And then there was one. Barker, the Chicago Blackhawks' first-round pick (third overall) in 2004, is the only veteran of 2005's gold medal-winning team. He played three preliminary games in Grand Forks, but missed the medal round because of mononucleosis. The Winnipegger who plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers is the obvious blue-line general and will be relied upon for his leadership and special-teams play. How he handles the role will define Canada's chances to win a medal.
St. Louis Blues' number one pick (17th overall) last year is no stranger to B.C. hockey fans. He was a Vancouver Giant who compiled a 26-24-4 record with a pair of shutouts and 2.67 goals against in 2004-2005. That season was designed to get him noticed by an NHL club. The 2004 draft's top European netminder returns to backstop his home and native land for a second time in the World Juniors. He'd gladly forego the top goaltender award for a chance to play in the gold medal game.
A future Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltender, the 18-year-old Rask was rated the top European goaltender of the 2005 draft year by NHL Central Scouting. He was number one in the Finnish net in Grand Forks last year after recording a stingy 1.87 goals against average with Ilves Juniors in the Finnish Elite League. The Finns drew the fewest penalties at Grand Forks and could garner some upsets if they can force their opponents into doing the opposite.
The Riga native is in his third season with the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats, just up the coast from Boston where the Bruins drafted him 64th overall in 2004. He's a checker, a scorer and a great skater on a team that can realistically only be the spoiler. His Moncton teammate Oskars Bartulis is also coming to Vancouver.
Norway is coming to Vancouver because of Olimb, who led scoring at the Division 1 under-20 world tournament at Sheffield, England with an impressive nine points in five games. Small and speedy with a dangerous shot, the Sarnia Sting (OHL) player will need to carry his team on his back to avoid some embarrassing results. He'll have an individual incentive, as scouts will be giving him a look-see for this year's draft.
Playing in his third World Junior Championship tournament, Malkin is hoping to build on the three goals and seven assists he notched in 2005 when he took home a silver medal. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins second overall in 2004, he had two key goals in an upset over the host Americans last year as the youngest player on the Russian team. The Russian Super League star with Magnitogorsk will be tough for opponents to stop.
A wicked wrist shot and poise and patience with the puck make Zagrapan Slovakia's toughest player. The 2005 Buffalo Sabres' 13th pick overall is returning for another go with the Slovaks, who are under pressure to perform better than last year's seventh-place finish. The veteran of Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL had 32 goals and 50 assists in 59 games last season.
The next great Swede, property of the Pittsburgh Penguins, had five goals and eight points for the blue and yellow in 2005 when his team finished a disappointing sixth. The Penguins' second round choice (31st overall) in 2004 is a veteran of Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League. He'll be called upon to work wonders for a slumping program which has finished fourth twice since winning silver at the World Juniors in Boston in 1996.
Sprunger will have to be the spring that brings Switzerland any respect in this tournament. The team that won bronze in 1998 isn't expected to enter the medal round this time around, but there are 17 new faces that are challenged with potential demotion to the second division. Sprunger, a fourth -round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2004, will be trusted with leading the Swiss offense.
The Canuck first round draft pick from 2004 (26th overall) is a butterfly-style goalie and star with Boston College. Last year he was 13-1-4 with one shutout and a 1.90 goals against average. Now he's hoping to lead the favoured Americans to victory. The Americans won gold in 2003 and finished a disappointing fourth at home last year. They count on forwards Phil Kessel and Bobby Ryan, but their goals will be for naught if Schneider isn't on his game.