For hockey fans, the World Junior Hockey Championship is synonymous with the winter holiday season.
For Montreal Canadiens fans, having at least a couple of prospects to keep an eye on has become as much of a tradition as the tournament itself - and one that will continue again this year.
Six of them will be vying for gold when the tourney officially gets under way on Dec. 26., looking to keep the organization’s World Junior medal streak alive. Heading into this year’s event, at least one Canadiens prospect has brought home hardware nine years running.
Last year, Alex Galchenyuk came out on top with Team USA ahead of fellow 2012 draftee Sebastian Collberg, who settled for silver with Sweden.
In 2011, the trio of Michaël Bournival, Brendan Gallagher and Nathan Beaulieu helped Canada to bronze a year after Louis Leblanc took home silver.
Former Habs prospect Danny Kristo, now a New York Rangers farmhand, was a part of the American squad that snapped Canada’s streak of five straight gold medals in 2010 with an overtime victory. Five Canadiens picks were triumphant during that run, including P.K. Subban (2008, 2009), Carey Price (2007), and Kyle Chipchura and Guillaume Latendresse (2006).
Not since 2004 has a Canadiens prospect failed to medal, a year that also marked the last time Montreal saw single representation at the tournament (Jaroslav Halak, Slovakia). In fact, the organization has had at least one prospect play in the World Juniors every year since the 2000 edition. Only twice since has just one of their draft picks represented his country and both times happened to be the rare occasions since the turn of the century in which the organization did not medal.
In Malmo, Sweden, the six Canadiens prospects will represent four countries. Collberg and Jacob de la Rose will look to thrill the partisan crowd with the country’s third straight medal and second gold in three years. Charles Hudon, who left last year’s tournament early with a back injury, and Zachary Fucale will aim to bring Canada back to the top with its 14th medal in the last 15 years.
Winger Artturi Lehkonen will be Montreal’s first Finnish prospect since 2011 (Joonas Nattinen) and third overall, with Finland eyeing an end to its seven-year medal drought. The Finns, who always prove to be a tough foe at any level, won bronze four of five years from 2002 to 2006 and silver in 2001. Gold has eluded them since clinching it on home soil in 1998.
Slovakia’s Martin Reway and his teammates will set their sights on the country’s second medal since obtaining its independence following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia found the podium for the first time in 1999, taking home bronze at the tournament held in Winnipeg.