The holiday season is upon us and that means one thing: the World Junior Championships. The best under-20 players from around the world gather for a few weeks in December and January to don their county's sweater in hopes of bringing home the gold medal. Future NHL stars are born at this tournament and 2019 will be no different. All eyes will be on these five prospects as we wait in anticipation for their NHL careers to begin.
5. Alexis Lafrenière
Lafreniere is projected as the top prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. We'll get a first look at his ability to perform on a big stage when he suits up for Team Canada in this year's WJC. He's been nothing short of spectacular as a 17-year-old in the QMJHL. He was Canada's driving force during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring an incredible 11 points over a five games for Canada. While we won't see him on anyone's draft radar for 2019, it'll be exciting to see how the youngster does playing against the top 19 and 20-year-olds of the world.
4. Filip Zadina
The Detroit Red Wings' first-round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft will have another chance to shine in the World Junior Championship. Filip Zadina, drafted sixth overall, was unable to make the NHL in his first year of eligibility but he's still put together a fantastic debut for professional hockey in North America. In the 2018 WJC, he led the Czech Republic with seven goals in seven games but could not capture a medal. He'll be the pillar of the Czech's offense once again and should be in store for a offensive explosion in his second chance at a WJC medal.
3. Vitali Kravtsov
Another first-round 2018 Entry Draft pick, Vitali Kravtsov will be given the load as Russia's most talented offensive player. His stock has exponentially risen since he's been drafted, putting up an incredible 17 points in 33 games in the KHL this season. His point production matches that of Evgeny Kuznetsov or Vladimir Tarasenko when they were a teenager in the KHL. He'll be the top center for a mediocre Russian squad and should be on everyone's radar as one of the tournament's top offensive talents.
2. Kaapo Kakko
Kaapo Kakko is projected as a top-three pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, drawing comparisons to Aleksander Barkov. All eyes will be on the big bodied Finn after he put up 20 points in 27 games of the Finnish professional league. At just 17, he's already shown he can compete with grown men but his play at the WJC will show what he can really do on the international stage. In the Under 18 WJC, he put up ten points in seven games, however his play in this years U-20 WJC should play a major role in how he's judged as a 2019 Draft prospect. The Finns will be relying heavily on Kakko's play throughout the tournament.
1. Jack Hughes
The projected first overall pick in the 2019 Draft will be on full show during the WJC. There's a reason why teams are trying to "Lose for Hughes." Jack Hughes is getting comparisons to the likes of Patrick Kane with his incredible hands and exceptional skating ability. In 25 games with the US National U-18 team, Hughes has put up ten goals and 38 assists. Hughes will be relied on as the top offensive talent for the United States and has the ability to be the MVP of the tournament. Expect Hughes to put on an absolute show as the United States looks to bounce back from their Bronze Medal finish in 2018.