The 44th World Junior Championship opens today in Ostrava and Trinec, in the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic.
Grigori Denisenko (Russia), Spencer Knight (USA) and Justin Schutz (Germany) are the three Florida Panthers prospects participating in this year’s tournament, which will run from December 26 to January 5.
Last year, Florida prospect Aleski Heponiemi, now playing in Springfield, captured gold with Finland while Denisenko earned a silver medal. The two players tied for the tournament lead in scoring.
Ten countries are taking part in this year’s tournament with the preliminary round splitting them into two groups of five.
Group A consists of Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia and Kazakhstan.
The United States, Canada, Russia, Germany and will make up Group B, which will be the one of major interest for Panthers fans over the next six days.
Games will be broadcast on the NHL Network in the USA while TSN has the coverage north of the border.
Group A : Switzerland vs Kazakhstan 9 a.m.
Group B: Czech Republic vs Russia (Denisenko) 9 a.m. NHL Network
Group A: Sweden vs Finland 1 p.m.
Group B: Canada vs United States (Knight) 1 p.m. NHL Network
The 15th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Denisenko turned heads at last year’s event in Canada by tying for the scoring lead with nine points (4G/5A) and being named to the tournament’s All-Star team. This season, the 19-year-old forward has put up four goals and four assists in 27 games with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL. While Denisenko is still finding his way playing against men, he is a big-time point producer when unleashed among his peers.
Selected 13th overall by the Panthers in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in June, the 18-year-Knight has looked otherworldly at Boston College. In 15 games, he’s compiled an 11-4-0 record with a 1.73 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts for the Eagles. Knight will be the number one option in net for the Americans.
Schutz, a forward, was a sixth-round selection (170th overall) by the Panthers in the 2018 draft. The 19-year-old is in his first season of elite-level professional hockey with the Munich Red Bulls of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, where has collected five goals and ten points in 25 games, Germany won last year’s IIHF Division 1A tournament to get back to the top level for the first time since 2015. They have never won a medal, but expect them to be a difficult opponent capable of an upset or two.