That traditional holiday carol, with a chant of, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” was indeed correct. The World Junior Championship is in full swing.
Hosted by Czech Republic this year, the annual tournament for some of the world’s best and brightest up-and-comers is not short on talent. After a preliminary stage that saw some shocks and upsets, the round robin portion of play yielded theae results:
Sweden: 3-1-0-0, 11 Points
Switzerland: 3-0-0-1, 9 Points
Finland: 2-0-1-1, 7 Points
Slovakia: 1-0-0-3, 3 Points
Kazakhstan: 0-0-0-4, 0 Points
Canada: 3-0-0-1, 9 Points
USA: 2-1-0-1, 8 Points
Russia: 2-0-0-2, 6 Points
Czech Republic: 1-0-1-2, 4 Points
Germany: 1-0-0-3, 3 Points
The two teams who finished lowest (Kazakhstan and Germany) were sent to relegation and play each other in a best-of-three format. The winner of said matchup stays for next year, while the losing team gets demoted to D-1 and replaced by Austria (the winner of the D-1 division this year). No Kings prospects were sent to this round.
In the WJC quarterfinals, matchups are set to give variety, with a format designed as:
1A vs. 4B
2A vs. 3B
3A vs. 2B
4A vs. 1B
Thus,e the preliminary round resulted in these matchups:
Sweden vs. Czech Republic
Switzerland vs. Russia
Finland vs. United States
Slovakia vs. Canada
Quarterfinal games take place on January 2nd, with the Los Angeles Kings prospects appearing in three straight games, beginning at 6 am PST:
The IIHF revised how the semifinals get arranged:
— The Brooklin Hammer (@BrooklinHammer) December 31, 2019
Based on these criteria, the teams were seeded as such:
1 – Sweden
2 – Canada
3 – Switzerland
4 – USA
5 – Finland
6 – Russia
7 – Czech Republic
8 – Slovakia
Now that you know what the schedule looks like and how the teams did as an aggregate, we know the primary reason you came here: How did the Kings prospects do?
Tobias Björnfot: Defense, Sweden (1st round pick in 2019)
WJC: 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-1, 0 PIM in 4 games played
The Swedish stalwart found himself in an unfamiliar position: anchoring the third pairing without a letter on his chest. That said, his lack of production this past week shouldn’t scare anyone off. He had an assist on a goal, but said goal was overturned after an offside ruling. Sweden’s blueline hasn’t scored a lot as an aggregate. Only his defensive partner (Philip Broberg, EDM) has a goal from the blueline. Otherwise, the defensive corps has only fed their forwards apples. Victor Soderstrom (ARI) notched five assists in the preliminary round, which leads the blueliners. Björnfot himself did not see any powerplay time, so scoring was not a high probability for him.
Aidan Dudas: Forward, Canada (4th round pick in 2018)
WJC: 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-2, 2 PIM in 4 games played
Owen Sound’s sparkplug of a captain has seen mostly zeroes as far as the scoresheet. It’s not for lack of trying, however. He has created a lot of energy on his line, and is the key penalty killing forward. More importantly to the Kings organization, they signed him to an entry-level contract.
✒️ Pen to paper!
— LA Kings (@LAKings) December 28, 2019
Samuel Fagemo: Forward, Sweden (2nd round pick in 2019)
WJC: 6 goals, 1 assist, plus-4, 4 PIM in 4 games played.
Fagemo’s performance has been nothing short of spectacular. Set up on the top line with David Gustafsson (WPG) and Nils Hoglander (VAN), Sweden’s speedster has potted at least a goal in each game. He saw time on special teams as well, acting as the triggerman on his country’s top powerplay unit while also killing penalties. Fagemo’s potted six goals on 26 shots, both of which were top of the preliminary round.
Sweden takes the early lead with a Samuel Fagemo goal. pic.twitter.com/WGUfXLcRyY
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 30, 2019
Arthur Kaliyev: Forward, USA (2nd round pick in 2019)
WJC: 4 goals, 2 assists, plus-4, 4 PIM in 4 games played
Kaliyev had quite a rollercoaster preliminary round. He started as the 13th forward. While trying to earn himself more ice time, he took two separate penalties on a single shift against Russia, giving Team USA a full four-minute penalty kill. He eventually worked his way up to the second line with Trevor Zegras (ANA) and Jack Drury (CAR). As a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Uzbekistan-born forward has put on a snipe show, including a shot that rocketed out so fast, nobody thought it was a goal.
