Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate DNVR Sports Community!

WJC Preview: An avalanche of anticipation

AJ Haefele Avatar
December 25, 2019

While the NHL goes to sleep for the Christmas break, halfway around the world a group of the world’s most talented under-20 men’s hockey players are gathered to fight for international bragging rights.

The World Junior Championships are set to begin this week in the Czech Republic and the Avs are set to send four players to the competition. While there are certainly teams out there with more players competing, Colorado’s guys are making it count as three of them are expected to playing starring roles.

Bowen Byram, D, Canada (4th overall, 2019)

This one’s easy. Byram was a lock for this team the second Colorado sent him back to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants after an uneven preseason that showed he just wasn’t quite ready to make the leap to the NHL.

Byram should get an opportunity as an all-situation player for the Canadians and will be, fairly or not, judged against the exceptional performances of Cale Makar and Conor Timmins at this same event two years ago.

Byram is a stud in his own right and while his offensive numbers have taken the expected dip after his record-breaking performance last year, he is still a play-driving tour de force with the puck on his stick.

Where Byram has benefited a great deal from another year in the WHL is the focus on his defensive details and this the tournament where he is expected to show the growth asked of him when he was sent back by the Avalanche.

Because of Byram’s draft slot, there’s the highest chance of him ‘disappointing’ should he not dominate as expected.

Justus Annunen, G, Finland (64th overall, 2018)

If not for Byram, Annunen would be the player carrying the most hype of Colorado’s prospects. Given the dominant year he’s had for Karpat in the Liiga, Annunen just might have the championship belt for hype anyway.

Goaltenders are the ultimate voodoo so getting excited about them feels like setting up for inevitable disappointment. Annunen’s breakout this year is the perfect antidote for doubt, however, because he’s just been that special.

It should be noted he’s playing behind the best pro team in Finland so he’s certainly not hard-carrying a team that shouldn’t be finding success but he’s also not holding them back.

Behind the defending gold medalists, Annunen is expected to be the backbone of another competitive Finnish team. How he performs at this competition will likely go a long way towards determining just how aggressive Colorado wants to get with offering him an entry-level contract.

Annunen’s performance against his peer group will be illuminating for the hockey world and if he continues the type of play he’s exhibited in Finland so far, he has the chance to be the breakout prospect across the league.

Sampo Ranta, F, Finland (78th overall, 2018)

The “other Finn” this year is Sampo Ranta (or Rambo Santa, if you’d prefer). Currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Ranta has begun to live up the promise he exhibited in the USHL two years ago.

Ranta has already surpassed his freshman-year goal total (six) in half the games played with a seven-goal year to this point and he is just five points behind the production he put up last season.

His combination of size, speed, and skill has always made him an intriguing prospect and this season he has started to put all of them together. He showed off his potential for breakout over the summer in the World Junior Summer Showcase as he put up prolific numbers in the exhibition.

This year is especially important for Ranta on a personal level because he was the final cut from last year’s gold-medal winning squad.

Ranta’s role on the Finland squad is the murkiest among Colorado’s prospects, making it difficult to gauge expectations for him. His talent suggests he could be an impact player but until his usage is sorted out I won’t go as far to say to expect it.

I would say the uncertainty involved here naturally tempers expectations.

Danila Zhuravlyov, D, Russia (146th overall, 2018)

The biggest mystery among Colorado’s WJC prospects this year is Danila Zhuravlyov. As a teenager, he has carved out a consistent role for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. Given teenagers regularly struggle to win jobs in the KHL, it’s an impressive accomplishment for a defenseman whose first season after being drafted felt like more of a lost year.

That’s turned around this year and the KHL’s Rookie of the Month in September is expected to play a top-pairing role for the Russians this year.

He was part of Russia’s bronze-medal winning WJC team last year and that experience surely helped him secure another spot on this year’s roster.

Zhuravlyov’s contract runs through the end of next year but if both Byram and Timmins graduate to the NHL next year, the Avalanche might want to aggressively pursue getting ‘Little Z’ signed to his ELC sooner than later.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?