CALGARY – One of the fascinating realities of the World Juniors is that it’s very hard to project how these players will pan out after their days on the U20 circuit are over.
Unless they have names like Crosby or Ovechkin, that is. And as we’ve seen in 2011, even that kind of pedigree doesn’t guarantee happy endings.
Let’s take a look at some of the prominent names from the last four World Juniors, dating back to 2008, who have now moved on to their professional careers. Some are truly thriving, while others are simply surviving.
Jordan Eberle: As the young Edmonton Oilers bid for their first NHL playoff berth since their run to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, Eberle has emerged as a threat to finish in the top 10 in league scoring. The Canadian forward earned a reputation for scoring big goals at big times. Notching the tying goal with 5.4 seconds left against Russia in the 2009 World Junior semi-final and then adding the shootout winner was his finest World Junior spotlight moment. The former Regina Pats star also electrified Saskatchewan hockey fans when he potted two late in the gold medal game against the USA in 2010 to send it to overtime. Now the 21-year-old right wing is fulfilling his potential with the big boys.
Taylor Hall: Eberle’s Edmonton teammate, who suffered the disappointment of settling for silver in 2010 when the USA prevailed in an overtime classic, isn’t suffering from an NHL sophomore jinx. Hall, last year’s #1 overall pick, should eclipse his 2010-11 mark of 42 points despite missing a few games due to injury this season.
Erik Karlsson: Named Best Defenceman at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, this swift-skating Swedish sensation has continued to shine with the Senators in Canada’s national capital. He’ll likely finish among the NHL’s top assist-getters this season, and could anchor Tre Kronor’s power play at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi if all goes according to plan.
Vladimir Tarasenko: Tarasenko, who captained Russia to gold in Buffalo back in January, celebrated his 20th birthday on December 13. And the Sibir Novosibirsk forward, who made his senior international debut at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia earlier this year, can also celebrate the fact that he isn’t struggling to get ice time in the KHL. He leads his pro club with 16 goals and 17 assists in 35 games thus far.
Nikita Filatov: As a sixth overall draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008, this former captain of the Russian U20 national team was expected to become a high-scoring NHL sniper. But thus far, Filatov’s professional career arc looks more like that of another ex-Blue Jacket, Nikolai Zherdev. The 21-year-old was loaned back to his hometown club, CSKA Moscow, after failing to pan out with the Senators this season.
Jaroslav Janus: Slovakia forged a genuine underdog feel-good story at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, and it was mainly about their goalie. Janus, then playing for the OHL’s Erie Otters, made 44 saves in an unforgettable quarter-final win over the heavily favoured Americans. But as of yet, the 22-year-old Presov native has gone back to flying under the radar. He’s playing second fiddle to Dustin Tokarski (Canada’s golden goalie from 2009) with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League, currently owning a 3.14 GAA and an 88.9 save percentage.
Steve Mason: Chosen as tournament MVP and Best Goalie at the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World U20 Championship, Steve Mason had it all going for him not so long ago. But the ex-London Knights star, who shone as an NHL rookie in 2008-09, has seen his numbers and reputation decline each year since with Columbus.
Magnus Pääjärvi: The fleet-footed Swedish left wing, whose resume includes medals from three World Juniors and two World Championships at the green age of 20, hasn’t been able to avoid second-season woes in the NHL, unlike his Edmonton compadres Eberle and Hall. Pääjärvi was sent down to the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons after recording just three assists in 25 games this season.