By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com
They’ve avoided relegation two years in a row, but can Denmark stay alive at the home of their famous 2015 performance?
Goalies: Two years after Georg Sørensen put on a performance of the ages, Denmark is still looking to find their next star goaltender to keep them in tight games. This year, they’re putting their hopes in Lasse Petersen, an undrafted prospect playing with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels in Canada. Petersen has played for four WHL teams in just a two-year span, and while his individual stats aren’t the best, he’s been good at getting the job done. He hasn’t played much for the Danes internationally, but when he has, he’s been stellar. At the 2015 Under-18 Division IA championships, Petersen finished with the best SVS% (.937) and best GAA (1.60) to lead Denmark to the gold medal and earn promotion to the top division in the process. While named to the team, Petersen didn’t play in any of the World Junior games in 2016, instead sitting as the backup. At 19, Petersen is ready to thrust into the starting role and for Denmark’s sake, he better be ready to face 40+ shots a night.
Defencemen: The blue line is Denmark’s weakest link, but that’s expected from a lesser-skilled team playing against the best nations in the world. Their best defenceman this time around is Christian Mieritz, a returning blueliner from the World Junior team a year ago. Mieritz split last season between the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and Guelph Storm, but he didn’t do enough to keep in the league for 2016-2017. A fairly physical player that looked great in both Under-18 tournaments he played in for Denmark, Mieritz could use a bit of a break from the SuperElit league to recharge with the Danish national team as the group looks to avoid relegation for the third straight year.
In terms of the back end, the Danes have another player skating in Sweden, and that’s Morten Jensen. Jensen, the most penalized player in the SuperElit this year, is known for his aggressive style around the boards but also sets up quite a few plays as well. Jensen has represented Denmark at multiple different tournaments in the past, including last year’s World Juniors. While those two will likely create the top pairing, the second duo should contain Rungsted pairing Mathias Rondbjerg and Nicolai Weichel. Rondbjerg has converted into a stay-at-home defenceman ever since joining the top Danish league last season. Now, he and Weichel are set to make their tournament debuts, and with experience playing against men already, hopefully they won’t take much time to adjust to such a big-game scenario.
Forwards: Despite no real top end stars such as Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark’s depth up front has never been deeper at the World Juniors. In fact, in keeping with recent tradition, the team will be bringing three NHL-drafted forwards with the likes of Joachim Blichfeld, Mathias From and Nikolaj Krag-Christensen. Blichfeld, a San Jose Sharks prospect, moved over to the WHL from the Swedish Malmö Redhawks squad, where he had spent two years developing in their minor league system. Now a member of the Portland Winterhawks, the strong winger with a tough shot has developed nicely with the WHL team, posting 12 goals and 28 points in his first 31 games with the club. Blichfeld was one of Denmark’s best players at the 2016 Under-18 World Championships, and while the team was constantly shelled and he himself finished with a -11 +/-, Blichfeld did finish with four goals and six points in seven games.
From, a fifth-round selection by the Chicago Blackhawks, hasn’t put up big numbers with Rögle BK in the Swedish Hockey League this year, but as an 18-year-old prospect who has impressed in junior hockey, it’s nothing to worry about right now. From is considered to be a tough buzzsaw-type of player that isn’t afraid to get dirty and can match up with the toughest challenges you throw against him. He won’t bring the team a lot of goals, but he’ll surely scare a few people and you won’t find many better two-way guys on Denmark than From.
The St. Louis Blues were impressed enough to draft Krag-Christensen this past June, and Denmark will hope to exploit him in his second World Junior tournament. Also a member of Rogle, Krag-Christensen has played mostly with the SuperElit U20 team, posting 13 points in 27 games. Also a member of the gold medal winning Division IA Under-18 squad from 2015, Krag-Christensen played even better when called upon to play in the top division in 2016, potting a goal and adding five assists for six points. More of a play-maker than a goal-scorer, Krag-Christensen was given a limited role at last year’s World Juniors, but expect him to be in a reliable top six role in Montreal this year.
Another name to watch out for is Rasmus T. Andersson, a 19-year-old undrafted winger. Andersson, who was not a member of Denmark’s World Junior effort over the previous two seasons, has played extremely well with HV71 in the Swedish SuperElit league, tying him for second overall in league scoring. Another SuperElit forward, Jonas Røndbjerg, has been gaining some traction from NHL scouts prior to the draft and is nearing close to a point-per-game in 25 games played this year with the Växjö Lakers’ U20 squad. Fellow Lakers prospect David Madsen has also evolved his game this season as he hopes to gain NHL attention this spring. He likely will be put on the third or fourth line, but he’s got a lot to prove in the biggest hockey nation in the world. And to round it up, Alexander True is a name that will be tough to stop as he looks improve on his tournament performance from a year ago. He may be best known for being Ehlers’ cousin, but True would love to strengthen his play with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds by having a strong World Junior performance.
Projection: For the third straight year, the tournament darlings from Denmark will look to stay alive in the top division. And for the first time in that span, it looks like they may actually be good enough to do so. They don’t have any stars, but they have enough of a foundation to keep the team afloat for at least another year. They have many good young stars who will be back in 2018, which makes this year even more exciting. The fans are ready, so can the team live up to the hype and make it to the quarter-finals once again?