For most of these players, it’s still pretty early in their tenure with their current franchises. But all of them hunger to bring the Stanley Cup north of the border for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. And all of them look ridiculously young here.
Let’s take a skate down memory lane.
1) Jacob Markstrom (SWE): Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom established himself as one of the NHL’s top goalies with Vancouver over the last two seasons. Calgary fans hope the towering 30-year-old Swede will maintain that trajectory after signing a six-year, $36-million US free agent deal on 9 October.
He drew boobirds in Ottawa when he came out of his net and was involved in a second-period collision with Angelo Esposito. The Gavle native lost his mask and lay on the ice, while Victor Hedman swooped in to put the Canadian forward in a headlock. The host nation powered to a 5-1 win. Regardless, Markstrom came back to earn bronze the following year at the World Juniors in Saskatchewan.
“Marky” saw better days at the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, as he helped Sweden break the infamous 27-year-old “home ice curse.” He posted a 1.58 GAA and 93.4 save percentage in his five appearances, even though Jhonas Enroth was in net for the 5-1 gold-medal victory over Switzerland.
2) Leon Draisaitl (GER): Edmonton Oilers
When Leon Draisaitl made his World Junior debut at age 17 at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, the German power forward was midway through his 58-point rookie season with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders. Germany finished ninth in the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, and Draisaitl totalled six points. His most productive game featured two goals and an assist in a 5-2 relegation round win over Latvia.
As a 50-goal scorer in 2018-19 and the NHL’s MVP and leading points-getter (110) in 2019-20, this four-time IIHF World Championship participant has set the bar high for other #3 overall German picks (hello, Tim Stutzle!).
3) Tomas Tatar (SVK): Montreal Canadiens
Tomas Tatar’s two World Juniors were a study in contrasts. In 2009, the 18-year-old HK Dubnica product was on fire. His seven goals put him second behind co-leaders John Tavares and Nikita Filatov (eight). Two of Tatar’s goals came in Slovakia’s stunning 5-3 quarter-final upset of the U.S., where goalie Jaroslav Janus also shone with 44 saves.
However, the talented left winger would have more reasons to smile two years later when he helped his country achieve a surprise silver medal at the 2012 Worlds in Helsinki. With 347 career NHL points for Detroit, Vegas, and Montreal, Tatar boasts a 2018 Stanley Cup final appearance with the Golden Knights and leading-scorer status (61 points) with the 2020 Habs.
4) John Tavares (CAN): Toronto Maple Leafs
There’s nothing wrong with getting a cream pie in the face when you’ve just won your second straight World Juniors. In 2009 in Ottawa. John Tavares finished second in tournament scoring (15 points) to Canadian teammate Cody Hodgson (16 points).
Then, in the uber-dramatic 6-5 semi-final shootout victory over Russia, Tavares assisted on both of Jordan Eberle’s regulation-time goals, including the equalizer with 5.4 seconds left. Both Eberle and Tavares beat Russian goalie Vadim Zhelobnyuk in the shootout to seal the deal.
This 30-year-old centre, who won gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, is heading into his third season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and sits at 769 career points. Tavares aspires to captain the club to a Stanley Cup and end Hogtown’s drought dating back to 1967.
5) Yevgeni Dadonov (RUS): Ottawa Senators
Second chances are important in life. Yevgeni Dadonov could have gotten discouraged when his two Russian World Junior teams settled for bronze (2008, 2009), or when struggled in his first three NHL seasons with the Florida Panthers. But he didn’t give up.
When Dadonov came back to the Panthers, starting in 2017-18, he flourished with three consecutive seasons of 25 goals or more. He also currently boasts three Worlds bronze medals (2016, 2017, 2019). And Ottawa Senators fans hope this newly acquired 31-year-old veteran can get their rebuilding franchise out of some hairy situations with his offensive gifts.
6) Nikolaj Ehlers (DEN): Winnipeg Jets
When Nikolaj Ehlers suited up at the 2015 World Juniors in Toronto, Denmark was making just its third of seven World Junior appearances. Despite making the senior Worlds every year since 2003, the small Scandinavian nation can never take anything for granted at the U20 level.
At age 24, the best is still yet to come for Ehlers. He’s a four-time 20-goal man with Winnipeg, a two-time World Championship participant, and the son of current national team coach Heinz Ehlers.
7) J.T. Miller (USA): Vancouver Canucks
In Vancouver, J.T. Miller might not get as many headlines as 2019 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Elias Pettersson, top D-man Quinn Hughes, or captain Bo Horvat. However, the 27-year-old American centre led the Canucks with a career-high 72 points in his first season on the West Coast. It was with USA Hockey that Miller set the stage for his current success, winning gold at the 2013 World Juniors.
With the resurgent Canucks, Miller can be a true catalyst, as he seeks the Cup that eluded him with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.