VICTORIA – It has been a few days since Finland defeated the United States and lifted the trophy and won their first gold medal since the line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine did so in 2015.
With that being said, it is finally the perfect opportunity to analyze the tournament as a whole. Since we are already aware of how each nation performed, for example teams such as Canada and Sweden struggled when it mattered most, while Switzerland overachieved and finished 4th in the tournament, we can know look at the top players of the tournament, specifically the players that are already owned by NHL teams.
Here are the teams that had the best prospects at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships:
Prospects in the Tournament: Owen Tippett (Canada, Mississauga Steelheads OHL), Aleksi Heponiemi (Finland, Karpat SM-Liiga), Grigori Denisenko (Russia, Lada Togliatti FLA)
2017 second-rounder Aleksi Heponiemi was a key piece in Finland’s run to the gold medal. The former Swift Current Bronco (who now plays for Karpat in the SM Liiga), showcased his elite offensive skill, tallying 1 goal and 4 assists, playing on a line with fellow Karpat teammate Rasmus Kupari and captain Aarne Talvitie.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ first-round pick from 2018 was arguably Russia’s best offensive player, leading them to a bronze medal. Grigori Denisenko was apart of one of the top lines in the tournament, playing with fellow first-rounders in Vitali Kravtsov (Rangers) and Klim Kostin (Blues). Denisenko was a offensive powerhouse on the wing, finishing the tournament with 3 goals and 3 assists.Embed from Getty Images
Prospects in the Tournament: HenrI Jokiharju (Finland, Chicago Blackhawks NHL), Adam Boqvist (Sweden, London Knights OHL), MacKenzie Entwhistle (Canada, Hamilton Bulldogs OHL), Ian Mitchell (Canada, Denver NCAA), Evan Barratt (United States, Penn State NCAA), Philipp Kurashev (Switzerland, Quebec Remparts QMJHL)
Although the product on the ice may not be what it once was, the Chicago Blackhawks can quickly rebuild their beaten up roster following their impressive prospect pool, and it showed in Vancouver.
The Blackhawks had a total of 6 prospects, and all of which had an impact on their team.
Henri Jokiharju was the cornerstone on defense for the gold medal winning Fins, and his performance will certainly be a confidence booster when he returns back to the Blackhawks.
Originally rostered as Canada’s 13th forward, MacKenzie Entwhistle worked his way up to more minutes due to his two-way play. The Hamilton Bulldog was Canada’s main penalty-killer, face-off taker, and chipped in offensively as well, scoring in crucial times for the Canadians.
Also on Canada’s roster who belonged to the Blackhawks was University of Denver’s Ian Mitchell. Mitchell played key minutes for head coach Tim Hunter, and was partnered with Habs prospect Josh Brook. The second-rounder also scored Canada’s lone goal in their quarter-final loss to the Fins.
Before leaving for the World Juniors, Evan Barratt was leading the NCAA in points and is currently a favourite to win the Hobey Baker award. The Penn State star had top-6 minutes but struggled to continue his incredible offensive firepower.
Arguably Chicago’s top prospect was their 8th overall pick from the 2018 draft. Apart of the best defense core in the tournament, Sweden’s Adam Boqvist showed why he is a blue-chip prospect for the future. Blackhawk fans caught a glimpse of Boqvist’s elite skating and ability to make the first pass. His puck-moving abilities was a key to Sweden going undefeated in the round-robin. Not to mention, Boqvist scored the overtime-winner against the United States to clinch first in their group.
Chicago’s most impressive prospect however was Switzerland’s Philipp Kurashev. The Quebec Rempart was the leader for a Swiss team that shocked the world and defeated Sweden in the quarter-final, and finished 4th place. He was tied for the tournament-lead in goals with Ryan Poehling, and all 6 of his goals were scored during important moments for the Swiss. The fourth-round pick has great offensive instincts and a high-level shot.Embed from Getty Images
Prospects in the Tournament: Maxime Comtois (Canada, Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL), Isac Lundestrom (Sweden, San Diego Gulls AHL), Lukas Dostal (Czech Republic, Slavia Trebec Czech2)
They might not have had the quantity of prospects like a Montreal or Chicago, however the Anaheim Ducks had all three of their prospects play a large role in each of their teams’ success.
Maxime Comtois was the heart of Canada’s team, and their captain. Comtois was everywhere on the ice from throwing his body around against anyone he saw, from scoring goals, to setting up his teammates. The Drummondville Voltigeur played on Canada’s top line, alongside Cody Glass (Golden Knights) and Owen Tippett (Panthers).
Isac Lundestrom was struggling juggling his time with the Ducks and the San Diego Gulls in the AHL, and with him leaving for Sweden’s junior team, the Ducks were hoping that this could provide a spark.
