2018 U20 World Junior Championship
Prospect Notes and Team Recaps
Canadians win WJC gold for the second time in four years
Steve Kournianos | 1/8/2018 | Nashville |
|26 DEC 17||Czech Republic||Russia||Czech Republic, 5-4||B|
|26 DEC 17||Sweden||Belarus||Sweden, 6-1||B|
|26 DEC 17||Canada||Finland||Canada, 4-2||A|
|26 DEC 17||United States||Denmark||U.S., 9-0||A|
|27 DEC 17||Switzerland||Belarus||Switzerland, 3-2||B|
|27 DEC 17||Canada||Slovakia||Canada, 6-0||A|
|28 DEC 17||Finland||Denmark||Finland, 4-1||A|
|28 DEC 17||Russia||Switzerland||Russia, 5-2||B|
|28 DEC 17||Sweden||Czech Republic||Sweden, 3-1||B|
|28 DEC 17||Slovakia||United States||Slovakia, 3-2||A|
|29 DEC 17||Russia||Belarus||Russia, 5-2||B|
|29 DEC 17||United States||Canada||U.S., 4-3 (SO)||A|
|30 DEC 17||Czech Republic||Belarus||Czech Republic, 6-5||B|
|30 DEC 17||Sweden||Russia||Sweden, 4-3 (SO)||B|
|30 DEC 17||Finland||Slovakia||Finland, 5-2||A|
|30 DEC 17||Canada||Denmark||Canada, 8-0||A|
|31 DEC 17||Czech Republic||Switzerland||Czech Republic, 6-3||B|
|31 DEC 17||United States||Finland||U.S., 5-4||A|
|02 JAN 18||Denmark||Belarus||Denmark, 5-4||REL|
|02 JAN 18||Czech Republic||Finland||Czech Republic, 4-3 (SO)||QF|
|02 JAN 18||Canada||Switzerland||Canada, 8-2||QF|
|02 JAN 18||Sweden||Slovakia||Sweden, 3-2||QF|
|02 JAN 18||United States||Russia||U.S., 4-2||QF|
|04 JAN 18||Denmark||Belarus||Denmark, 3-2 (SO)||REL|
|04 JAN 18||Sweden||United States||Sweden, 4-2||SF|
|04 JAN 18||Canada||Czech Republic||Canada, 7-2||SF|
|05 JAN 18||United States||Czech Republic||U.S., 9-3||Bronze|
|05 JAN 18||Canada||Sweden||Canada, 3-1||Gold|
Fueled by a tight-knit 1998-born core that previously won the 2015 under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, the Canadians ran roughshod over their WJC competiton, outscoring opponents by a staggering 39-10 aggregate to win their second gold medal in four years. They set the tone early by blowing out the talented Finns in the opener, and even a loss to the rival Americans later in group play didn’t derail their rapier-like thrust towards a world junior championship. Their style of play against the tougher opponents appeared more reserved than aggressive, but the one constant was a relentless and punishing forecheck that has become the hallmark of Canadian national teams that have won numerous competition’s within the IIHF’s spectrum. This tactic is a big reason why Canada at this tournament seems to live on the power play, which in Buffalo operated at a mind-numbing 44.8% (13-for-29) efficiency rate.
RHD Conor Timmins (COL 2nd/2017): Team Canada was a lot like the 1998 New York Yankees in that you couldn’t point to one player with an MVP-style performance, but otherwise had a roster full of MVP-caliber players. Nonetheless, Timmins was the steadiest and most reliable of Canada’s six capable puck movers, and his poise with the puck can be described as extraordinary only if you haven’t watched him play the last year or two. It was business as usual for the Colorado Avalanche prospect, who logged the second-most minutes on the team and proved invaluable when Canada dealt with injury issues to half their corps.
