The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships
Eight Takeaways from the International Tournament
By Maya De Rivia
8. It’s A Long Way To Fall From The Top
Last year Finland won the World Junior Championship gold. They took several of the same roster players to the IIHF U-18s and won a gold there under coach Jussi Ahokas, and with Patrik Laine driving the offense at the World Championships this summer, Finland just narrowly missed a gold medal when faced against an absolutely stacked Canadian team. 2016 was the year of the Finns. Three of them went in the top 5 of last year’s draft. Patrik Laine is already scoring like the second coming of Kovalchuk in the NHL and the 2017 draft looks to have another crop of Finns slated to go in the first round.
It therefore came as a huge surprise that the defending gold medalists could have such a poor showing at this year's World Juniors. There’s no doubt that the loss of the Patrik Laine-Sebastian, Aho-Jesse Pulujärvi line hurt, but with players like Olli Juolevi, Eeli Tolvanen and Kristian Vesalainen, the Finns were not lacking in elite talent. They managed to drop three games in the round-robin, firing head coach Jukka Rautakorpi and replacing him with Jussi Ahokas before their fourth game. It was too little too late. The Finns won that game but were sent to the relegation round when Switzerland beat out Denmark in the shootout.
Fortunately, Finland swept Latvia in the relegation round and will return to the 2018 World Junior Championships. Belarus will take Latvia’s place next year.
7. The Climb Back Up Isn’t So Long
Last year’s tournament for Canada was incredibly disappointing; they finished sixth in the tournament with an early exit and a lot of questions about goaltending, team chemistry, and Jake Virtanen’s lack of discipline. Questions surrounded this year’s team as well.
They were short a few key eligible players this year in Mitch Marner, Lawson Crouse, and Jakob Chychrun—all of whom have been playing this season in the NHL. Luckily for Team Canada, Dylan Strome and Matt Barzal were both available and anchored the top two lines of this tournament. The real star of Team Canada though, was Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot, whose smart defensive plays and strong forechecking landed him four goals and ten points in the tournament.
The coaching change may have also played a role. The young Team Canada players seemed to buy into head coach Dominique Ducharme’s systems and played solidly on both ends of the ice.
6. Next Year’s NHL Rookie Class Will Be A Treat
The 2016-17 NHL season started off with a lot of buzz because of the huge influx of rookies entering the league. The Toronto Maple Leafs have 150 points tallied by rookies alone, and many other teams have
had a substantial injection of young talent. This year’s World Juniors put on display some of the rookies we’ll see entering the league next year—and it’s clear they’ll be making immediate impacts.
Team Russia’s Kirill Kaprisov is likely to make his debut for the Minnesota Wild in the upcoming season. With a 12 point World Junior showing, of which 9 were goals, he’s set to make an immediate impact on the NHL. Alexander Nylander scored 5 goals and 7 assists for Team Sweden and hopes to make the jump next year to the goal-starved Buffalo Sabres team. Clayton Keller—drafted by Arizona in 2016—will hope to be called up with Dylan Strome for the ’17-’18 season after an impressive 3 goal, 8 assist showing for Team USA. Other players who were notable this tournament and hope to make the full-time jump next year include Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN) Thomas Chabot (OTT), Colin White (OTT), Matthew Barzal (NYI).
5. What Little We Saw of the 2017 Draft Class Was Good
Part of the reason the 2017 World Junior Championships saw less hype than usual was the lack of star power. Most notably: the top end talent of the 2017 Draft Class. Nolan Patrick, consensus 1OA, was not on Team Canada’s roster. He’s played just 6 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL this season due to injury. There have been few details, but he did have sports hernia surgery in the off season. Also absent was projected 2OA, defenseman Timothy Liljegren of the SHL. He was not named to Team Sweden’s Roster after having missed substantial time with mononucleosis.
Taking advantage of the diffused spotlight, some players made great cases for themselves during the course of the tournament. Perhaps none more so than Nico Hischier (C) who had an outstanding showing for Switzerland. He scored 4 goals and had a total of 7 points across 5 games played on a generally underwhelming Swiss team. His performance in the tournament shot his draft value up substantially, moving him to the 3OA position on several notable lists.
Lias Andersson (C/LW) of Team Sweden also had a strong tournament, showcasing his stellar offensive talent and burying 3 goals with 19 shots on goal over 7 games. Eeli Tolvanen managed to impress, even on the disastrous Finnish team. An elite goal-scorer, and often described as the ‘Finnish Tarasenko’, Tolvanen scored 2 goals and 4 assists over 6 games played.
4. Rasmus Dahlin is a Future Star
It’s not often that 16-year-olds get to compete in the World Juniors in any capacity. Russia is notorious for stacking its team with the most talented 19-year-olds, some of whom even turn twenty during the tournament. Team Sweden isn’t starved for talent, so it should reflect pretty brightly on Rasmus Dahlin’s skill level that he was named to the team. In 7 games played—albeit with very limited minutes—he managed to score a goal and an assist.
Dahlin’s poise and confidence on the puck are far beyond his years. In the defensive zone, he’s able to calm the game down and create as much space between himself and forecheckers as needed to generate clean breakouts. He’s not only good in the defensive end though, and is able to generate solid scoring chances and transition the puck confidently through defenders. Dahlin has the uncanny ability to trigger offensive chances, even if he doesn’t necessarily notch a point on a goal. His strong defensive ability and ability to trigger offensive chances are reminiscent of players like Hampus Lindholm and Drew Doughty.
It’s safe to give Dahlin the 1/2 spot in next year’s draft, and he’ll certainly bring the star power for next year’s World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York.
3. The Canada - USA Final Was Everything We Could Have Asked For…
While the tournament this year on a whole didn’t have much surrounding buzz, the USA-Canada final definitely did. Going for gold on home soil, the Canadians came out of the gate with a strong offensive game. The first period ended with Canada leading 2-0 off goals from Thomas Chabot and Jeremy Lauzon
Period two seemed to flip the switch for both teams, with team USA dominating much of the play. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy (who played the same role as Chabot as a defensive stalwart for team USA) scored minutes in. Not too long after, Team Canada took a bench minor for too many men and Kieffer Bellows took the opportunity to tie the game.
Going into the third, Canada scored two consecutive goals from Nicolas Roy and Mathieu Joseph, but Kieffer Bellows scored his second of the game a mere 39 seconds later. Colin White tied the game with seven minutes to go.
The overtime period saw a valiant effort from the Canadians, throwing a volley of 17 shots at Tyler Parsons and finding themselves blocked at every opportunity. Both sides got innumerable scoring chances during the extra time, but both goalies also had excellent showings.
2. …Except For The Shootout
After 80 minutes of some of the best hockey on any stage, OT timed out without a goal and the game went to the shootout. Is there any ending to such a great game more tragic than the shootout? Perhaps not. Both Parsons and Hart made valiant stops on the first 6 shots for Team USA and Team Canada. But Troy Terry managed to score five-hole on Hart
It’s understandable that the games preceding the final can’t have unlimited overtimes. Scheduling games in the same building means there needs to be a definite and predictable end. However, with the final, there are no such time constraints. Perhaps it’s time for the IIHF to re-examine the rule for the gold medal game.
1. Canada Still Takes the World Junior Championships Too Seriously
Perhaps the most entertaining story to come out of the 2017 World Junior tournament was just how upset some Canadian fans got about Team USA’s gold medal win. So much so that when Auston Matthews tweeted three American flag emojis, some very passionate Canadian fans had some words for him.