Happy Boxing Day everyone! For those in Montréal and Toronto, it marks the beginning of the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-20 World Junior Hockey Championships.
The annual event begins on Friday afternoon, with Denmark playing Russia from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. A total of 10 teams will compete for a chance to win gold, in the gold medal game on January 5th at the Air Canada Centre.
At the World Juniors, the Buffalo Sabres will be well represented throughout the tournament. A total of four Sabres prospects will play for their respective countries beginning on Friday.
Team USA will have two Sabres prospects representing the red, white and blue in forwards J.T. Compher and Hudson Fasching.
Compher, 19, was part of the final cuts that Team USA made last year for the World Juniors. This year, he makes the cut and is slated to be the third or fourth-line center for Team USA. The second round pick of the Sabres in 2013 has 11 points in 15 games played to start his sophomore year with the Michigan Wolverines. The 5′ 11″, 185 pound Compher is very smart when he possesses the puck, and has a knack for heading to the net to create offense.
Compher is expected to continue to play at Michigan for his junior and senior seasons and then join the Sabres organization in the 2017-18 season.
Hudson Fasching, 19, is one of four returning players from last year’s 2014 squad. In five games in the tournament last season, Fasting scored two goals and added two assists before his team was eliminated in the quarterfinal round by Team Russia. The 6′ 2″, 207-pound forward made a lot of impressions with his first World Junior tournament performance, and set himself up to be one of the top six forwards in this year’s tournament.
So far in his sophomore year with the University of Minnesota, Fasching has five goals and two assists in 14 games played. Fasching has been playing top-line minutes with the Gophers, and will look to do the same for Team USA this year.
The big, lumbering forward has been known for his net-front presence, and his willingness to get dirty in front of the net. Like his Team USA teammate Compher, Fasching is expected to remain in school and join the Sabres organization in the 2017-18 season.
For Team USA, its biggest rival every year has to be the neighbors to the north in Team Canada. After two straight years without a medal and four straight tournaments without a gold medal, Canada is looking to take advantage of home-ice advantage and get back on the medal stand.
The lone Sabres prospect on Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championships is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart, like Fasching, is a returning member of Team Canada’s team from the 2014 World Junior Championships. Last year in the tournament as an 18-year old, Reinhart played in all seven games for Canada compiling two goals and three assists as Canada fell to Team Russia in the bronze medal game.
After playing his first nine games of his NHL career this season, Reinhart has been on fire with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. Reinhart has played 15 games for Kootenay and has scored eight goals and added 19 assists in his dominating return. Reinhart is the captain of the Ice, and is the team’s top forward.
Reinhart’s hockey IQ is what makes the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft the special talent that he is. His ability to read a play and make smart decisions on the fly also makes him a valuable asset to the Sabres organization. Reinhart will have another crack at making the Sabres roster next season, and could be available to play in Rochester if the Americans make the playoffs and his season in Kootenay is over.
In the 2015 World Juniors, Reinhart has been named an alternate captain for Team Canada along with 2015 NHL Draft prospect, Connor McDavid. Reinhart is expected to be the team’s top-line center along side Anthony Duclair and Max Domi on the wings.
The final Sabres prospect to play in the 2015 World Junior Championship hails from Sweden, who won the silver medal in last year’s tournament as the host country. That prospect is Buffalo’s seventh round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Victor Olofsson.
Olofsson has had an impressive 2014 campaign with his team MODO of the Swedish Hockey League. In 30 games played, Olofsson has nine goals and seven assists while playing on a line with the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ first round pick, and Swedish teammate, William Nylander.
Olofsson is known for his blazing speed and his quick feet and hands on the ice. Olofsson has offensive upside to his game, and has a good slapshot to boot.
Olofsson is expected to play second and third line minutes with Team Sweden, and could also see some powerplay time with the team from the point. Olofsson could also see time on the ice with his teammate from MODO, William Nylander, once again.
Olofsson is currently under contract with MODO for another year after this year, but could make the jump to North America following his time in Sweden.
The Sabres continue to show that the young group of talent in the organization is a talented group full of raw-potential. Some of these players are expected to be part a core group of prospects for the team, and could make a huge impact in the Sabres organization down the road, and for many years to come after.