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World Juniors 2015: Denmark team preview

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Denmark enters their third WJC looking to make history with their first ever win

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

This is only Denmark's third appearance in the upper tier World Juniors tournament and their past history does not suggest a strong showing. While Denmark's junior program has grown by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the development of players like Nikolaj Ehlers and their play in division 1 of the World Juniors, they are still underwhelming when compared to the mainstays of the tournament. There isn't a question of whether Denmark will medal, it's only a question of whether they'll finish 9th or 10th and maybe, just maybe end up with their first ever win.

Roster

Player Pos Draft Year* League Current Team
Nicolaj Henriksen G 2013 DEN Esbjerg Energy
Thomas Lillie G 2014 SEL Vaxjo Lakers
George Sørensen G 2013 DEN Herning Blue Fox
Victor Eskerod D 2013 DEN Unibert Stars Gentofte
Daniel K. Hansen D 2013 DEN SonderjyskE Vojens
Sonny Hertzberg D 2013 OHL Oshawa Generals
Anders Krogsgaard D 2014 DEN Esbjerg Energy
Mads Larsen D 2013 SEL2 Malmo Redhawks
Matias Lassen D 2014 DEN Rodovre Mighty Bulls
Christian Mieritz D 2016 DEN Rodovre Mighty Bulls
Daniel Nielsen D 2013 DEN Hvidovre IK
Mikkel Aagaard Hansen F 2014 OHL Niagara IceDogs
Matthias Asperup F 2013 SEL2 Malmo Redhawks
Oliver Bjorkstrand F CLB'13 WHL Portland Winterhawks
Nikolaj Ehlers F WPG'14 QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads
Mads Eller F 2014 WHL Edmonton Oil Kings
Jeppe Holmberg F 2014 DEN Esbjerg Energy
Kristian Jensen F 2014 SEL Lulea HF
Christian Kristiansen F 2013 SEL2 Rogle Angelholm
Søren Dau Mortensen F 2013 DEN SonderjyskE Vojens
Marcus Nielsen F 2013 DEN Rungsted Ishockey
Søren Nielsen F 2014 DEN Esbjerg Enery
Nick Olesen F 2014 DEN Odense Bulldogs
Andre Staeremose Pison F 2013 NAHL Wenathchee Wild
Emil Rasmussen F 2013 DEN Rodovre Mighty Bulls
Alexander True F 2015 WHL Seattle Thunderbirds

*grey text for undrafted players

Draft Eligible Players

Any player born before September 16th, 1997 is eligible for the 2015 NHL draft.

Pickings are slim on the Danish team for draft worthy players with only Alexander True, cousin of Nikolaj Ehlers, in his first year of eligibility for the draft. True has been solid for the Seattle Thunderbirds, but hasn't prove himself to be anything more than a bubble player in terms of the draft. True is a big centre with raw skill, he's definitely a project player. It's rare for Danes to be drafted and True would have to acquit himself well at the WJC and go on a tear in the second half of the WHL season in order to guarantee that a team would pick him.

And of course there's always the possibility of a player who was passed over in their first year of draft eligibility being selected this year based on a strong WJC showing or blooming late. Mads Eller or Mikkel Aaagaard could fall in this category, but their showing would have to be monstrous.

Strengths

When talking about the strengths of the Danish team, one has to compare the team against its past iterations, rather than against its current competing nations. This is a team that has never won a WJC game so any strides or ripples they make have to be compared against its own accomplishments, not that of other countries.

The Danes don't have a lot of offensive threats, but Nikolaj Ehlers is about as good as they come in the CHL. He and Blue Jackets property, Oliver Bjorkstrand are coming off 100 point seasons and are in the midst of another one. They form an explosive top flight unit for Denmark with Mads Eller of the Edmonton Oil King (brother of Lars), the likes of which the team has never had. The line has talent, familiarity with North American ice, and experience. This will be the line to watch for Denmark. Alexander True and Mikkel Aagaard also give the Danes a couple of nice complementary scoring forwards.

The Danes play a very team centric game that focuses on defense and keeping the puck away from problem areas. Many of the Danish junior players play in the Metal Ligaen - the elite league in Denmark - and are used to assuming bottom 6 roles. They're comfortable in a defensive role and their overall team play reflects that. If the Danes can stifle chances and get solid goaltending from George Sørensen or Thomas Lillie they just might steal their first WJC win (I mean as in a game, not a gold).

Weaknesses

Outside of Ehlers and Bjorkstrand, the Danes don't have a lot of top tier talent. True is still fairly raw and an afterthought in draft discussions, much like Aagaard and Eller were in their first year of draft eligibility. Their North American experience should help on a smaller ice surface, but they're not impact forwards.

That's bad news for Denmark as they have a serious dearth of offensive forwards. Many of their players have experience playing against pros and grown men, but that experience comes on the third and fourth lines. So while that's beneficial in a defensive role, it hurts in any other situation. To put it simply, many of Denmark's players are hurt by a lack of development and a lack of ice time in offensive and special teams situations.

Denmark is still growing as a hockey playing nation so these are teachable moments in a still growing program. Unfortunately teachable moments usually cost you wins.

X Factor

I don't think I can emphasize this enough - Ehlers. Ehlers is a dynamic and explosive player who can singlehandedly dismantle junior teams. He is the best prospect Denmark has ever produced and one of the better players at this year's tournament. If they stand a chance of squeaking out a win it'll be December 30th against Switzerland and it will have to be the Nikolaj Ehlers show supported by team defense and above average goaltending. If opponents find a way to stymie Ehlers (and they will), Denmark's already slim chances take a massive hit.