Red Wings prospects ready for world junior championship
Detroit — Hockey fans starved for actual games have something to look forward to this holiday season.
Every game of the men’s world junior championships, this year held in a bubble in Edmonton because of the pandemic, will be televised on NHL Network.
For the Red Wings fan out there, this could become appointment viewing.
Seven recent Wings draft picks will be playing in the tournament, including five on Team Sweden. Gustav Berglund, Albert Johansson, Theodor Niederbach, Lucas Raymond, and Elmer Soderblom (all Team Sweden), Eemil Viro (Finland) and Jan Bednar (Czech Republic) are the Wings prospects competing in the prestigious junior tournament.
The tournament begins today and concludes Jan. 5.
What makes this year’s world junior championships even more interesting and compelling is the fact the pandemic has played havoc with junior seasons around the world.
The European leagues have gone on but had stops-and-starts to the schedule. In North America, the junior and college seasons have either not yet started or done so with modest success.
Here is a capsule look at each of the Red Wings’ prospects:
Jan Bednar, goaltender
Bednar was a 2020 fourth-round pick of the Wings, and some evaluators felt he might be a minor steal where he was selected.
But Bednar has gotten off to a slow start in the Czech Republic (.867 save percentage in five games), while playing in a men’s league.
Bednar is likely to be the back-up for the Czech Republic, so there’s no guarantee he’ll see any game action.
Gustav Berglund, defenseman
Berglund was a 2019 sixth-round pick of the Wings, and has climbed prospect charts because of his steady, poised play.
A good skater and good positionally on defense, Berglund has some size (6-foot-2, 190-pounds) and plays with an edge.
On a deep Swedish defense, it’ll be a good sign if Berglund earns significant ice time.
Albert Johansson, defenseman
A Wings’ 2019 second-round draft pick, Johansson has consistently risen on prospect charts with impressive stretches of hockey.
The smooth-skating Johansson gets to play against his own age group here, which he doesn’t do playing against men in the Swedish Elite League.
It’ll be interesting to watch how much power play time, and offensive opportunities 5-on-5 Johansson has in this tournament. His ability with the puck is one area where scouts have raved about over the last year.
Theodor Niederbach, center
Niederbach was the Wings’ second-round pick in October, viewed as a potential steal given he missed last season because of knee surgery.
Niederbach has been outstanding playing at the junior level this season, with 35 points in 19 games, and showing the talent of a first-rounder.
With Sweden’s lineup decimated, there’s a good chance Niederbach could play on the first line with fellow Wings’ draft pick Lucas Raymond.
Lucas Raymond, right wing
Raymond was the Wings’ first-round pick in October, the fourth pick overall, and has dazzled while playing in Sweden, with 12 points (five goals) in 22 games on Frolunda’s men’s team.
Raymond should be a dominant player in this tournament while playing against players his own age. Raymond has also had the tendency to play his best in the biggest moments, and he’ll have the opportunity here.
But Team Sweden has been ravaged with COVID-19 and the lineup has been altered. Raymond will be looked on to produce.
Elmer Soderblom, center/wing
Soderblom was a 2019 sixth-round draft pick of the Wings, and has continued to intrigue with his potential.
At 6-foot-8, 238 pounds, it’s easy to be tantalized by the size and skill, and Soderblom has shown flashes of being a definite pro prospect (55 points in 36 games in junior last season).
Injuries have set back Soderblom this season, but he’s healthy now. Skating and speed have been Soderblom drawbacks since being drafted, but when he’s on, he’s dominant around the net.
Eemil Viro, defenseman
Viro (6-foot-, 165-pounds) was one of the Wings’ 2020 third-round draft selections, a smallish offensive defenseman who is playing well in juniors in Finland (six points in 16 games).
Many draft evaluators liked this Wings’ pick, as Viro has consistently gotten better as he’s gotten older and played against stronger competition.
Despite his size Viro doesn’t back down, that’s important playing in this world-class tournament.