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Who to Watch in the 2015 World Junior Championship

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The 2015 World Junior Championship starts today, so watch future Minnesota Wild player, Alex Tuch, suit up for the USA!

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This year, the tournament is in Canada, so you don't have to wake up at crazy times to watch games taking place in European prime-time. The NHL Network generally broadcasts all of the USA games and all of the medal rounds, but this year, they are showing a lot more of the group stage. Here is the full schedule of the broadcasts which will be both live and delayed. Team USA plays the first game of the tournament today against Finland at 2pm CST.

Group A

Canada

Canada is always a favorite to win. The guys they cut from the tournament roster could probably beat the teams most countries send. But playing at home means there is extra pressure for the Canadian kids, and they usually have more pressure to succeed than any other country.  Every player on Canada's roster is coming from one of the CHL teams or from the NHL. The Ottawa Senators decided to allow Curtis Lazar to participate in the tournament, and Canada responded by making him captain. Connor McDavid is also coming back from injury. Lawson Crouse is the only other 2015 draft eligible player on Canada's team other than McDavid. Crouse is ranked 18th on Craig Button's December draft rankings, so depending on how he performs in this tournament, his draft stock has room to rise or fall.

Finland

In international competition, Finland usually brings a lot of players who North America fans haven't heard of, and Finland is still always competitive. This year, most of Finland's players come from Finnish leagues, but there are some guys coming from NCAA hockey and a few from Canadian Junior. Finland also has a few players returning from last year's team that won gold, so they could be a force again this year. The most notable of the draft eligible players is right wing Mikko Rantanen, who is ranked 22nd on Craig Button's most recent list, and the NHL Central Scouting preliminary list concurs with that first round projection by giving him an A rating. Finnish forward Sebastian Aho (not to be confused with the Swedish defenseman of the same name) is B rated by NHL CSS with a ranking of 33rd on Button's December list. Finland also has St. Cloud State defenseman Mika Ilvonen who is eligible for the 2015 draft.

Germany

All of the goalies on Germany's preliminary roster are draft eligible next summer, as are a large number of the skaters on that squad. The Oilers would not send Leon Draisaitl to the tournament, but that just means that the draft eligible players will have large roles. Most of the squad plays in European junior leagues currently, so this may be the only chance for North American viewers to see these players before the draft next summer. Many of the 2015 draftable players are not on the CSS preliminary list, and the ones that are ranked are listed as C prospects. None of the players for Germany has made Button's ranking of the top 100 players either. Frederik Tiffels of Western Michigan University (NCHC), Janik Moser of Ohio State (Big 10), and Markus Eisenschmid of the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL),  played on last year's squad so they could be players to watch. Eisenschmid, however, just returned to game action after breaking his kneecap in late October, so he will probably not be in top condition.

Slovakia

Slovakia is another team that will probably not find itself in the medal round. They have just three drafted players listed on their preliminary roster, the earliest drafted was Peter Cehlarik who was selected by Boston with the 90th overall pick in 2013. Slovakia also has a lot of 2015 draft eligible forwards, so they are a younger team than many in the tournament. Defenseman Erik Cernak is the most highly regarded of the Slovak 2015 draftable forwards. Button has him ranked 79th in his December ranking, which means he projects as a third rounder. They also have the gigantic Radovan Bondra who is 6'5", 220 lbs., and is C rated for this summer's draft.

United States

The lone Wild prospect in the World Junior Championship this year plays for team USA. The 2014 first round pick, Alex Tuch, will suit up for the red, white and blue. Tuch is playing wing with almost certain 2nd overall pick in 2015, Jack Eichel. So far they make good linemates, as Tuch got a hat trick in the USA's final exhibition game on Tuesday. The US has a lot of forward depth, with Auston Matthews, who is the early favorite for the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. Also on Team USA is a player who many regard as the likely first defenseman to be selected in next summer's draft--Noah Hanifin. But Hanifin isn't the only 2015 draft eligible defenseman on the USA squad. USA also has Brandon Carlo and Zach Werenski, who are both A rated. As usual, the USA squad has more NCAA players than any other team in the tournament. The Gophers' Hudson Fasching and Ryan Collins, and UND's Nick Schmaltz are on the USA roster. The United States will wait until their last game of the group stage to play Canada: December 31st at 3pm CST.

Group B

Czech Republic

The most well-known player on the Czech Republic's roster is the twenty-fifth overall pick in last summer's draft, David Pastrnak. This year he has split his season between the Boston and Providence Bruins and in spite of playing only 23 games in the AHL, he has tallied 27 points which is good for second in the AHL rookie scoring race. Drafted even higher than him was Jakub Vrana, who is still playing in Europe for Linkoping this season. Both are scoring forwards who could make the Czech Republic an exciting team to watch. The Czech Republic also has two possible first round picks in next year's draft: Pavel Zacha (Sarnia, OHL) and David Kase (Chomutov,CZREP-2). Additionally, one of their goalies, Daniel Vladar has been rated A by Central Scouting. With their high talent level, they have a chance to upset teams that are considered to be medal contenders, and with their skilled forwards, they will likely be very fun to watch.

Denmark

Denmark earned their place in this tournament by last year by winning the Group IA tournament. Everyone who summarizes Denmark will probably highlight Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax, QMJHL), first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets last summer. If you don't want to root for a Winnipeg Jets prospect, I recommend watching Blue Jackets drafted player Oliver Bjorkstrand (Portland, WHL). Denmark doesn't have any elite talent other than those two guys. They have a number of 2015 eligible age forwards, but none of them are on NHL CSS preliminary list. So sit back and watch the best young defensemen in the world try to stop Ehlers and Bjorkstrand!

Russia

Russia is one of the teams that is expected to do well. The last time they didn't medal was 2010, and they consistently ice quality teams. Like past years, Russia has brought quality goaltending to the tournament. Two of the goalies on the roster are already drafted:  Igor Shestyorkin (drafted by New York Rangers) and Ilya Sorokin (drafted by New York Islanders). Watch defenseman Ivan Provorov who is a definite first round pick and a possible top ten pick. He's a smooth defenseman who is a big part of the great season his Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) are having (where he's a teammate of Wild draftee, Reid Duke). Other draft eligible guys to watch are Alexander Dergachyov (SKA St. Petersburg 2) and Dmitri Yudin (St. Petersburg) who are both B rated.

Sweden

Sweden won silver the past two tournaments and will be looking to make it gold this year. Along with Canada and the USA, Sweden has one of the oldest squads in the tournament, with only two players who are first time eligible for the 2015 draft. The player I was most excited to see in the WJC was Oliver Kylington, but he will not play because he was injured in Sweden's exhibition game versus Canada last Sunday. Because Kylington is out, the next best draft eligible player to watch is the A rated Jens Looke. Sweden also has a few players who were eligible for previous drafts, but went undrafted: Sebastian Aho (defenseman) who is B rated for the 2015 draft; Adam Brodecki who is C rated; and current Gopher Leon Bristedt.

Switzerland

The Swiss team will be one of the weaker ones in Group B, but they still have a few great players to watch. Nashville's draft pick Kevin Fiala will be on  Switzerland's squad as will Mirco Mueller who has already played 24 games for the San Jose Sharks. They also have a couple of 2015 draft eligible players worth watching on their squad: B rated Denis Malgin (Swiss NLA, ZSC Lions) and A rated Timo Meier (Halifax, QMJHL).