Earlier this morning the World Junior Hockey Championship held its semifinal games in Ufa, Russia. USA handled their Canadian opponents with shocking ease in the 5-1 victory while Sweden advanced to the finals by besting Russia in a shootout 3-2 (SO). (Source)
These Juniors tournaments are always fascinating to hockey fans around the world and the interest is derived not only from following your respective country with nationalistic fervor but also from following the players that have been drafted by your respective NHL team. The tournament offers fans a unique glimpse into their teams’ futures.
For the Florida Panthers, five of their prospective future players are taking part in the tournament. All five play for teams that were involved in today’s semifinals. Canada’s Jonathan Huberdeau logged a plus/minus of -4 while USA’s Rocco Grimaldi and Vincent Trocheck shared an assist on the teams second goal. Meanwhile Yaroslav Kosov had an assist in Russia’s losing effort while Sweden’s defenseman Rasmus Bengtsson tallied an assist in the win.
This tournament has little to no direct bearing on any of these players futures’ with the Panthers. Nonetheless, it is great to finally get a chance to see them play, because honestly how many times does one get a chance to tune in to the Metallurg Magnitogorsk games to get a glimpse of Kosov, who it should be noted logged a hat-trick in Russia’s 7-0 win over Germany back in group play.
One of the questions that arises from watching these games has been, what kind of future do these players have with the Panthers? While Huberdeau’s future can accurately be described as, put your blu blockers on lest you burn your eyes out bright, the rest of the bunch may not be as well known. There is little doubt that if you have followed the Panther’s youth movement in the past few years then you have heard the names Rocco Grimaldi and Vincent Trocheck tossed out along with Jonathan Huberdeau in the conversation of potential contributers for the Panthers down the road. All three are currently playing center and according to hockeysfuture.com Huberdeau, Grimaldi and Trocheck rank one, two and six respectively on a list of Panthers center prospects.
Yaroslav Kosov may never leave Russia to come stateside and ply his trade in the North American professional leagues (source), but if he does the Panthers would be happy to have him. The 19 year old left winger weighs in at 6’3″ 220lbs and profiles as a power forward if he ever does make the jump to the NHL. Rasmus Bengtsson is another 19 year old Panther prospect playing outside of North America. Bengtsson, the Swedish defender has the talent to develop into a solid second line defenseman for the Panthers someday hopefully soon. (Source)
When watching these players it is important to remember two things; one is that talent is a fickle beast and the second is it is nearly impossible to accurately predict future ability and success when dealing with young players. So, while it is fun to talk about these players’ Panther future and to start penciling in roster slots for the 2015 season the truth is you can never know with these kind of things, but when these players are putting on that Panther sweater on a nightly basis and terrorizing the rest of the league you can think back to the 2013 World Junior Championships and think to yourself, “I was there, I witnessed stars being born.”