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World Juniors: Five Sabres draft picks among players to watch

Here are a handful of players to keep your eyes on, especially if you are a Sabres fan, during the World Junior Championship in Buffalo:

Joey Anderson, United States. Named the captain for Team USA, he returns to the World Juniors lineup after picking up two assists in last year's run to the gold medal. The 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Duluth was a third-round pick (73rd overall) of the New Jersey Devils in 2016. He missed six games for the Bulldogs this fall with an upper body injury, but since his return to the lineup has continued to be a force on the right wing. He has nine points in 13 games (four goals, five assists) for Minnesota-Duluth. Anderson is comfortable in Team USA and international settings as a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program. Anderson can play in all situations -- power play, penalty kill, even strength. Whatever is asked of him, he does it. Anderson may be the driving force for Team USA at this tournament.

Vojtech Budik, Czech Republic. The 19-year-old defenseman was a fifth-round pick (130th overall) by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was on the Czech Republic's world juniors team last year but played in just two games in the tournament. In his third season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, Budik has two goals and nine assists through 31 games as the Raiders are in fifth place in the East Division. Last year he notched 26 points in 56 games for the Raiders. He is joined on the U20 roster by forward Simon Stransky, who plays with Budik in Prince Albert. Budik also has international experience playing for the Czech Republic's national teams at the U16, U17, and U18 levels.

Rasmus Dahlin, Sweden. The 17-year old defenseman with a left-handed shot is expected to be the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2018. He is touted as a two-way player with an excellent passing touch and accurate shot. In his second season in the professional Swedish Hockey League, Dahlin has five goals and six assists. He's playing in the top four with increasing ice time in the pro league and more than holding his own and living up to the pre-draft hype. He brings tons of international experience to Sweden, and played in last year's world juniors at age 16, the youngest player in the tournament. A year ago in the world juniors, he had a goal and an assist in seven games. He has been compared with Erik Karlsson with the ability to both create instant offense and control the pace of the game.

Marcus Davidsson, Sweden. The 19-year old forward was a second-round pick (37th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in 2017. Last year, he was in the mix year but did not earn a final invite to Sweden's world juniors preliminary roster. He has the versatility to play both center and wing and has been touted for a two-way game with excellent skating ability. Playing in his second full season in the SHL, Sweden's top professional hockey league, he has two goals and seven assists in 23 games, already matching his point total from the 45 games he played for Djurgardens IF last season. He has two international medals on his resume, winning silver with Sweden's U18 team in 2015-16 and bronze with the U17 team in 2014-15.

Adam Fox, United States. The 19-year old defenseman was a third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2016. He's one of the veterans of Team USA, playing all seven games in the gold-medal run last year, notching four assists. He has plenty of international experience and is a product of the U.S. National Development Team program. In his sophomore season at Harvard, he has nine assists through 10 games after notching 40 points in 35 games last year with the Crimson advancing to the Frozen Four. Watch his puck movement, especially on the power play. He can be a dynamic offensive player from the blue line but his numbers often cause people to overlook his solid defensive play. At the 2016 U18 World Hockey Championships, he was named the best defenseman on a U.S. team that won the bronze medal. He is expected to be one of the leaders for the U.S.

Carter Hart, Canada. The 19-year-old goalie was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016.  He would probably like nothing better than to get back on the ice against Team USA after being the goalie of record in the dramatic shootout loss for Canada to the Americans in last year's gold medal game. He played four games for Team Canada at last year's tournament and finished with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. After taking silver, he went on to an impressive season with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, earning the league's top goaltending honors after posting a 1.99 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. In 17 games for the Silvertips this season he has 1.32 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage.  He continues to be a calm, smooth goaltender and showed that again at the World Junior Summer Showcase where nothing seemed to faze him.

Janne Kuokkanen, Finland. The 19-year-old forward surprised most this season making the Carolina Hurricanes roster out of training camp and sticking around for the first 10 games. He played in four (was held scoreless) and was a healthy scratch in six before being reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. With Charlotte, he has three goals and nine assists in 16 games. Last year, he played for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League, notching 62 points (26 goals, 36 assists) in 60 games. He played for Finland at the world juniors last year with one assist in six games and has an IIHF gold medal with Finland from winning the 2016 U18 championships. A natural playmaker, he is starting to thrive in his first pro season against older and more experienced players. That means he could dominate among his peers at the world juniors.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Finland. The 18-year-old goaltender was a second-round pick (54th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in 2017. Last year, he played for Finland at the IIHF World Junior U18 Championships. In his six games in that tournament he had a 2.90 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage as Finland won the silver medal. In 2016, he helped Finland to the U18 gold medal including backstopping Finland to a 4-2 upset of the U.S. in the semifinals in the tournament held that year in Grand Forks, N.D. This season, he is playing in Mestis, the second-highest hockey league in Finland. In 17 games for LeKi, he has a 2.82 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He is the only goalie on Finland's preliminary roster that was drafted by an NHL team.

Casey Mittelstadt, United States. The 19-year-old center was selected eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2017 draft. The native of Edina, Minn., is in his freshman year for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He is tied for third in scoring among freshmen nationally with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 19 games. Minnesota is ranked 10th in the latest USCHO.com national poll with a 10-9-1 overall record. Mittelstadt played for the U.S. in the IIHF World Junior U18 Championship in April of 2016 and had three assists in a 10-3 win over Canada in the bronze medal game. He will be expected to be a major contributor to the offense for Team USA in the world juniors with the added bonus of playing not only on home soil but in the NHL city that drafted him. Watch for his speed and his ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.

Alexander Nylander, Sweden. It was the last day possible before the Buffalo Sabres decided to assign Nylander to Team Sweden for his final appearance in the World Juniors. Nylander played for Sweden last year and was one of the offensive stars of the tournament with 12 points in seven games (five goals, seven assists) and a plus-seven rating. That success didn't translate well to the rest of his season with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League where he finished with 28 points in 65 games, but perhaps another round of competition against players his own age will help spark the forward's game. Nylander missed training camp and the first part of the season with a lower body injury. Back with the Amerks he has two goals and six points in 15 games.

 

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