Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.

This week, we are pleased to have FF’s Jesse Marshall with us to talk about the World Juniors.

Ash: ‘Tis the season for international hockey – it’s time for the 2009 World Juniors!

We’re actually going to be discussing this for the next two weeks, as teams prepare for and compete at the World Juniors in Ottawa. Rather than ask a specific question that may limit the discussion, let’s start with something fairly general:

What do you guys think of the World Juniors? Who are your favourites, and which players are on your ‘must watch’ list?

Stoosh: As a fan of major junior hockey in general, I’ve always made it a point to try to follow this tournament as much as possible. The problem was until very recently, televised coverage of the tournament was sparse at best in the States. Thanks to the NHL Network, I’ll be able to see all of the USA’s preliminary round games as well as most – if not all – of Team Canada’s. All medal round games are televised so that’ll be great, too.

I like the fact that amateur hockey coverage is slowly starting to pick up in the States (ESPN-U and CBS College Sports televise NCAA hockey about two or three nights a week), and this tournament is typically a showcase of the best junior-age players in the game. So this fits right in with the increased exposure to the lower levels of the game here. It allows many of us the opportunity to become familiar with some of the names that our favorite teams may have drafted or will have a chance to draft in the near future.

As far as this year’s tournament goes, I can’t see how any team other than Canada could be considered the favorite. They have so much depth that Taylor Hall – the current OHL scoring leader and projected first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft – did not make the team.

I think they’ll get some opposition from Sweden, Russia and the United States. Sweden brings the likes of Oscar Moller, Mikael Backlund and Joakim Andersson – all top performers for them last year. Of couse, they also showcase Victor Hedman, the defenseman who will battle Canadian forward John Tavares for the first overall selection in the ’09 NHL Entry Draft. Russia brings back Maxim Mayorov, Evgeni Grachev and Nikita Filatov (one of my favorites), but defense remains an issue for them. The US team has some veterans led by James Van Riemsdyk, Ian Cole, Colin Wilson and Jon Blum along with Jordan Schoeder (who projects as a top 10 pick this summer), but depth and goaltending may not be enough to contend with Canada.

Ash: I’m glad that the US is finally starting to pick up more hockey games in general, including WJC games. Maybe someday the World Juniors will be on ESPN? (or maybe not…)

One thing that I love about the World Juniors is that I can actually see these kids play. You always hear about Tavares, Hedman, van Riemsdyk and so on, but you don’t get to see them play (or at least I don’t) until they make their respective WJC teams. I also like cheering for guys from my neck of the woods – players like Patrice Cormier, Brad Marchand, Sidney Crosby…

One issue that has come up in recent days is the idea that the tournament should revert back to its 8-team format. If you happened to catch the Canada-Kazakhstan game the other day, you can see why. There are these teams coming into this tournament after winning the B Division championships a year ago, and they are completely blown out of the water by the tournament’s top teams. The original idea of the 10-team format was to allow these teams the chance to play against the ‘big’ teams and to get better, but that hasn’t happened in the last 12 years.

Or perhaps it’s the tournament’s rules that need changing. I felt bad for the Kazakhs after losing 9-0 to the Germans and then 15-0 to the Canadians, but the fact of the matter is that neither team could afford to take the foot off the gas in those games. This is a tournament where ties are broken based on goals for and goals against. Wouldn’t it be terrible to lose first place standing (and a bye to the semis) because you took the foot off the gas in a previous game and played ‘monkey in the middle’ with that team for 30 minutes? If the IIHF is going to keep the 10-team format (after all, more games mean more revenue), then maybe they need to implement a mercy rule of sorts that will limit the number of goals that count for a team. Maybe then the coaches wouldn’t feel the need to roll out their first line and top PP in the third period of a 12-0 blowout.

Jesse: As a draft geek, I have to agree with Ashley. These games are a top-notch showcase to check out world-class talent on the biggest stage of them all. If the average fan doesn’t have the chance to check out CHL games, it doesn’t get better than this. In addition to that, some of the great European players in queue for the NHL are playing for their respective clubs this year as well, guys like Josefson, Hedman, and Rajala.

It’s worth noting how seriously these kids take the chance to represent their countries as well. Getting named to team Canada is the highest honor for a young hockey player. When I interviewed Luke Schenn last year, he raved about the chance to play in the Canada/Russia Superseries last year. The experience of going overseas and competing against the world’s best in your age bracket is a special thing.

When this WJC is all said and done, you’ll see draft guru’s all over the world start to re-do their rankings. Players that were in the WJC will get shuffled based off of their performance, and guys that were back home in the CHL are going to be judged on how well they did while their counterparts were overseas. This is the type of tournament that can make or break you. Word spreads like wildfire if a guy is having a rough go of it. In addition to the pressures of representing your country, these kids are dealing with the pressure of having to put on a good enough performance to impress the scouts. As much as they try to brush it off, the draft is on everyones mind this time of year.

I also have to agree with Ashley. It’s not really feasible to think that the Khazak’s will ever compete with Canada or Germany. An 8 team format could give us the chance to see more competitive games against the hockey super-powers.