Let me start this off by saying that I really dislike numerical rankings that we all see and nitpick. I think it takes away from the whole point of drafting and developing junior talent. A professional hockey team is a large organization of various small groups of people trying to put the best product on the ice that they can. Coaches, managers and players of all kinds will have effects on the new players acquired, be it through free agency, a trade or the draft. The point, at least to me, is to draft the players you think are at the highest level that you believe can develop into being impact NHL players. Nearly every player ever drafted has required some level of care when it comes to development, and often teams that rush their prospects are the ones that end up paying for it the most, especially outside of the very highest of draft picks. My approach is to group players according to a tier system that I would be happy discussing at any of the picks within that group at a draft. I find that it provides room for much more nuanced discussion about what exactly you're looking for at a given pick.
My whole goal with this project is to help fans and teams to better understand exactly what it is that they're acquiring in a draft pick in a more empirical way, as well as highlight some names I've come across in my >600 players from around the world tracked in real time. Well over 15,000 games of data have been logged with quite a bit of hockey left to play. I've tried to watch as many games as I possibly can to refine the rankings a bit, but obviously all that data pushes things in a bit of a different direction.
A few notes before we get started:
To many hockey fans, the IIHF World Junior Championships creates some of the most exciting games of the year before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Whether it's fans whose favourite team is in the running for the top talent in the upcoming draft, fans of teams with prospects in the tournament, or the sheer excitement that comes from a tournament of young men representing their nations at what might be the highest level they will do so. Some of my fondest and most heartbreaking memories in hockey come from the stories that sprout from this tournament. Benjamin Conz saving 50 of 52 shots to eliminate the Vladimir Tarasenko-led Russians, Marc-Andre Fleury's own goal that handed the United States their first goal, or Kasperi Kapanen sealing the 2016 tournament in overtime, it's some of the wildest hockey you'll see.
The 2019 installment begins on December 26 in Vancouver, almost assuredly a fanatical host city. The story of the tournament will likely be the Jack Hughes/Kappo Kakko show, with a potential coming out party for Canadian 2020 eligible Alexis Lafreniere. For those unfamiliar, Jack Hughes is the unanimous selection for 1st overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, also to be held in Vancouver. Hughes is a somewhat small, but incredibly skilled centreman currently playing with the U.S. National Program. He's extremely skilled, extremely smart, extremely fast, and has only gotten better as the year has progressed. Kappo Kakko is a bigger, heavier player currently playing professionally in Turku, Finland. Kappo gets by on his ability to protect the puck with speed, creating open space with his agility, and both create scoring chances and score goals himself. He started the season extremely hot, but has cooled to a much more reasonable profile, still indicative of a top draft pick. Lafreniere is a winger who is extremely highly regarded as a top pick in 2020. He is just a few days too old to be eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, and his metrics point to what very likely would be a Top-3 pick in this year's draft. His 41.5% INV% and 28.64 NHLeScore is a remarkable achievement for a prospect of any age, and I'm hoping he makes the Canadian team and plays a significant role. His NHLeScore (an age, position, and league adjusted metric to examine the value of a player's production) sits 2nd on a fully loaded team.There will be some very high level at this tournament on a few different teams, and in the World Juniors, a few great performances can be the difference between an early elimination and a gold medal.
The preliminary rosters have been released, and the player data has been compiled into a spreadsheet that will be linked at the bottom of this article, so feel free to peruse but only once you've finished the little profiles thrown together for each team's camp roster.
We're going to look at each team in ascending order of average NHLeScore. Our 10th ranked team is the team saved in relegation last year: Denmark.
#10 - Denmark - 1.98 NHLeScore