-rounder Marco Rossi is with Austria, 2019 first-rounder Matt Boldy with Team USA, Marat Khusnutdinov and Vladislav Firstov with Russia, and Pavel Novak with the Czech Republic.

Every day from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, you can catch a game involving a Wild prospect. Since they’re all in the same group, five of those days will have Wild prospects playing head-to-head.

Here’s every game involving a Wild prospect in the preliminary round, with every game Wild prospects go head-to-head marked with an asterisk. All times Central, and all games can be caught on NHL Network:

  • Christmas: USA vs. Russia* (8:30 pm)
  • 12/26: Czech Republic vs. Sweden (1:00 pm); Austria vs. USA* (8:30 pm)
  • 12/27: Russia vs. Czech Republic* (8:30 pm)
  • 12/28: Sweden vs. Austria (5:00 pm)
  • 12/29: Czech Republic vs. the USA (1:00 pm); Russia vs. Austria* (8:30pm)
  • 12/30: Sweden vs. Russia (9:30 pm)
  • 12/31: Austria vs. Czech Republic* (1:00 pm); USA vs. Sweden (8:30 pm)

So, now that we know how to tune in, let’s look at the biggest questions facing Wild prospects entering the tournament.

How far can Rossi take Team Austria?

As we’ve noted on several occasions, the State of Hockey is very high on their latest top prospect. And why shouldn’t they be? With Rossi’s production, skills and competitiveness, he’s got the most hype of any draft pick since maybe Mikael Granlund.

Team Austria’s exhibition game vs. Switzerland was televised, giving Wild fans a proper introduction to Rossi. He went pointless but didn’t disappoint. Rossi was clearly dominant, controlling the puck, shooting often and imposing his will defensively. Even with a misconduct penalty, he managed to be Austria’s player of the game.

Playing for Austria gives Rossi a tough road in this tournament, however. The hockey hotbeds of USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Canada tend to own the tournament, making the Austrias of the world either also-rans or relegation fodder. Only once since 2005 has a team outside that Big 5 medaled in the tournament (Slovakia, Bronze in 2015).

Rossi is the only major name on the roster — none of his other teammates have been drafted — meaning that if Austria makes any kind of run, it’ll be largely on his shoulders. Can he do it? Star individual performances can allow lower-level programs to punch above their weight, Nico Hischier’s four-goal, seven-point (in five games) performance in 2017 being the best recent example. It’s possible, but it’ll take a superhuman effort.

Theoretically, Rossi’s offensive skills and two-way ability could do it, even with the odds stacked against him. If he manages to pull it off, it’ll be yet another indication that a few teams messed up letting him slip to No. 9 overall three months ago.

Does Boldy look like a star?

After missing the cut last year, Boldy is joining a loaded USA squad. He’s one of nine first-round picks to make the team, with other big names like Arthur Kaliyev, Bobby Brink and Matthew Beniers on the team.

It’s a lot of talent, and Boldy should no doubt do well. The question with him isn’t whether he’ll look like he belongs with that group, but does he stand out?

Boldy also played in an exhibition Tuesday night, where he managed to grab some attention. He created some nice opportunities for his teammates and showed off his ability to keep the puck on his stick almost magnetically. The real jaw-dropper, however, came on this assist on a Kaliyev goal.

That’s an absolute laser from behind the net, which would be impressive enough. The fact that it found its way through Kaliyev through three of Finland’s sticks is absurd. If he can make plays like this look as routine as that pass does, Boldy will stand out.

One potential setback here has little do do with his play, and more with his coaching. See, Team USA played Boldy at center in this exhibition, a position he played during most of his struggles at Boston College.

Even if Boldy can play center and play it well, you still probably don’t want to put him there. At his best, Boldy is a monster along the boards, winning battles with ease and creating plays from there. Does putting him in the middle take away from that? Clearly, it didn’t stop him from looking strong against Finland, but Boldy and Team USA might be better off with him at his natural position.

This is the best Minnesota Wild showing since ____?

With five prospects in the tournament and four of them being drafted in the first two rounds, the Wild are sending a lot of star power to the WJCs this season.

This is a welcome change from recent years, where a weaker farm system has limited them to just one player over the past three seasons (Alexander Khovanov, 2020).

Minnesota doesn’t get to dominate the World Juniors often, but when they have, it’s been fun. In 2017, the State of Hockey got to witness Kirill Kaprizov scoring nine goals and making the All-Tournament team. He wasn’t the only one who stood out, as Joel Eriksson Ek racked up six goals of his own, Jordan Greenway notched eight points and Luke Kunin captained USA and stood out in a defensive role.

The Wild had their fingerprints all over the 2012 tournament, as well. Granlund, Jason Zucker and Johan Larsson were all captains of their respective countries, with Granlund (11 points) making the all-tournament team. Zucker and Charlie Coyle combined for seven goals and 13 points. Larsson, Jonas Brodin and goalie Johan Gustafsson all were key to Sweden winning Gold.

Those are big shoes to fill, but this Wild crop has the talent to get in that conversation. A set of big tournaments from them will put an exclamation point on the Wild’s rapidly improving prospect pool.

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