There is never a bad time to look towards the future, especially since the future of the Islanders will be on full display this fortnight, during the World Junior Championships in Canada. Most of the players are already property of NHL teams but there are some top players that will be entering this year’s draft. Pool play begins on Monday and will continue through Saturday, with games being played in both Toronto and Montreal, the knockout rounds will begin next Monday culminating with the Finals next Thursday in Montreal. All the world’s preeminent teams will be participating again this year. The Islanders will be well represented with Mathew Barzal (Canada), Kieffer Bellows (USA) and Otto Koivula (Finland), in addition there is a good chance that the Islanders first round pick in 2017 will be a participant.
Barzal is the most popular name in the tournament for Islanders fans and may be the most important player in the tournament. He has been named the alternate captain for the host nation of Canada. As with most tournaments Canada is considered one of the favorites. After spending the beginning of the season with the Isles he has since been returned to Seattle in the WHL were he has 2 goals and 17 assists in his 13 games. He will be a critical player for Canada’s success so he should be noticeable for Islanders fans watching the games. In the pre-tournament round Barzal had 2 goals and an assist, and spend most of the time between Taylor Raddysh and Mathieu Joseph both Tampa Bay Lightning prospects. Canada will begin their tournament Monday night vs Russia. Barzal will be wearing number 13.
Bellows was the Islanders first round selection in 2016, and has spent this season playing for Boston University. As a freshman, he has 6 points in 16 games and is fourth on the team. It is less clear what Bellows’ role on the US team will be. He scored a goal in the pre-tournament game vs the Czechs. Bellows has started on the fourth line playing wing with Tanner Laczynski of the Philadelphia Flyers and Joey Anderson of the New Jersey Devils. The Americans will begin the tournament Monday afternoon vs Latvia. Bellows will be wearing number 23.
Koivula was a fourth-round pick in 2016 by the Isles. They traded a pick in 2017 in order to acquire him. He is making that pick look good with a productive season so far in the Finnish Elite League. He currently has 16 points in 29 games during his rookie season. He is expected to be a power forward already being 6’3 220 lbs. The Finnish team will not revolve around him but he will be looking to make an impact on this tournament. The Fins begin their tournament Monday late afternoon vs the Czechs. Koivula will be wearing number 35.
This tournament will be without number one prospect Nolan Patrick who will miss the tournament due to an injury. There are however other intriguing options to watch for the Isles who look like they will be taking a top pick in next year’s draft. While this year’s class is not as loaded as in the past there are some interesting names to look at on this mostly European list. The top two centers from Sweden Lias Andersson and Elias Pettersson. In addition to Koivula, Finland has draft prospects Eeli Tolvanen (RW) who has already committed to BU, and defensemen Juuso Valimaki, and Miro Heiskanen. Finally the top American draft eligible will be goalie Jake Oettinger of Boston University
This is a fun tournament that will be shown on the NHL network with games starting as early as 1:00 every day. For a fan base that has been disappointed in the hockey they have seen this tournament is a breath of fresh air. Every year there are players that separate themselves from the pack and show the world their abilities. Every other time Canada has hosted this tournament they have come back with at least some hardware. After a disappointing tournament last year I would expect them to rebound to win the gold this year (holding off USA and Sweden) with Mathew Barzal having a great chance to be this tournaments break out star. Take a moment to enjoy this tournament, you will be surprised how much you enjoy it.