Prospects to Watch in the Medal Round of the WJHC

Happy New Year everyone!  Before we get started, I just wanted to wish all of you and everyone at www.brotherlypuck.com a happy and healthy 2020.

With the opening round and quarterfinal round in the books, some prospects have exceeded expectations while others are still waiting to put their stamp on the tournament.  The quarterfinal round began on Thursday January 2, 2020.  Here are the results of those matchups:

Russia vs. Switzerland      3-1 Final – Russia Advances

Canada vs. Slovakia           6-1 Final – Canada Advances

United States vs. Finland 0-1 Final – Finland Advances

Sweden vs. Czech Republic 5-0 Final – Sweden Advances

The stakes are raised in the Semifinals with the winners of both games meeting for the Gold Medal Game on Sunday January 5th at 1 PM (EST).  The losers of the Semifinal matches play for bronze on Sunday January 5th at 9 AM (EST).

The Semifinal games are on tap occur on Saturday January 4th and are as follows:

Sweden vs. Russia 9 AM (EST)

Canada vs. Finland 1 PM (EST)

Lets take a quick look at some of the prospects that should be watched a little more closely as the games matter much more from now until the end of the tournament.

Philip Broberg (Sweden) – Defence

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   5101-10

As one of the top defencemen selected in the 2019 NHL Draft (8th overall to the Edmonton Oilers), Broberg had some very lofty expectations coming into this year’s tournament.  He excelled and dominated for Sweden at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup (formerly the Ivan Hlinka U18 Tournament).  At the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship, Broberg played well but only had 1 assist to show for his play.  This year, he has a shorthanded game winning goal and will be expected to raise the level of his game as the stakes increase.  While he has played a steady all around game as the lynchpin of Sweden’s defence corps; his smooth seemingly effortless skating, mobility, and long stick make him a player that can jump into the play and take risks if required.  He has not had to do much of that in the opening games of the tournament, but look for   Broberg to take the reigns and be more impactful in the Medal Round.    

Quinton Byfield (Canada) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF5000-44

Nobody would have predicted Byfield would be held without a point going into the semifinals.  After being a standout at camp, the projected 2nd overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft seems to be trusted less and less by Dale Hunter and the coaching staff as this tournament goes on.  A center with the Sudbury Wolves (OHL), Byfield has been moved to wing and has had multiple line mates while being moved around in Canada’s bottom six.  Still, Byfield is only 17 years old and he possesses a unique blend of size (6’4” 214lbs) and skill that makes him dangerous every time he is on the ice.  Making an impact during the most important games at crucial times in the Medal Round will make everyone forget the lack of production from earlier in the tournament.    

Alexis Lafreniere (Canada) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   3246+34

After his late game heroics in scoring the game winning goal against the United States in the opening game of the tournament, Lafreniere looked a lock to cement the top spot in the 2020 NHL Draft.  The exact opposite occurred with Lafreniere leaving the ice due to a knee injury with the rest of his tournament in doubt after a 6-0 loss to Russia.  With fans clamouring for updates on his status, it was announced on New Year’s Day that Lafreniere would be in the lineup as Canada faced Slovakia in the quarterfinal.  With 1 goal and 1 assist, questions about his health have dissipated and it is the remaining teams that are now concerned as they have to find a way to shut the dynamic scorer down.  Lafreniere is poised to continue his great play in the medal round.

Yaroslav Askarov (Russia) – Goaltender

SEASONWSHGAGAASV%SO
2020 Preliminary Round + QF16162.040.9030

The 17 year old Askarov came into this tournament as the goaltender to watch.  He is going to be the first goaltender selected in the upcoming NHL Draft in June and is already playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.  Usually, teams at this tournament rely on older players (18 and 19 year olds) to carry the burden for their team.  Going into the quarterfinal there were some murmurs that Russia was considering starting Amir Miftakhov who shutout Canada, but the coaching staff called Askarov their best goalie and named him the starter against Switzerland.  He has game stealing potential and Russia’s fortunes at this tournament will rest on his shoulders.

Aatu Raty (Finland) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/–PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   5213+52

The 17 year old Raty may be young, but he is certainly talented.  He made his Finnish Liiga debut at the age of 16 and plays against men.  Raty is already being tabbed as a top pick in next year’s NHL Draft in 2021.  He was primarily tabbed as a 3rd liner prior to the tournament to incubate him from older and stronger competitors, but injuries to Rasmus Kupari (in their opening game) and Anton Lundell (before the tournament) have placed more responsibility on Raty’s plate.  With 2 goals in 5 games thus far, Raty is showing that younger players can be relied upon, and he will no doubt be a key figure if Finland were to medal at this year’s tournament.

Alexander Holtz (Sweden) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   532500

Lucas Raymond (Sweden) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   5224+12

Nils Hoglander (Sweden) – Forward

SEASONGPGAPTS+/-PIM
2020 Preliminary Round + QF   55510+62

This trio of Swedish forwards are a must watch.  Not only are they talented, but Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz will most likely be taken close together in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft.  Raymond was the favorite to go 3rd overall earlier this season, however he has had a lesser role on his Swedish club Frolunda.  While some scouts favor Raymond and some favor Holtz, both 17 year olds are projected to go in the top 5 or 6 selections.  With so little to choose between them, what could possibly make scouts definitively choose one over the other?  How about a little internal competition among teammates in the Medal Round of the World Junior Hockey Championship with all NHL teams, scouts, and management watching?  Both obviously are thinking of medalling first, but also recognize that a great individual performance could help both their nation as well as their draft standing.  As for Hoglander, the 19 year old has been sensational at this tournament scoring at a 2.00 points per game pace.  He is almost certainly in the mix to be named to the team of the tournament as he leads the way with 10 points thus far.  Hoglander was selected by the Vancouver Canucks (2nd Round, 40th Overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft and looks to be a savvy addition to a stable of intriguing young talent soon to be making their way into the NHL. 

***

Agree with my list?  Think I left somebody out?

Feel free to leave any comments or feedback via twitter or at www.brotherlypuck.com .

Until next time from BrotherlyPuck.com,

I remain,

Manny Benevides

@mannybenevides

 

photo credit: Sportsnet.ca

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