The Swedes maintained their expected preliminary round perfection by winning all four matches in group play and validating their placement in the gold medal game with a convincing win over the defending-champion Americans in the semis. They controlled long stretches of play against Canada in the gold medal game, almost doubling them up in shots and coming within under two minutes from getting the deciding match to overtime. The cliche may be both trite and hollow, but Sweden played well enough to win a tournament it eventually lost in heartbreaking fashion.
C Lias Andersson (NYR 1st/2017): Medal-throwing incident notwithstanding, Andersson made headlines prior to the title game for all the right reasons, and his refusal to quit despite suffering through what at first seemed like a serious shoulder injury is just part of the overall package he brought with him to Buffalo. Andersson was a 200-foot beast while centering Sweden’s top line with uber-scorers Alex Nylander (BUF) and Elias Pettersson (VAN) flanking him. He scored a team-high six goals that he potted in a variety of ways, plus was their first choice for critical faceoffs against top lines.
Some might view this tournament as a disappointment for the Americans, who joined the growing list of defending WJC champions that found repeating to be tougher in real life than on paper. The tournament began with a rout of lowly Denmark, but the strategic course of their title defense took a wicked turn the following night with a loss to the pesky Slovaks — an upset and game of epic proportions. Nonetheless, the U.S. had a strong WJC that included wins over eventual-champion Canada in the outdoor game and Russia in the quarterfinals. The loss to Sweden in the semis was not as big as a shock considering how close the Swedes came to winning gold, but goalie Joseph Woll (TOR) was habitually slow with a glove hand that was exploited by all opponents. For a top-heavy attack with shaky goaltending, winning the bronze seems like the proper result.
C Casey Mittelstadt (BUF 1st/2017): Mittelstadt turned in a fantastic performance, tying for the tournament lead in scoring and winning MVP honors. He was Team USA’s best player from the opening draw in group play to the final whistle in the bronze medal game, and his ability to dominate in highlight-reel fashion not only spearheaded the attack, but made every one of his shifts must-see television. The WJC was a homecoming of sorts for Mittelstadt, who last year was drafted by the Sabres and is expected to call Key Bank Arena his home for the foreseeable future.
No team had as unbalanced a tournament as the Czechs, who came to Buffalo with one of their deepest rosters in several years. Beating the Russians in the group-play opener got things rolling, but a wild affair with Belarus revealed deficiencies that ultimately led to their failure in blowout losses to Canada in the semis and to the United States in the bronze medal game. The goaltending duo of Josef Korenar (SJS) and 2018 draft prospect Jakub Skarek was unreliable, and the team’s abhorrent penalty killing that surrendered 11 power-play goals in 26 attempts had significant implications — the Czechs saw an early 1-0 lead against Canada quickly erased by three straight power-play goals against. The Czechs with the man advantage were dangerous themselves, operating at a 36.4% clip, but the inability to stay out of the box and goaltending that was anything but consistent proved their undoing.
C Filip Zadina (2018 Draft Eligible): Zadina’s making a habit of distinguishing himself when representing his country. With a team-best seven goals in seven games, the young scorer from the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads has now led the Czech Republic in goal scoring in four consecutive best-on-best tournaments. He continued to add to his reputation for scoring big goals, plus he led the competition with 37 shots. Those following his career the last handful of seasons know how good a 200-foot player he is, so it was nice to see Zadina continue his responsible three-zone play while participating in the world’s most prominent hockey tournament for prospects.
Russia’s an odd case study in that it’s an easy target for WJC futility despite winning a medal in each of the last seven tournaments. Not winning the ultimate prize after so many close calls can do that to any program. But this year’s squad coached by Valeri Bragin proved to be more disappointing than any of the previous seven editions. Not only did Russia fail to medal for the first time since 2010, but they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Americans, thus ending the possibility of even competing for one. If we’re going to play the blame game, Russia’s abysmal power play is the easiest of targets — they scored only once in 20 opportunities. And although he’s still a pup by WJC standards, Bragin’s decision to keep Andrei Svechnikov bridled to a tune of 11 minutes a game isn’t aging well, especially when you consider the 2018 draft prospect led the Russians in both assists (5) and primary assists (4) — all at even strength.
