Here are IIHF.com’s picks as selected by writers Lucas Aykroyd in Trinec (Group A) and Andrew Podnieks in Ostrava (Group B). It’s early, but there’s no harm in looking into the future on the last day of 2019! Who would you pick as MVP? Discuss on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
Nils Hoglander (SWE)Clearly, you can make a strong argument that Nils Hoglander’s linemate Samuel Fagemo is an early MVP favourite, too, with his tournament-leading five goals. Both of these 2019 NHL second-round picks – Hoglander 40th overall to Vancouver, Fagemo 50th overall to L.A. – have made strong cases through the first three games.
Yet Hoglander’s combination of creativity and timely offence tends to resonate more. Heck, Canucks fans are already set to anoint him as Elias Pettersson’s long-lost twin.
The lacrosse goal the Rogle Angelholm winger scored in the 3-2 opening win over defending champion Finland will likely remain the most spectacular goal of these World Juniors. Additionally, he’s set up three of Fagemo’s goals and scored the winner in the team’s 5-3 victory over Switzerland with a deft tip. Hoglander looks poised to provide the spark Sweden needs to avoid another quarter-finals pratfall like the 2-0 loss to the Swiss last year in Victoria.
An interesting historical side note: one of Fagemo’s Frolunda teammates this year, Max Friberg, scored a tournament-high nine goals for the 2012 Swedish gold medal team. Friberg, however, was not named MVP. That honour went to Russia’s Yevgeni Kuznetsov.
Arthur Kaliyev (USA)Drafted 33rd overall by Los Angeles this past June, Kaliyev no doubt has the best one-timer at this tournament. He’s playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season and lead’s the OHL with 31 goals in 33 games, and he hasn’t let up at all in Ostrava. He has four goals in as many games, and his six points is tied for fourth in tournament points.
His quick release is as evident here as it is wherever he plays. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, all four of his goals have come off passes from Trevor Zegras.
Kaliyev looks a bit slow and doesn’t seem to get involved in the play, and then, wham! The puck is in the net. In short, he has been dynamite for the U.S.
Patrik Puistola (FIN)Points aren’t everything, but it’s noteworthy that through three round-robin games, Puistola stacks up nicely against Patrik Laine, his more celebrated Tappara Tampere counterpart.
As a World Junior rookie, the 18-year-old Puistola has scored four goals and three assists against Sweden, Slovakia, and Kazakhstan. In 2016, the 17-year-old Laine – with a much more talented Finnish team – had three goals and four assists against Belarus, Russia, and Slovakia. You be the judge.
As a third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019 (73rd overall), Puistola could turn out to be the steal of that draft if he maintains this torrid pace. And, if he becomes the World Junior MVP, he’d better mention the fantastic passes he’s been getting from the diminutive, undrafted Kristian Tanus in his acceptance speech.
Trevor Zegras (USA)Zegras is trying to do something no player in top-level U20 history has done – lead a tournament in scoring without scoring a goal. He has nine points to lead all players so far, and all nine are assists. He is also a +6, which is also tops among all players.
The only people happier than his teammates and family for his great tournament so far are the management of the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him a lofty 9th overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Zegras played two years with the USNTDP and is with Boston University this current season. Strangely, he helped the U.S. in bronze at last year’s U18, and in that event he had – you guessed it – no goals and nine assists!
KEEP AN EYE ON…Because it’s early, there is also another cohort of players who may rise up in he coming week. Here is a small selection who may overtake the top four:
Top Finnish goalie Justus Annunen has shone in his two starts. Both his calm, towering presence and his numbers so far (1.92 GAA, 94.5 save percentage) are eerily similar to what Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen brought for the 2019 champs (1.80 GAA, 93.2 save percentage).
Goaltender Joel Hofer was excellent in Canada’s 4-1 win over Germany. He had played half a game against Russia, allowing two goals, but he will likely be Canada’s goalie the rest of the way. One win does not make an MVP, but watch what happens as the tournament moves to the playoffs.
Russian Alexander Khovanov has but a goal and two assists so far, but he’s had many more chances and moves the puck well. Russia has won only once in three games so far, but Khovanov has stood out as a player of skill.
Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere is a sure MVP candidate – if he plays. But that knee injury he sustained in the one-sided loss to Russia leaves his presence undetermined at this point. He had four points in his only full game so far, and the expected first overall draft choice in 2020 is dynamite to watch.
If you want a real dark horse, how about Switzerland’s Valentin Nussbaumer? He had four points in the 7-2 rout of Slovakia – the same number he had over 12 games in his first two World Juniors. The creative Shawinigan Cataractes forward is finding his game at the right time.
American forward Shane Pinto has scored timely goals and plays a solid, all-‘round game. He’s not a game breaker like Arthur Kaliyev, and he’s not a pure passer like Trevor Zegras, but he is the real deal up front.
The growing confidence of 17-year-old wunderkinds Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, who starred in Sweden’s U18 gold run earlier this year in Ornskoldsvik, has been fun to watch. They know how to seize big moments and win.