2018 World Juniors: Blackhawks prospect preview

Tim Soderlund and others will be representing their countries in Buffalo.

One of the most fun times of the hockey year is here as the 2018 World Junior Championships open Monday in Buffalo. Ten countries will be competing for the gold medal led by the United States, which won a electrifying title game against Canada last year in Montreal.

For Chicago Blackhawks fans, there will be a few teams worth watching for prospect purposes. The big name will be 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju, who could play a big role for a talented Finland team. But it will be a chance to see a few other prospects, so let’s run through them before the games begin.

Henri Jokiharju, Finland

So far, so good with the No. 29 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He’s been a monster in the WHL with 37 points in 31 games for the Portland Winterhawks. The 18-year-old has top-level skating ability, and while he won’t be the No. 1 blue liner on a Finnish defense led by Miro Heiskanen and Olli Juolevi, this should be a fun chance to see where Chicago’s top prospect is at.

Andrei Altybarmakyan, Russia

Altybarmakyan, a surprise pick by the Blackhawks in the third round this year, could be a sneaky good pick. He’s apparently a great skater and has put up 13 points in 20 games in the VHL, Russia’s second division, this season. A pointless 13-game stint in the KHL showed he’s still a work-in-progress, but it seems like the Hawks took a flier on a toolsy prospect who could end up being good down the road.

Artur Kayumov, Russia

Kayumov is a bit of a tricky prospect to get a read on. He was a 2016 second-round pick by the Blackhawks and has spent most of this season in the KHL, but he missed six weeks with a broken collarbone and has just two points in 16 games. The good news is that he’s playing in the second-best league in the world at a young age. The bad news is that he’s struggled to produce. An opportunity in Buffalo will do him some good.

Tim Soderlund, Sweden

One of the Hawks’ hottest prospect, Soderlund doesn’t have star-level upside but should show his role player stuff for Sweden. The forward turns 20 in January, which is part of why he fell to the fourth round of the draft, but he’s already in his second season playing for Skellefteå AIK in the SHL, Sweden’s top league. He’s put up six goals in 26 SHL games this season, and while he won’t stand out on a team led by Rasmus Dahlin, Elias Pettersson, Alexander Nylander, and Timothy Liljegren, the fact that he’s on a team with that caliber of talent is a good sign in itself.

Jakub Galvas, Czech Republic

Galvas is already playing his second season in the top Czech league as an 18-year-old, and now he’s making his WJC debut on a team led by forwards Filip Chytil and Martin Necas. The 2017 fifth-round pick still has a ways to go as an NHL prospect, but he’s a talented puck-moving defenseman who should get ready minutes on the blue line.