The 2013 edition of the World Junior Championships was one of redemption for Team USA, as it left Ufa, Russia, with the gold. For Canada, who boasted about being able to ice a roster enhanced by NHL "locked out" talent, it will be a fourth-place finish to forget.
The question going forward is how some of these players will perform in the NHL, some as early as this season. As NHL camps finally get under way, here is a look back at my top 10 performers from the World Juniors and, where applicable, how they look going forward as NHL prospects.
Keep in mind while you comb through the list that individual stats do not always measure on my radar as a prerequisite to being a top talent in the NHL. Just because you can light up Team Germany doesn't mean you can light up the Los Angeles Kings. Scouts are asked to project future performance, not just count up the goal column of the box score.
1)John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks | Kitchener (OHL)
Named the tournament MVP, what else is there to say about this netminder who was amazing from start to finish? Even when his team lost to Canada and Russia in the round-robin portion, his play was stellar, and in seven games he posted a 1.29 GAA and .957 save percentage. The Ducks' second-rounder showed great poise, an ability to make the big save at crucial times in the game, all while being extremely humble. Any team in any league would be happy to have this type of goaltending. His size (6-foot-3.5) and strength were assets in dealing with traffic and any contact made.
Playing in Ufa due the NHL lockout, this young NHL star met expectations by not only leading the tournament in scoring but demonstrating skill that was clearly a level above most, if not all, WJC participants. His 15 points in six games do not tell the full story of how he weaved his way around the ice. His ability to evade checkers with the puck was on full display, one of the characteristics that makes him a very good NHLer already. Canada's disappointing finish is not on his shoulders. Expect him to continue his magical offensive play as the NHL season gets under way.
3)Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets | Michigan (NCAA)
Trouba led all defensemen in scoring with four goals and five assists, but it was his defensive play and physical presence that stood out for me. As one Eastern Conference scout said, "He was a man among boys out there." Trouba delivered punishing hits and regularly cleared the front of the net. What a difference a year makes. Last year, Trouba was clearly in over his head, and this time he was a star. His scoring breakthrough is primarily the result of his cannon slap shot from the blue line. The biggest change in his game was how he has simplified his play with much better decisions under pressure. He could be in Winnipeg sooner rather than later.
4)John Gaudreau, Calgary Flames | Boston College (NCAA)
It is hard to imagine a player this small, listed at 5-6, 137 pounds by the Central Scouting Bureau, playing in the NHL, let alone the World Juniors. But Johnny Hockey -- as he is known in his college surroundings -- was nothing short of brilliant to watch. He led all goal scorers with seven after what has to be described as a slow start. The bigger the game, the better he played as he dazzled defenders with his elite puck skills and vision. My belief is he will have to get much stronger to play for Calgary in the NHL, but at this event he was in the discussion for the best forward for the tournament. "If you look past his size, he does an awful lot of great things out there," one Eastern Conference scout said. But sometimes he used his size to his advantage. It was almost like he could slide through and around coverage with and without the puck.
5)Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets | Barrie (OHL)
Scheifele made the move to the right wing in order to play with Nugent-Hopkins on Canada's top line, and they were good. One of six returning players from last year's event, the Jets' first-rounder is now stronger, faster and more physical. His use of his size and skill in the offensive zone was clearly in the upper echelon of players and when times were tough later in the event he continued to show his desire and willingness to do the little things such as finish his checks, block shots and drive the net. He scored five times for Canada in their six games. It is highly expected that the 6-3, 200 pound center will battle for a roster spot as NHL teams scramble to get ready for the start of the season. Last year, the seventh overall selection from 2011 was named to the Jets' inaugural season roster before being sent back to the OHL. His experience there and his time at the WJC should give him a running start.
6)Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning | Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
By the end of the tournament he proved to be the best of the Russians, a squad that had nine returning players from last year's silver-medal roster. Everyone talked about Buffalo Sabres 2012 draftee Mikhail Grigorenko, his linemate, and Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers), including me after round-robin play, but the 5-11.5 Tampa prospect continued to be dangerous in the playoff round and showed excellent consistency on a team that lacked it. He scored five goals and was a plus-4 for the event. He is a surprisingly quick forward who finds open pockets of ice to awe observers with his shot and puck skills. His skills translate to the NHL, I'm just not sure when. I don't expect him to be invited to Tampa training camp simply because he is a smaller, slight forward who needs to get stronger before he makes the jump to the NHL.
7)Seth Jones, 2013 draft eligible | Portland (WHL)
Still in the running to be the potential first-overall pick for this coming draft, Jones was as advertised on this big stage. I said on Twitter [@GPSHockey] that he is the best-skating draft-eligible defenseman I have ever scouted, and that trait was truly on display on the big ice surface. Team USA decided to use Jones in all situations, and after an average start to the tournament, he settled in and was a key to the Americans winning gold. Equipped with dimensional range all over the ice, his defensive play was as impressive as his goal, six assists and plus- 8 rating for the event. I have not vaulted him to the top spot on my draft board yet, but he may just wind up there by June.
8)Jake McCabe, Buffalo Sabres | Wisconsin (NCAA)
The American team captain was a horse on the back end, and his two-goal performance against Canada in the semifinal vaulted him into the elite in this event. He was solid from start to finish and the type of player who does not have the flare and fanfare that some of his teammates have. His leadership was also impressive. Shot-blocking, a great second effort and physical grit defined his play. It all adds up to an excellent event for the 6-0 Buffalo prospect.
9)J.T. Miller, New York Rangers | Hartford (AHL)
Very quietly, Miller helped lead the Americans to gold with excellent defensive play. He played a big part on the team offensively as well, tying for the team lead in scoring with two goals and seven assists with Gaudreau and Trouba. "His AHL experience playing in Hartford no doubt helped him carry weight in the room as one of the leaders," an Eastern Conference scout told me. He is the type of player all winning teams need, the type who will give his body up for the cause. With the end of the lockout behind us, he is expected to be in the Big Apple to try to add to his already eventful season. We'll see if he can crack the Rangers' lineup.
10)Sebastain Collberg, Montreal Canadiens | Frolunda (SWE)
One of the returning gold-medal winners for Sweden, this small skilled forward led his team in scoring with big goals, including the shootout game-winner against Russia that vaulted his team back into the final for the second straight year. On a team that found itself undermanned due to a number of high-end players not available for the tournament, the Montreal prospect helped lead a gallant effort. His quickness on the puck and shot release make him dangerous to defend.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres, Quebec (QMJHL): One of the best throughout the event for Russia.
Joel Armia, Buffalo Sabres, Asset (SM-Liiga): Among the tournament scoring leaders with 12 points for Finland.
Rasmus Ristolainen, 2013 draft eligible, TPS (SM-Liiga): Big physical D-man finished with a pair of goals and four assists for the Finns.
Leon Draisaitl, 2014 draft eligible, Prince Albert (WHL): Very impressive double-underage player for Germany.
Marko Dano, 2013 draft eligible, Bratislava (KHL): Four goals and five assists is pretty impressive from the Slovakian prospect.