Tonight the World Junior (U-20) Championships begin in Buffalo, New York. Team USA will be looking to defend their Gold Medal as they take on Finland in the opening game. But for Minnesota Wild fans this game is also a chance to see 2 of the organization’s top prospects in action on a bigger stage. (Fans of college hockey have no doubt already seen them in action in WCHA competition.) Jason Zucker will suit up for Team USA, while Erik Haula will play for Finland. This game would also have been the first chance for fans to see 2010 1st rounder Mikael Granlund in action but unfortunately he has been battling injuries most of the season and will sit out while he prepares to return to action with HIFK.
Erik Haula was taken in the 7th round of the 2009 draft. At the time the pick was not seen as a steal and in fact his then teammate Alexander Fallstrom was taken in the 4th round. He, however, was dealt to the Boston Bruins in the Chuck Kobasew deal, while Haula’s stock has continued to rise. The native of Finland was actually drafted out of Shattuck St. Mary’s, the hockey powerhouse that also produced Zach Parise as well as many other NHLers. He spent the 09-10 season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, scoring 28 goals with 44 assists. He joined the University of Minnesota this season and has 15 points in 18 games tying him for 3rd on the team.
Jason Zucker was taken in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. The first Nevada native to be drafted into the NHL has worked his way through the U.S. development program. He is one of only 2 players to have won Gold Medals at 3 IIHF World Championship events including last year’s U-20 championships. He was the youngest player on that team. Currently playing at Denver he leads the WCHA in scoring with 14 goals in 20 games. Though Gopher fans have yet to see him up close, I can attest that he was more than impressive in his games against the University of North Dakota.
Check out USA vs. Finland tonight at 7pm Central on the NHL Network. (In between periods of the Minnesota Wild game of course)