LW Klim Kostin (STL 1st/2017): It’s rare for a one of the younger players on Russia’s traditionally veteran-heavy roster to get enough ice time to stand out, let alone actually make the team out of camp. But Kostin was able to do both, leading the Russians in both goals (5) and points (7) although placing fourth among forwards in TOI (15:36). He began the tournament playing on a line with fellow neophyte Andre Svechnikov (2018 Draft), and the duo had excellent chemistry with Kostin playing the role of finisher to Svechnikov’s timely and accurate set-ups. Kostin’s game is built on power and finesse which should translate nicely at the highest level. And I still can’t wrap my head around what was more shocking — his fall to 30th overall in last year’s draft or that the St. Louis Blues acquired the pick to draft Kostin from Pittsburgh for “enforcer” Ryan Reaves.
Thinking Finland was going to bounce back from last year’s relegation humiliation was an easy call for me to make. For starters, they were bringing a roster loaded with quality NHL prospects, with five former first-round picks on the blueline alone. Second, they were on this weird (but real) even-year streak thing where they rebounded from bad finishes in 2013 and 2015 to win WJC gold in both 2014 and 2016. Lastly, you have to have figured they had something a little extra to prove after suffering through the embarrassment in 2016 of the defending champs needing to beat Latvia in relegation just to be invited to the following year’s stinking thing. But they play the games for a reason, and the Finns broke the so-called streak by stinking it up for the second year in a row. Getting blown out by Canada in the group-play opener didn’t help, and the loss to the U.S. a few days later dropped them down to third place. Still, even a manageable quarterfinal meeting with the Czechs proved to big a mountain to climb, as Finland was eliminated in a shootout. What went wrong in Buffalo? As it turns out, the Finns simply weren’t as good as I thought they would be.
LW Eeli Tolvanen (NSH 1st/2017): Tolvanen didn’t come to Buffalo as red hot as he was earlier in the season, when as a rookie he was one of the KHL’s top scorers. His cool down may have been a byproduct of an injury to center (and former New Jersey Devil) Brian O’Neill, but he otherwise remained a lethal scoring threat with a deadly shot from the flanks. With Team Finland, Tolvanen tied for the team lead in scoring with six points, and he was tops in assists (5), shots (30) and time-on-ice among forwards (20:00). Yes, he finished with just one goal, but he hit iron almost a half-dozen times and consistently found openings despite being a primary target of opponents.
Interpret the Slovaks finishing seventh out of a 10-team tournament any way you choose. For the Slovakian Hockey Federation, there has to be a significant sense of accomplishment that began with a tremendous team-wide effort in upsetting the Americans during group play. But that win in this year’s competition wasn’t an anomaly, as the Slovaks fought hard and stayed in all but one of their five games, including a close match with Sweden in the quarterfinals that ultimately ended in a 3-2 defeat. The goaltending of Roman Durny (2018 draft) was every bit of heroic as you would think one would have to be in order to beat a juggernaut like the United States.
RW Samuel Bucek (2018 Draft): It’s tough to argue against the idea that the world junior championship is the best platform for a draft-eligible prospect to improve his stock. Especially when the tournament is held in North America and is viewed live by multiple scouts and front office types from every NHL team. And although Bucek already plays in the United States with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, the big winger gave the crowds in Buffalo one of the best individual performances of his young career. Buoyed by chemistry with linemates Adam Ruzicka (CGY) and Filip Krivosik (2018 draft), Bucek and his mates used their size and length to wear down opponents, especially the smaller puck movers. Keep in mind that the Slovaks didn’t have the puck that often, but when they did, it usually was Bucek who despite a race against the clock made the most in the offensive zone. His compete level throughout the last few seasons was something the fluctuated to the extremes. But Bucek, who led the Slovaks in points with seven, proved in Buffalo that when he’s locked in, he is next to impossible to stop.
