2015 World Junior “A” Challenge
Cobourg/Whitby, Ontario, Canada (December 13-19, 2015)
|12/18/15||CZE||5||SUI||3||5th Place – Video|
|12/18/15||CAN-E||1||USA||7||Bronze – Video|
|12/19/15||CAN-W||2||RUS||1||Gold – Box Score|
Cobourg, Ontario (The Draft Analyst) — Canada provided a pair of entires — Canada-East and Canada-West — with the latter winning the competition, going a perfect 4-0 and outscoring its opponents by a 20-11 aggregate. Center Tyson Jost (2016, pictured), a surefire first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, dominated the competition with a tournament-best six assists and nine points in four games. The Penticton Vees standout centered Canada-West’s top line and was used in all game situations en route to being named the tournament MVP; a far better conclusion from when both he and Canada West placed a disappointing sixth in the 2014 competition. And while defenseman Dante Fabbro (2016) was his usually reliable self with three assists in four games on the defensive end, it was fellow rearguard Cale Makar (2017/UMass commit) who was named to the all-tournament team thanks to exceptional one-on-one play and a timely goal in an 8-5 win over Canada-East.
Canada-East collectively played a relatively poor tournament, finishing 2-3 and surrendering 26 goals in five games. Defenseman Derek Topatigh, a Princeton recruit, was excellent in generating offense from the blueline, displaying a quick first step, aggressive pinches and a patient outlook when controlling the play. He only had one assist in four games, but he nonetheless left a good impression on us. Double-overager Luc Brown (Union College), who stars for the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, tied for the team lead in scoring with a pair of goals and three assists. He was very good in the offensive zone, displaying a soft set of hands and quickness around defenders. As far as first-year draft eligibles for 2016, offensive defenseman Owen Grant (Vermont) was impressive in all three zones. He was a rated a “C” draft prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau in their recent draft list.
Russia entered the tournament without a single player over the age of 17 but surprisingly finished in second place thanks to a comeback win over the Americans in the semifinals. Russia’s vaunted class of 1998-born prospects were not fully represented in Ontarion, as several of their top players (Dmitri Sokolov, Vitalii Abramov, Mikhail Sergachyov) were all playing in the Canadian Hockey League. The team who took home the silver medal were memeber of Russia’s newly-created Under-18 program, which plays in the MHL in the same manner as USA Hockey allows it U18 National Team Development Program participate in the USHL’s regular season. Nevertheless, the Russians showed tremendous cohesion and familiarity, led by star center German Rubtsov (2016, pictured), who tied for the team lead in scoring with two goals and three assists in four games, including a dominant four-point performance in the 7-4 win over Team USA (he also assisted on defenseman Dmitrii Alexeev’s eventual game winner but was not credited). Defenseman Ilya Karpukhin (2016) did not register a point in the four games, but he did an excellent job running Russia’s power play, displaying speed, decisiveness and a heavy shot. Left wing Mikhail Maltsev, center Mikhail Mescheryakov and left wing Artur Kayumov all displayed varying levels of dominance, and we noticed they used a combination of strength and skill while on Russia’s top six to offset the physical maturity of opposing countries.
It was a tale of two tournaments for the United States Junior Select Team, a USHL-heavy roster which finished a disappointing third after losing to a younger Russian squad in the semifinals. The Americans finished 3-2 in five games, outscoring their opponents 20-2 in their wins, but outscored 10-6 in their two losses. Chicago Steel center Max Zimmer (2016) paced the attack with five goals and eight points in five games, while Northeastern University commit Grant Jozefek (2016) chipped in with a goal and three assists. Dubuque right wing Willie Knierim (2016, pictured) bounced back from an underwhelming Ivan Hlinka last August with a better performance in Ontario, finishing with a goal and three assists and using his size and strength to win puck battles and set up chances. The goaltending duo of Kris Oldham (TB 6th/2015) and Ryan Bednard (FLA 7th/2015) were the beneficiaries of dominant U.S. offensive zone play for most of the competition, but both wilted in a 7-4 loss to Russia in the semis, where the U.S. owned a 4-3 lead late in the second period before losing the lead in the third on a wrist shot from the blue line. Defenseman Spenser Young (2016) had a fine tournament offensively, leading all tournament blueliners in scoring with four assists in five games and displaying confidence and skill while moving the puck up the ice.
It’s been a very rough year for Switzerland’s Under-18 program, which dating back to the U18 Worlds has now lost 15 of 18 international contests over four tournaments — two of which (U18 WC and Five Nations) were on its own turf. The Swiss were simply not competitive in Ontario, losing all four of its contests by a combined score of 22-7. Only the heroics of goalie Matteo Ritz (2016) in a 2-0 loss to Russia gave Switzerland the opportunity to possibly steal a game against clearly superior opponents. Still, the Swiss had some talented kids on their roster who would likely flourish around a better supporting cast. Defenseman Livio Stadler (2016) is a 1998-born puck-moving defenseman who we’ve been reporting on since the Ivan Hlinka, and he bounced back with a nice beginning-to-end tournament after a rough Five Nations. Both he and right wing Kaj Suter (1998) were consistently using every drop of creativity they could muster to keep games somewhat close. Power center Marco Miranda (2016) was neutralized in the middle of the ice and seemed to force things, but was mostly successful in his board battles in what was an overall pedestrian showing.
The Czech Republic iced a green team for the WJAC, with all of its roster 17 years old or younger and international veteran Lukas Doudera serving as the club’s elder statesman being about a month shy of his 18th birthday. Still, they went winless in three games during group play before salvaging a bit of dignity with a 5-3 win over Switzerland in the placement game. Center Kristian Reichel (2016, pictured) was by far and away the Czechs most dangerous player, using his keen vision and acute grasp of offensive-zone situations to create most of the few chances the team generated throughout the course of their contests. He tied with fellow 2016-eligibles Jiri Karafiat and Ondrej Najman with a team-high three points Doudera, a silky-smooth defenseman with significant offensive upside, played Russian Roulette with and without the puck throughout the tournament, yet was not as successful and/or impressive as he was last month at the Under-18 Five Nations.