Young WJC faces of the North Division
by Lucas Aykroyd|03 JAN 2021
John Tavares, now captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, got a surprise from his Canadian teammates after beating Sweden in the 2009 World Junior gold medal game in Ottawa.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
For 2020-21, the NHL will feature a seven-team, all-Canadian North Division. And with the 2021 World Juniors taking place in Canada, it’s a great time to check out some amazing retro photos with stars of Canadian NHL teams – from seven different countries – back in their World Junior days.

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.
Sweden’s Jacob Markstrom takes a breather during the 2009 World Junior final in Ottawa.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
In 2009, Markstrom and the swift-skating Erik Karlsson led the Juniorkronorna to the gold medal game versus host Canada. They were named Best Goalie and Best Defenceman respectively. Yet Markstrom had a tough final as his competitive nature got the better of him.

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.
Leon Draisaitl (center) receiving one of Germany's Best Player awards together with Tobias Rieder (right) in Ufa. 
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Nonetheless, the Oilers saw enough to make him the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. The son of former German Olympian Peter Draisaitl would play one more World Juniors in 2014, getting six points again. Edmonton controversially opted to hold him out of the 2015 tournament.

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.
Slovakia’s Tomas Tatar suited up at his second World Juniors in 2010 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
photo: Jeff Vinnick/HHOF-IIHF Images
In 2010, Tatar was limited to three goals and two assists as Slovakia was forced to compete in the relegation round in Saskatoon and finished eighth.

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).
John Tavares in the Team Canada dressing room after winning gold in 2009. 
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The Oshawa Generals superstar came through in two monumental games. First, he had a hat trick as Canada rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the U.S. 7-4 on New Year’s Eve. His 3-2 goal, where he deked around a desperately sliding Ryan McDonagh before beating netminder Thomas McCollum, was highlight-reel magic.

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.
Russia’s Yevgeni Dadonov captured bronze medals at both of his World Juniors (2008, 2009). Mikael Fritzon / HHOF-IIHF Images 
photo: Mikael Fritzon / HHOF-IIHF Images
The former Traktor Chelyabinsk winger achieved KHL stardom with SKA St. Petersburg, winning two Gagarin Cups (2015, 2017). “Daddy” also earned his first IIHF World Championship gold medal in Minsk (2014) and silver in Prague (2015).

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.
Denmark’s Nikolaj Ehlers got four points in his lone World Juniors in Toronto in 2015.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
In 2015, Ehlers, the ninth overall pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2014, showed up in big games as the Danes made an exciting run to the quarter-finals. Not only did the nifty Aalborg-born winger score the 2-0 goal in an 3-2 shootout loss to the Russians in the opener, but he also had a pair of helpers in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Czech Republic.

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.
The U.S.’s J.T. Miller struck gold at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
Miller’s nine-point contribution was somewhat overshadowed by the all-star performances of goalie John Gibson, defenceman Jacob Trouba, and forward Johnny Gaudreau. Yet Miller efficiently delivered three points in the 7-0 quarter-final romp over the Czechs, two more in the 5-1 quarter-final dispatching of Canada, and an assist on Vincent Trocheck’s last-minute empty-netter in the 3-1 gold medal victory over Sweden. He’s a student of the game, and it shows.

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.