The projected top-three picks at next June’s NHL Draft in Montreal are due to be on display for hockey fans over the holidays at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Canada leads the group with some intriguing names on display while Sweden should have a pair of players up front who could help their offence.
Here’s a look at the top names who will be available for NHL clubs to select next June and competing at this year’s WJC.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW: He’s been the projected first-overall pick for a long time and could solidify that over the next few weeks if he has a solid tournament. This will be Lafreniere’s second world juniors after scoring one goal in five games at last year’s event. He will be relied upon heavily on Canada’s top line and should be well rested given that his first game in nearly two weeks came in a pre-tournament tune-up against Switzerland. He’s lit up the QMJHL so far this season and will have a chance to shine in the international spotlight.
Quinton Byfield, C: If there’s anyone pushing to topple Lafreniere for top spot in the draft, it’s Byfield. With his big, powerful frame, he’s extremely difficult to play against. Add in his impressive goal-scoring ability and Byfield is a remarkable player to watch. He’s third in OHL scoring with 57 points with the Sudbury Wolves and Canada’s coaches liked what they saw from him during selection camp. He’s likely to slot in on one of Canada’s top two lines and should get plenty of ice time.
Jamie Drysdale, D: Drysdale’s smooth-skating and solid decision making skills earned him a spot on Canada’s roster as a seventh defenceman. He’s been projected to be a top-10 pick at the draft although how much time he plays for the Canadians at the world juniors will depend on the performance and health of others. An exciting, offensive blueliner.
Dawson Mercer, RW: The product of Bay Roberts, N.L., is projected to be a mid-first round selection following a strong first half with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. His crafty hands in front of the net earned him a goal in pre-competition play against Switzerland as he continues to make a case for minutes in Canada’s lineup.
Lucas Raymond, LW: There was some uncertainty as to whether Raymond would even make Sweden’s team at all, but he’s arrived at the tournament with lots to prove. His numbers at the pro level with Frolunda of the SHL haven’t been outstanding, but now he’s got a chance to play against players his own age. He’s a skillful forward and Sweden hopes he can provide some much-needed offence. Projections have Raymond going third overall.
Alexander Holtz, RW: Another young forward with a lot of upside for Tre Kronor. Holtz has good size at six foot, 183 pounds, which he uses to his advantage. A good friend of Raymond’s, Holtz has a nice shot and explosive speed. He’s a first-year pro with Djurgardens IF and played on the same line as Raymond in some tournaments leading up to the world juniors. It could make for an exciting trio to watch when the under-20 event begins.
Anton Lundell, C: There was doubt as to whether Lundell would even play at the tournament after an elbow injury earlier this month had him projected to miss six weeks. He was productive last year as Finland won WJC gold with one goal and three assists and has carried that forward in his second season in Liiga, Finland’s top professional level. Early projections have Lundell being a top-10 pick.
Yaroslav Askarov, G: Askarov is the top goaltender available at the draft with his impressive numbers at every level he’s played at so far. Currently with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg of the VHL, a league below the KHL, he’s got a 2.38 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 16 games. Can anyone say this year’s Andrei Vasilevskiy?
Jan Myšák, LW: Projected as a mid-to-late round pick, Mysak has played this season in his native Czech Republic with HC Litvinov where he has five goals and four assists in 26 games. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino lists him as a good, all-around player.
Jaromir Pytlik, C: A big centre at six-foot-three and almost 200 pounds, who can put the puck in the net. Pytlik has 14 goals and 18 assists in 31 games this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He decided to come to North America to raise his draft stock at the start of January and so far it appears as though it’s paid off.
Tim Stutzle, LW: Stutzle will be one to keep an eye out for this year. He’s projected to be just outside the top-five, but playing in a best-on-best tournament like this one could change the opinions of scouts. He has five goals and 18 assists in 25 games during his first year of pro with Adler Mannheim of the DEL. He has good size and skill and it will be fun to see what he can do for Germany.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)