Rasmus Kupari: Forward, Finland (1st round pick in 2018)
WJC: 0 goals, 0 assists, plus-0, 0 PIM in 1 game played
Finland took a major setback early on, as their top center suffered a lower body injury after a collision with Philip Broberg (EDM) of Sweden. Finland went on to pick up victories over Slovakia and Kazakhstan in pool play, but his scoring touch will certainly be missed in the upcoming playoff portion of the tournament.
Sorry to be bearer of bad news.
Per our sources, early info on Kings prospect Rasmus Kupari not good. Likely out months. Headed back to LA for 2nd MRI.
Suffered knee injury in opening game of #WorldJuniors yesterday. Significant blow for Finland / AHL Ontario. We wish him well.
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) December 27, 2019
Kim Nousiainen: Defense, Finland (4th round pick in 2019)
WJC: 1 goal, 2 assists, plus-2, 2 PIM in 4 games played.
While missing top scoring players like Kakko (NHL), Lundell (top 2020 draft prospect – injury), and Kupari (injured in first game), Finland has leaned on depth and defense to help them earn a spot in the quarterfinals. Nousiainen, put on the top pairing with captain Lassi Thomson (OTT), has been an engine pushing the play for Finland. While stabilizing the blueline, he has helped put the puck in the net – conventions were optional.
— Spencer (@spencerloane) December 29, 2019
Lukáŝ Pařík: Goalie, Czech Republic (3rd round pick in 2019)
WJC: 0-1-1, 6.17 GAA, .846 SV%, 0 SO in 2 games played
As Czech starter Lukas Dostal (ANA) sustained an injury, the recent Kings’ third-round pick found himself in an emotional game trying to keep his home country alive against the heavily favorited United States. His 39-save performance was enough to keep his team in it till regulation, and the loss in overtime created a very specific situation for his squad to be relegated, which did not happen. Unfortunately, his team left him out to dry in the last game against Canada, and he sustained an injury in the first period.
Akil Thomas: Forward, Canada (2nd round pick in 2018)
WJC: 0 goals, 1 assist, plus-0, 0 PIM in 4 games played
Niagara’s captain has had a statistically quiet tournament, but he has stepped up when needed. After Canada lost top 2020 prospect Alexis Lafrenière to injury and Joseph Veleno (DET) getting suspended for a game due to a headbutt, the IceDog saw his ice time increase en route to a clutch 4-1 win over Germany. This utility and flexibility in the lineup were major draws to adding Thomas to the roster. His lone assist in the preliminary round was not only a thing of beauty, but it sparked Canada’s comeback against the United States after being down 2-0.
Alex Turcotte: Forward, USA (1st round pick in 2019)
WJC: 0 goals, 2 assists, minus-1, 2 PIM in 4 games played
While Team USA did very well in the round robin, expectations were high. One such player with a lot of pressure put on him was Turcotte, as he was the highest draft pick on the team. He started out as the third line left wing, eventually getting moved to the center with John Beecher (BOS) and Cole Caufield (MTL). While the points weren’t there as much as he’d like, the tournament historically gets the best performances from players a year older. He generated chances, competed, and hounded the puck. His efforts finally allowed for a clutch ending, as a give-and-go generated an overtime goal with Caufield against the Czech Republic.
Tidbits on a few Kings prospects not competing at the WJC:
– Bulat Shafigullin has yet to return to the lineup in the KHL. No timetable for his return has been provided
– Braden Doyle soared up to second overall in blueliner scoring in the USHL, earning 20 points (5 G, 15 A) in 25 games. Dubuque has faced some defensive shortcomings, however, as they have allowed 15 goals in the last three games.
– Jacob Ingham continued his stellar netminding for the Kitchener Rangers. Going 10-1 in his last 11 games, stopping 344 of 365 shots (.942 SV% in that span). Said streak has propelled him up to third overall in wins and second overall in save percentage.
NOTE: Author David Hofreiter can be found on Twitter @Davidenkness if you’re interested in talking more hockey with him or asking further questions about these players.