A look at the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects that will be lacing them up at the World Junior Hockey Championships
With Team Canada's World Junior selection camp set to begin next Tuesday in Calgary, now seems a fitting time to look at some of the Leafs prospects who will be looking to play international hockey over the holidays. Here are the candidates:
Morgan Rielly - Rielly's WHL production has stalled a bit recently as Moose Jaw has struggled to put goals on the board for past couple weeks, scoring more than twice in only 2 of their last 9 games. That said, Rielly has looked good even as Moose Jaw has been outmatched and Team Canada head coach Steve Spott expects him to play a big role on Canada's defence. Skating and confidence with the puck on the big ice should see Rielly as a stand-out in the tournament and if the lockout looks to be nearing its conclusion, Rielly Fever will be out of control in Toronto during the holiday season. Canada doesn't play Finland in the preliminary round but watching Rielly match up against Barkov and Teravainen would be a real treat so let's all hope that's a game we'll get to see at some point during the tournament.
Tyler Biggs - Biggs has picked up his production in the OHL lately and has done so by putting up meaningful points rather than empty-netters. Despite reasonably strong OHL point totals, Biggs will likely be playing checking line minutes on the American All-Star team and he'll be expected to play some tough defensive minutes. There's a chance that he sees some powerplay time as a net-front presence as his game has really improved in this regard over the last couple months but I'd expect him to be on a fairly short leash there. In contrast to Rielly, the large ice surface will present a bit of a challenge for Biggs who has at times struggled with stamina during his first OHL season -- there's a lot of ice to cover and it will be interesting to see how his wind holds up. How Biggs adapts to the extra skating and the different angles in defensive zone coverages on the big ice will likely determine how much icetime he sees as the tournament wears on.
Garret Sparks - Sparks earns an invite to Team USA's selection camp and with presumed front runner for the starting job John Gibson still out of action with a hip injury, Sparks' chances of making the team look good. It's been a feast or famine year for Sparks in Guelph as some nights he's completely stolen games for the Storm while others he's looked a little lost. Having said this, he's rounded into form recently and has played some of his best hockey over the last month, bringing his save percentage up to .917, good for 5th in the OHL. Should Gibson's hip injury keep him out of the American goal, Sparks is the type of goalie that could see the USA steal a game they didn't deserve to win.
Tom Nilsson - Nilsson is one of eight defensemen on Sweden's preliminary roster for the World Juniors and as such there's a pretty good likelihood he'll be on the team when things get under way on Boxing Day. Nilsson is a guy with limited offensive abilities but he brings a strong physical presence and sound defensive game to the Swedish blueline. He's not the kind of guy who tends to really stand-out during this tournament but it's a nice opportunity for Leafs fans to get an extended look at a guy who has a chance to be a Holzer-ish guy for the Leafs as his career wears on.