It looked as if Lundestrom restored some of that confidence back, as he was a main part of what Sweden was doing in the offensive zone. The 23rd overall pick from the 2018 draft had 5 points in 5 games (2 goals, 3 assists).
Finally, Lukas Dostal was brilliant in net for the Czech Republic. The third-round pick posted a 1.25 GAA and a .957 save percentage. Dostal also included amazing individual performances, including a 37-save performance against the United States.
Prospects in the Tournament: Ryan Poehling (United States, Minnesota-Duluth NCAA), Nick Suzuki (Canada, Owen Sound Attack OHL), Jacob Olofsson (Sweden, Timrak IK SHL), Cayden Primeau (United States, Northeastern NCAA), Josh Brook (Canada, Moose Jaw Warriors WHL), Alexander Romanov (Russia, KHL), Jesse Ylonen (Finland, Pelicans Liiga)
Clearly the top prospect pool at the tournament, the Montreal Canadiens have a bright future, and the World Juniors was a clear indication of that. It is crazy to think that this list could have been even better if the Canadiens had loaned 3rd overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Ryan Poehling was an important part of the United States’ bronze-medal winning team last year. This time around, he had an even bigger impact, but this time it was on the wing. The wing may not have been his natural position, but still managed to be the MVP of the World Juniors. The Minnesota-Duluth product was a force on the ice for the United States, leading the tournament in points and goals. It will be very important that Montreal gets him signed quickly, disabling any chances of him walking in free agency.
Poehling’s teammate, Cayden Primeau also was a stud for the United States. The son of long-time NHLer Keith Primeau, unlike his father he finds himself between the pipes. The goalie out of Northeastern was sensational, posting a 1.61 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. His most jaw-dropping game was when the New Jersey native made 32 saves against Russia in the semi-finals to lead the US to the gold-medal game.
Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook were solid for Canada. Suzuki’s valuable asset to the team was his ability to play both on the wing, and up the middle. This gave Tim Hunter the opportunity to shuffle the Owen Sound Attack forward up and the down the lineup. Suzuki was also effective on the powerplay, always finding a way to shoot for himself, but also set up his teammates.
On the other hand, right-handed defensemen Josh Brook played on the left-side, showcasing his versatility but as well as his strong two-way play.
The only player that seemed to couldn’t get anything going was Sweden’s Jacob Olofsson. Olofsson did play on a line with Isac Lundestrom (Ducks) and Fabian Zetterlund (Devils). While Lundestrom did have a solid tournament, Olofsson and Zetterlund did not chip as much offensively. Luckily, Olofsson is eligible to return next season and have an even bigger impact in 2020.
Jesse Ylonen was a godsend for the Fins, and was part of the core that helped defeat Canada, Switzerland, and the US in the medal rounds. Ylonen scored in big moments for Finland, including when he set the tone with a goal in both the semi-final and the Gold Medal game.
What’s crazy about Montreal’s prospect pool at the World Juniors was that they also had the top defensemen of the tournament. After barely playing for his team in the KHL, when Alexander Romanov came to British Columbia to play against kids his own age, he stood out.
The 2018 second-round pick showcased his skill on both ends of the ice, from his shot from the point, and his ability to impose his will on his opponents with his shoulder. He finished the tournament with 8 points (1 goal, 7 assists).
Prospects in the Tournament: Morgan Frost (Canada, Soo Greyhounds OHL), Joel Farabee (United States, Boston University NCAA), Noah Cates (Minnesota-Duluth NCAA), Jay O’Brien (United States. Providence College NCAA), Jack St. Ivany (United States, Yale NCAA), Adam Ginning (Sweden, Linkoping SHL), Samuel Ersson (Sweden, Vasteras Allsvenskan)
The Flyers had a total of 7 prospects who competed in the tournament, a very high number. Although their prospects did not have as big of an impact compared to teams such as Montreal or Chicago, the quantity was still impressive, nonetheless.
Out of the seven future Flyers, the most impressive were Canada’s Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee of the United States, and Sweden’s Adam Ginning and Samuel Ersson.
Frost and Farabee were relied upon to produce points for their respective countries, and they followed through. Frost was tied for the tournament lead in points with 8 (4 goals, 4 assists), despite being eliminated from the tournament early.
Farabee played on the top line alongside Josh Norris (Senators) and Jason Roberson (Stars) and did not disappoint, especially when the Boston University star netted a hat-trick in the first period against Kazakhstan.
Adam Ginning was one of the players on Sweden’s elite back-end, paired up with Nils Lundkvist (Rangers). Goaltender Samuel Ersson was solid between the pipes, posting a 2.24 goals against average and a .922 save percentage, and was exceptional in the tournament opener against Finland.