GROUP B (in Toronto)
Last year: Sixth
Skinny: Canada last won gold on Canadian soil, in 2015 in Toronto . . . Dylan Strome (Erie Otters) will captain a team that lacks star power but may make up for it with team play. Strome is one of five players returning from last year, along with Mitchell Stephens, Thomas Chabot, Julien Gauthier, Mathew Barzal . . . Taylor Raddysh (Erie) leads all of the CHL in scoring with 61 points in 28 points . . . Every player on the team has been drafted by an NHL team . . . Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips) will be counted on as the No. 1 goalie. He was the 2015-16 CHL goalie of the year.
Last year: Silver
Overall: 13 gold, 12 silver, nine bronze (includes medals won by USSR, CIS)
Skinny: Valeri Bragin, who coached the team to gold in Buffalo in 2011, is back at the helm of the Russian junior team . . . The Russians have finished second two years in a row . . . The Maple Leafs hope prospect forward Nikita Korostelev of the Sarnia Sting (OHL) will have a big role . . . Most of the youngsters play in the KHL . . . Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov, a 19-year-old in his third season in the KHL, has 30 points in 37 games for Salavat Ufa.
Last year: Bronze
Overall: Three gold, one silver, five bronze
Skinny: This core of this team won gold at the world under-18 championship in 2015 . . . A year after former Leafs coach Ron Wilson led the Americans to a third-place finish, the U.S. returned to the college coaching ranks, naming St. Cloud State University’s Bob Motzko the bench boss . . . The team leans heavily on college players, including Leafs goaltending prospect Joseph Woll (Boston College) . . . U of Wisconsin forward Luke Kunin (Minnesota Wild) was named captain . . . Another Leaf prospect, Kitchener’s Jeremy Bracco, should provide top-line offence along with Erie’s Alex DeBrincat, who has 30 goals in 28 OHL games.
Last year: Seventh
Overall: Two bronze
Skinny: Defenceman Erik Cernak of the Erie Otters will be playing in his fourth world junior tournament. He was on the Slovak team that was the surprise bronze medallist two years ago in Toronto . . . The Slovaks have put the coach of that team, Ernest Bokros, back in charge . . . Six-foot-five winger Radovan Bondra, who has 18 goals in 29 games for the Vancouver Giants this season, is back for his second world junior tournament.
Last year: Gold, Division 1.
Overall: No medals in the main tournament
Skinny: Latvia went 2-3 in a November tournament featuring Kazakhstan, Austria and Denmark . . . Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will help on offence. He has 27 points in 22 games . . . Defenceman Karlis Cukste of Quinnipiac University should anchor the blue line. He was the top defenceman last year in the Division 1 tournament.
GROUP A (in Montreal)
Last year: Gold
Overall: Four gold, four silver, six bronze
Skinny: The defending gold medallists will be without 18-year old forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, and 19-year-old Sebastian Aho, the top three scorers in last year’s tournament. All three are in the NHL . . . Kristian Vesalainen, eligible for the 2017 NHL draft, was a triple champion last year, winning gold with Finland’s under-18 team and titles with his Frolunda junior and senior teams in Sweden . . . Forward Eeli Tolvanen, currently in the USHL, is another top-10 prospect.
Last year: Fourth
Overall: Two gold, 10 silver, five bronze
Skinny: Tomas Monten takes over for long-time under-20s coach Rikard Gronborg . . . Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom, a winger with Frolunda, was named an alternate captain . . . Captain Joel Eriksson-Ek did well in Minnesota, with five points in nine games, before rejoining Farjestad BK . . . Sweden’s roster includes Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander and Flames prospect Oliver Kylington, both playing in the AHL this year.
Last year: Fifth
Overall: Two gold, five silver, seven bronze (includes medals won by Czechoslovakia)
Skinny: Centre Michael Spacek (Red Deer), goalie Daniel Vladar and forward David Kase will be playing in their third world junior tournament, part of eight returnees on the Czech squad . . . Draft-eligible17-year-old forward Martin Necas plays in the top men’s league in the Czech Republic . . . Draft-eligible forward Kristian Reichel is the son of former Maple Leaf Robert Reichel . . . The Czechs suffered a blow with the loss of top forward Dominik Lakatos (broken collar bone).
Last year: Eighth
Overall: No medals
Skinny: Olaf Eller, the father of NHLer Lars, is back as coach . . . The Danes scored the fewest goals last year (seven in five games) but were also the least-penalized team (14 penalty minutes). They made the quarter-finals for the first time . . . Denmark has three NHL-drafted players on its roster: forwards Nikolaj Krag-Christensen (St. Louis), Mathias From (Chicago) and Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose).
Last year: Ninth
Overall: One bronze
Skinny: The Swiss avoided relegation last year by beating Belarus . . . Some scouts have 17-year-old centre Nico Hischier rated No. 1 overall in the 2017 NHL draft. Hischier has 48 points in 31 games for Halifax in the Quebec league . . . Six-foot-three Jonas Siegenthaler, a Washington Capitals prospect with some AHL experience, should anchor the blue line . . . Blue Jackets prospect Calvin Thurkauf, a winger, has 31 points in 28 games in Kelowna.