Americans Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, Swedes Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson and Finn Mikael Granlund are all on their respective countries' radars for the under-20 tournament, which runs from December 26th - January 5th in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.
Mikael Granlund aka Finnish Baby Jesus (photo from Zimbio)
Both Coyle and Zucker are veterans of the 2011 United States team which finished third and Zucker is also a member of the 2010 gold medal American team. Coyle, the 28th pick in the 2010 draft by San Jose who was acquired by Minnesota in the Brent Burns trade, is in his sophomore season with Boston University and looks to play a big role for the Americans.
From Chris Peters of the United States of Hockey blog:
With that experience and that success, Coyle is going to be relied on heavily. His versatility should allow him to answer whatever challenge he is met with. Coyle has a sound two-way game, good physical strength and can get to the net.
The same goes for Zucker, who leads the Pioneers with 20 points (8G-12A).
[United States head coach Dean] Blais trusts Zucker and knows he can slot the forward in any position or on any line and get the same effort out of him regardless. Expect Zucker to be a key component to this U.S. team. He’s got tremendous wheels and a keen goal-scoring ability, but he’s also great at getting under an opponent’s skin. Zucker is the guy you love to have on your side and he’ll be used a whole bunch in Alberta.
Sweden has a triumvirate of Wild prospects as 2011 first round pick Jonas Brodin, 2010 second round pick Johan Larsson and goaltender Johan Gustafsson. All three were on the Swedish under-20 team that came to America in August. Larsson, who is tenth in points (7G-15A) in the SEL for Brynas IF, has been rumored to be Sweden's captain and is playing leagues above his age.
Larsson is not the only Wild prospect playing above his age with Finnish Baby Jesus having 36 points for HIFK and being the SM-Liiga scoring co-leader. Granlund, the 2010 first round pick for Minnesota, is the only Finnish player with Wild ties because Erik Haula is too old to compete.
Despite being a part of Finland's gold-medal winning World Championships team, Mikael actually missed last year's tournament with post-concussion symptoms. Just getting him back is a huge boost for Finland as they look to improve on their sixth place finish in 2011.
Just having talent spread across different countries is a plus and one of the reasons Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher has improved the Wild's drafting. Although there is nothing wrong with drafting players from more traditional paths, finding the best off-the-beaten-path player who continues to improve works much better than the fifth or sixth-best player from a traditional path.
Regardless, with somewhere between five and eight prospects playing in Edmonton and Calgary, there will be plenty of opportunities to watch the future of the Wild in the World Junior Hockey Championships.