Christmas is coming up soon. This is a big day for most of the world. For the junior hockey fan, prospect watcher, or just anyone who wants to see some great youth international hockey, it means the IIHF 2017 World Junior Championship is right around the corner. As of this writing, it’s only eleven days away. This year’s tournament is in Montreal and Toronto, so the times should be reasonable to watch the games.
Why should you, who is likely a smart person and is therefore a Devils fan, should care? Because there will be at least two Devils prospects in this year’s under-20 tournament. Earlier today, Canada made their final cuts to their roster. Among the 22 young men who will represent the host country are forwards Michael McLeod and Blake Speers. Congratulations to both of them for making the cut, especially on what is a perennially stacked roster.
McLeod was selected by the New Jersey Devils with their first round pick (12th overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Demonstrating plenty of speed and the hands to go with it, McLeod appeared in a few preseason games before reporting back to Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. McLeod is currently tied for 37th in the OHL and second on his team in points with six goals and twenty-two assists. While he only has six goals, McLeod does have 94 shots on net (second most on team); his 3.61 shots per game rate is higher than last season’s rate of 3. Lamplighting aside, his skills were recognized by Hockey Canada to represent the nation in what should be a big tournament for them.
Speers making the squad has been a bigger surprise. The third rounder from the 2015 NHL Draft had a successful 2015-16 campaign as captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and improving on his draft year production. Speers’ growth was so noticeable that he made the New Jersey Devils right out of training camp and played in three games. Speers was returned to the Greyhounds with the hopes that he would be one of the best forwards in the entire OHL. However, he broke his wrist in his first game back with his junior team - which remains his only appearance with the Greyhounds in this season. It speaks to what he can bring to the table that Hockey Canada still invited him to their camp and gave him a roster spot after being cleared to play. This tournament is an opportunity for Speers to really get his 2016-17 season going after starting it in the best league in the world.
All the same good luck to Speers and McLeod. Canada will have three pre-tournament exhibition games on December 19, 21, and 23. Canada’s first game of the tournament will be against last year’s silver medalists, Russia, on December 26 at 8 PM ET.
As of this writing, there could be three more potential Devils playing in this year’s World Juniors Championship. 2016 third round pick, forward Joey Anderson, is in USA Hockey’s camp now. Anderson has had a solid freshman season with Minnesota-Duluth and he has represented the country in last year’s World U-18 Championships with seven goals and nine points in seven games. Chris Peters of United States of Hockey - it’s back!! - previewed the American camp and noted that with Brock Boeser out injured, it is very possible that Anderson makes this year’s WJC team. Let’s hope for the best for the winger.
The other two Devils are with the Russian team. The team’s fourth and fifth round picks from the 2016 NHL draft, forward Mikhail Maltsev and defenseman Yegor Rykov, were invited to their WJC camp. Let’s hope they make their squad too.
Are you excited for the 2017 WJCs coming up? Especially with how the Devils have been playing recently? What do you expect to see from Speers and McLeod? Do you think the other three Devils prospects in their country’s camp will make their respective teams? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2017 WJCs in the comments. Thank you for reading.