Fresh off Team Canada’s golden performance at the 2020 World Junior Championship, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino offers up his top takeaways from the eventful tournament:
Who’s Number One?
Despite missing two games, Alexis Lafreniere was named the tournament’s MVP with 10 points over the five games he played. Lafreniere also had two helpers in the final, erasing any doubt as to who should be the No. 1 pick in June.
It was a bit of a departure that didn’t come without some risk when Mark and Dale Hunter were tabbed to work alongside Shawn Bullock and Brad McEwen to put together Team Canada. The Hunters are hockey lifers and they don’t deviate from how they go about their business, which isn’t always the way of the company line.
The London Knights often draw the ire of their OHL counterparts for their ability to attract top players and consistently put a winning product on the ice. There is a thought that Dale Hunter’s coaching success is a product of the good teams he has to coach. Taking the youngest Canadian team ever with two internationally inexperienced goalies and winning gold says a lot about his coaching acumen.
There was widespread sentiment in the scouting world was that Fagemo was the most improved player in Sweden during the 2018-19 season. He lead the tournament in goals (eight) and points (13) in his continued development as one of the L.A. Kings future pieces.
Once chosen to go to selection camp, a few WHL people reached out to me to say just how good he’s been in the WHL for Portland. They weren’t wrong. His path from seeing a large volume of shots with Swift Current before dealt to Portland to experience high-risk chances enabled him to have success as the tournament’s top goalie.
The next great Russian goaltending prodigy struggled throughout the tournament and ended up not starting the gold-medal game as a result. Askarov finished the tournament with a 2.71 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage over five games. Will this tournament hurt his draft status?
The Toronto Maple Leafs property gave a good indication of why the Leafs are so high on him. Good on Kyle Dubas for releasing him from the AHL and giving him the experience of playing a lead role with his bronze medal-winning countrymen.
The Pittsburgh prospect by way of the Lethbridge Hurricanes was brilliant in the final game with three helpers en route to a nine-point tournament, second-best amongst all defencemen, one point behind Sandin.
It’s always a risky proposition when NHL players are loaned to their respective country’s WJC teams. The Arizona Coyotes are happy to have Hayton experience the pressure-packed situation of winning a gold medal, but with a shoulder injury, his timetable to return may be in the air.
Team Canada had to deal with a number of challenges from its worst-ever WJC loss (6-0 to Russia), a head-butting suspension to Joe Veleno, a knee injury to Lafreniere, and a shoulder injury to Hayton. The Canadians persevered through it all and turned up golden.
The Charlottetown Islanders were well-represented by Nikita Aoexandrov, who was named the top Russian player in the gold-medal game. Alexandrov had a goal and an assist in the 4-3 loss. He finished with eight points over seven games in a silver-medal-winning performance.
It was interesting to see The Professor, Igor Larionov, behind the Russuan bench as an assistant coach for this tournament. It goes to show you just how important the event is in Russia. Larionov left a successful run as a player agent to work for the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
All Swede, No Finish
The Swedes have gone 13 straight years (52 games) without losing in pool play. However that has translated to just one gold medal (in 2012) — the Swedes needed overtime to upend Russia in that gold-medal game. A bronze finish is decent, but in six-of-13 occasions, the Swedes have failed to medal at all.
Big props to the host country Czech Republic for it’s amazing support of the event. The fans’ enthusiasm and general willingness to have a good time is the perfect mindset to have over the holiday season. Over 173,000 total spectators took in the games.
The Germans were able to upend Kahakstan to remain in the top grouping for next year, with players like Moritz Seider, Lukas Reichel John Peterka and Tim Stutzle.
Speaking of Germans
Tim Stutzle didn’t play in the final yet still ended up with five assists in the tournament. He’s had a great season in Mannheim and his tournament play surely aided what was already projected to be a top-10 pick in June.
It will be interesting to see which CHL players end up where upon returning from the Czech Republic.
The music alone would’ve kept me out of the box.