Gare Joyce and ESPN Insider editor Mike Hume are in Buffalo presently for the World Junior Championships; below is Gare's first post from the site. For more information, check out Mike Hume's Twitter.
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The basic logic of getting invited to play for your country at World Juniors implies that you're at the top -- or very near the top -- of your draft class. As a result, expectations are fairly high, and that often leads to unrealistic views.
There is a big gap between being 19 years old -- maybe right on the verge of 20 -- and being 17 years old, especially physically. My general rule of thumb on World Juniors is this: if a draft-eligible makes this tournament and doesn't look conspicously physically over-matched you've got an elite prospect. If a draft-eligible either struggles or doesn't stand out at the WJC, it doesn't disqualify him at all.
History shows us that those who depend less on physical gifts and more on hockey sense fare better. Patrick Kane was the US's best player in his draft year and, going back, Sergei Samsonov was likewise Russia's in his draft season; both were shifty, good in traffic, savants with their sticks, and blessed with great eyes. Players in that profile more readily make a quicker jump at the WJC (and into the NHL initially) than bigger bodies.
There are, however, two far more common scenarios: (1) Draft-eligibles are put in supporting roles on third and fourth lines (Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton are examples) or (2) They struggle mightily when circumstances demand they take on first- or second-line duties with a big step up in class (Vincent Lecavalier a painful example on that count). In his draft-eligible year Sidney Crosby was moved over to Patrice Bergeron's wing and was not Canada's best (on a thoroughly loaded squad). Alex Ovechkin was Russia's best in his draft year but again, he was working with a loaded squad -- and he wasn't The Man when it got down to the championship game.
Here are five key players for the 2011 draft, and how they're faring so far:
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