The Swiss competed hard throughout the tournament, but the lack of a legitimate scoring line, let alone an individual threat, proved too big a burden for their tight-checking system to overcome. Thus, scores that were close or tied well into the second period eventually became lopsided — with them on the losing end. That being said, a lot of credit has to go to head coach Christian Wohlwend for squeezing every ounce of effort out of his disciplined band of muckers and grinders. After winning the opener against Belarus, the Swiss found themselves tied with Russia in the third period before ultimately collapsing and losing what was the first of their last four WJC contests. To be fair, the Swiss weren’t expected to win much of anything this year. But recent wins at the U18 level could pave the way for a mini resurgence in at least one of the next few under-20 tournaments.
C Philip Kurashev (2018 Draft): It’s not easy to fill a void led by a national team hero that went on to become not only the first overall pick, but one of the NHL’s top rookies of this season. To Kurashev’s credit, he didn’t seem like he was trying to replace Nico Hischier by playing outside of his capabilities, even though he himself has a ton of skill and the ability to beat you with his shot or his vision. But the Swiss did not generate many chances on offense and spent most of their time either duking it out in the neutral zone or scurrying around defending their own end. Although this had a profound impact on the forward lines’ ability to create plays and drive possession, Kurashev’s individual efforts forced opposing defenses to back in and give him the time and space required to exploit his skills.
Denmark salvaged both its dignity and a berth in next year’s WJC by winning both relegation matches in dramatic fashion against a tough Belorussian squad. Had they not, the Danes could have finished with one of the worst wire-to-wire performances in the history of the tournament. They were outscored during their winless group play by a 26-2 margin, including a 4-1 loss to Finland in which they were outshot 62-7! This year’s squad had no capable puck movers who could handle a forecheck, and they were far too reliant on NHL prospects Joachim Blichfeld (SJS) and Jonas Ronbjerg (VGK) to provide anything offensively. Luckilly for the Danes, they captured lighting in a bottle with late-game relegation-round heroics and avoided what would have been an embarrassing disaster.
LW Joachim Blichfeld (SJS 7th/2016): A dangerous sniper who always seems to rise to the occasion when he’s playing for his country, Blichfeld was one of only a few Danes to create chances and at least try to develop some sort of possession game in the offensive zone. His deadly shot is his bread and butter, so it’s no surprise he led the squad in both goals (3) and shots (24). If the Danes want to thank anybody for helping them avoid relegation, it should be Blichfeld, who single-handedly rallied them from a third-period deficit in the opener against Belarus with a pair of goals that sparked a 5-4 triumph. The following match, Blichfeld was hit from behind and had to be stretchered off in a game the Danes eventually won in a shootout.
Belarus came tantalizingly close to earning a second straight world juniors berth in 2019. In the end, however, it was not meant to be, as the late-game breakdowns that plagued them in group play was the proverbial death knell against Denmark in the relegation round. Shaky goaltending from Andrei Grishenko in the first match against the Danes led to the Belorussians blowing a 4-2 lead in the third and losing in the last minute of regulation. They fought back the following match to force overtime, only to lose in a shootout that saw Denmark score on four of its five attempts. The positive takeaways were the play of 2018 draft prospects Dmitry Deryabin, Vladislav Yeryomenko, Igor Martynov and Ivan Drozdov, plus the elite playmaking ability of Flyers’ prospect Maxim Sushko — all five are eligible to play at the 2018 D1A under-20 championship which will determine who gets the final berth in 2020.
C Yegor Sharangovich (2018 Draft): The top player for the now-relegated Belorussians who teamed up with Flyers’ prospect Maxim Sushko to form one of the tournament’s top duos. A big, rangy center with very good speed and an excellent shot, Sharangovich logged the most ice time among forwards and played in every conceivable situation, to include the penalty kill. He plays with his head up, and his quick feet, specifically pivoting and edges, are obvious during lengthy cycles.