The week between Christmas and New Years’ is one of the best times for hockey prospect watching, as the annual World Junior Championships takes place with the best young players under 20 years old showcasing their talents.
The problem for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Most the best 18 and 19 year olds in the world have already been drafted and identified with first and second round picks that Pittsburgh has traded away. There won’t be much to watch in terms of players with Penguins’ ties, though there are some draft eligible players in 2018 that the team could always (maybe) get next summer if they retain some of those picks.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s your brief
The team to watch for Pens fans, for sure, being as they have the only player Pittsburgh drafted. Filip Gustavsson, Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick in 2016, is set to be the starting goalie for the Swedes. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had the following notes recently on Gustavsson:
Gustavsson hasn’t had his best season so far at the pro and international level, but I believe in him as a player and prospect. He’s a big, smart goalie with fine athleticism for his size. He’s shown before over the years he can play at a high level and will likely be the starting goalie for Sweden.
And from last weekend’s SWE/USA warmup game:
Gustavsson was arguably Sweden's best player in the game, and he was the first name their coach Tomas Monten named when asked for guys who made a positive impression. The big netminder got to a lot of pucks that were moving across his crease, was aggressive in cutting off angles and never seemed out of position.
Sadly, no Penguins ties on the team this year. Pittsburgh other 2016 second round pick Kasper Bjorkqvist has aged out, and the other prospect, 2016 5th rounder Niclas Almari couldn’t crack a super, super deep Finland defense that features six (SIX!) former NHL first round draft picks. In a normal year, Almari might have made the Finnish team, but alas, this is no normal year for the Finns defensively.
I don’t think Pittsburgh’s had a tie to Team Canada since Derrick Pouliot, which goes to show that Pittsburgh hasn’t had a high draft pick in a long, long time. Unless Pittsburgh keeps their 2018 first rounders and drafts a Canadian, this trend is unlikely to change.
There are no Pens prospects with Team USA this year either. There aren’t even any kids with Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania ties to the team either, which is pretty unusual from years’ past as there’s been a growing Pittsburgh connection to the team.
Team USA is considered a slight favorite to repeat as champions, so since the majority of our readership is American, there’s at least one reason to pay attention to this tournament.
So, that’s about it. If you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan you have almost nothing to watch for in this year’s World Junior Championships. Though you do have the last 2 Stanley Cup DVD’s you can watch instead, which is more fun anyways.