The 2015 world junior championship is now in full swing after beginning on December 26th.
Not only does the tournament provide some very entertaining hockey to watch, with a nice dose of national pride mixed in, but it also offers an excellent opportunity to watch some young Dallas Stars prospects in highly competitive action.
Three Stars prospects are taking part in this year's event, with the most notable among them being Julius Honka, Dallas' first round pick, 14th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Also playing are Matej Paulovic (5th round, 149th overall, in 2013) and Aleksi Makela (7th round, 182nd overall, 2013).
How have these players been faring so far?
This is Honka's second world juniors, and as a returnee from last year's gold medal-winning Finland team he's being heavily leaned on by his coach. He's being entrusted with tons of ice time, and even though the event doesn't officially track time on ice as a stat, from watching Finland play it's no secret at all that Honka is on the ice a lot more than anyone else on his team.
He's also being tasked with going toe-to-toe against the top players from opposing teams. Honka did a very admirable job facing off against American superstar Jack Eichel In Finland's 2-1 shootout loss to the United States, keeping Eichel in check for most of the game, but he didn't fare quite as well against the Canadian top line of Sam Reinhart, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
Overall, Honka is playing quite well and doing everything he can to help his team, but isn't getting much help from his teammates. The Finns have yet to win a game and look like they'll be out of the tournament early, but not because of Honka, who has arguably been their best player so far.
Fast forward to 7:50 of this video to see a great puck rush that he made against the USA:
Speaking of Finland, Makela has had a pretty quiet tournament. He took two penalties in the opening game against the United States and hasn't been used very much by his team since. He's getting limited minutes as the 7th defenseman on the squad (teams in the world juniors can dress two more skaters per game than in the NHL). To his credit, though, he's a +2 on a team with a bad goal differential, so that's a good sign.
Over on the Slovakian team, Paulovic has been centering the squad's top line alongside the nation's only other drafted prospects, Martin Reway and Peter Cehlarik. Paulovic has been good at winning faceoffs and showcasing some nice puck control skills, but his slow skating is a hindrance, especially in a tournament as fast as the world juniors.