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2017 World Junior Championships: Six Captains Five Years Apart

The Wild have three captains at this year’s World Junior Championship, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Finland v Canada - 2016 IIHF World Championship Ice Hockey: Gold Medal Game Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images

The 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship preliminary round begins today, and the Wild have four prospects competing in the tournament this year: Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek, Kirill Kaprizov, and Jordan Greenway. Of those four prospects, Kunin, Eriksson Ek, and Kaprizov are the captains of their national teams in the tournament. This seems like a rare event overall, but the Wild have actually been in the same situation before, five years ago.

In 2012, the Wild had six prospects attending the World Junior Championships: Mikael Granlund, Johan Gustafsson, Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker, and Charlie Coyle. Of those six, Granlund, Larsson, and Zucker were all captains of their teams.

It’s crazy, fun, and interesting for the Wild to have three captains at the World Junior Championship this year, so let’s take a moment to compare the former captains to the Wild’s current ones.

At the time, Granlund was our future number one center, and after an impressive showing at the 2011 (Men’s) World Championships, he even got his own stamp.

Finland ultimately lost to Canada in the third place game, but Granlund still played marvelously with eleven points in just seven games. Meanwhile, the other two captains, drafted three spots apart in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft, found opposite levels of success.

Larsson never found the back of the net during the tournament, but the two-way center was a point per game player for Sweden with six assists in six games. His solid play helped Sweden win gold over Russia in the final round.

Lastly, Zucker captained the disappointing Team USA. The US would lose out in the group stage, but with wins over Switzerland, Latvia, and Denmark, they survived the relegation round.

Larsson was later traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the Jason Pomiville trade, and currently has 11 points in 33 games as the Sabres’ third line center behind Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel. Granlund has never quite lived up to the hype and Zucker hasn’t found the 30 goal pace he had in 2014-2015, but they’re both having great years for the Wild. They’re both currently tied with 8 goals and are both on pace for career years in points. Granlund currently has 25 points in 33 games, and Zucker currently has 22 points in 33 games. Zucker already has four more assists than he did last year, and is only one point away from matching last year’s point total in 38 less games.

While at least two of the old captains are finally taking the next step, the new captains are giving Wild fans plenty of reasons to have hope for the future.

After an impressive development camp, Eriksson Ek continued to impress over the summer in international play and ultimately, earned a spot on the Wild out of training camp. Issues with his visa delayed the start of his season, and he was sent to Iowa for a few days to find his game. Once there, he scored in his first AHL game on the power play against the Grand Rapids Griffins. He was then called back up to the NHL where he scored in his first NHL game against the New Jersey Devils. Eriksson Ek was eventually sent back to Sweden before the first year of his contract was used, but once there, he again scored in his first game.

After nearly a point per game rookie season on a bad Badgers team, Kunin was named captain as a sophmore, which isn’t common. So far this year, he has 11 goals and 17 points in 16 games for the Badgers. Kunin is expected to play on one of the US’s top two lines along with fellow Wild prospect Jordan Greenway. Meanwhile, Kieffer Bellows only has 6 points in 15 games in his rookie season with Boston University and is projected to be playing on the fourth line for the US in the upcoming tournament.

Last and certainly not least, Kaprizov was named captain of the Russian squad just yesterday. Last year, Kaprizov had the fifth best season in total points of any U20 KHLer with 11 goals and 27 points in 53 games. In 16 fewer games this season, Kaprizov has 15 goals and 30 points, which is good enough for the third best season of any U20 Khler, behind only Yevgeni Kuznetsov. Coming into the tournament, Kaprizov is expected by many to be a leading scorer, if not the leading scorer, of the whole tournament.

While none of the new captains have their own stamp, they are all going to compete to have better years than the previous three captains. Sweden is one of the favorites for the whole tournament, and Eriksson Ek could very well help lead his team to win gold like they did in 2012. Kunin and Team USA definitely won’t be fighting against relegation as they look to improve upon last year’s bronze medal finish. Finally, Kaprizov will try to take the scoring title as Russia attempts to win gold for the first time since 2011.

What do you think? Are the Wild better off now then they were in 2012?