Travis Konecny. Photo: Getty Images
Two first round draft picks in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, both of whom just might be in uniform for the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms come this spring, will definitely be skating for defending gold medalist Canada at the upcoming 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships being held in the Finnish capital city of Helsinki.
Travis Konecny (5’10” 175 lbs), the small but skillful center from the Ottawa 67s who was the 24th overall player selected at the 2015 NHL Draft this past summer and a goal-scorer for the Philadelphia Flyers at the PPL Center this past fall, is one of ten 18-year-olds who survived the final cut and could very well have secured his place on the roster by finding the back of the net during Canada’s lopsided 7-1 defeat of Belarus in an exhibition contest played on Saturday in Imatra, Finland.
Travis Sanheim (6’4″ 200 lbs), the 19-year-old puck-moving defenseman from the Calgary Hitmen who was the 17th overall player taken at the 2014 NHL Draft two summers ago, did not even have to lace up his skates for Canada against Belarus on Saturday as his spot as one of seven defensemen was already assured; the offensive-minded Sanheim is one of three first round draft picks the Canadians will have patrolling the blue line.
Altogether, Canada have no less than a dozen first round NHL Draft picks on its roster for the 2016 WJC tournament in Finland. All but two players on the Canadians’ final 23-man roster have already been formally drafted by National Hockey League clubs. The defending tournament champion will open the defense of its gold medal on December 26th with a Group A preliminary round game against its neighbor to the south, the United States. The Americans have only ever beaten the Canadians five times in 39 all-time meetings at the annual WJCs, but that would be another story.
MacKenzie Blackwood, the 2nd round pick (# 42 overall) of the New Jersey Devils at the 2014 NHL Draft who is suspended for the first two games of the 2016 WJC because the 19-year-old is currently serving an eight-game suspension for a stick incident in an Ontario Hockey League game on December 4th, made 16 saves to record the shutout during Canada’s 1-0 win over the Czech Republic at the Imatra Spa Areena on Sunday. Vitek Vanecek, the 19-year-old netminder who was the 2nd round pick (# 39 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2014 NHL Draft and is the de facto # 3 for the AHL’s Hershey Bears at present, stopped 21 of 22 shots in between the pipes for the Czechs. Vanecek, who has been playing in the East Coast Hockey League for the South Carolina Stingrays, made three starts (4.31 avg, .829 svpct) at the 2015 WJC last winter and will probably be first choice for the Czech Republic again.
David Kase (5’11” 170 lbs), the 18-year-old forward who was the 5th round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft, is rather certain to be one of seven players returning from the Czech Republic team that lost its quarterfinal match 3-0 to arch-rival Slovakia at the 2015 WJC last winter. The underweight wing/center is currently on loan to Czech second division side SK Kadan (13 ga, 6 go, 10 pts) but has skated in 15 elite league games and scored one goal for Pirati Chomutov this season. Kase is probably at least a season and a half away from coming to skate professionally in North America, however.
Oskar Lindblom (6’1″ 192 lbs) is one player who was astonishingly overlooked the last time this blog brought up the Swedish junior national team. The 5th round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014 NHL Draft was, in fact, only the second-leading scorer with nine points (four goals) in seven games for Sweden at the 2015 WJC last winter. Lindblom, who has posted good numbers (27 ga, 5 go, 18 pts) for IF Brynas Gavle as a teenager in the country’s senior elite league, easily one of the toughest in all of Europe, will be one of twelve players returning from the Swedish team that finished in fourth place after losing last season’s WJC Bronze Medal Game to the surprising Slovaks (who had lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Canada).
Canada and Sweden, both of whom are expected to be serious title contenders in Finland, will face off in the last exhibition contest for both nations this coming Wednesday before the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships begin the day after Christmas. The Swedes are obviously bolstered by the news that Toronto Marlies star center William Nylander, who is currently leading the entire 30-team AHL in scoring with 34 points (fourteen goals) in 27 games, has been granted permission to appear in Helsinki. Whereas the Canadians have finalized their roster well in advance, Sweden still have to drop three players in order to get in compliance with tournament regulations.
Getting back to Konecny, it is not unreasonable to think that the Flyers’ first round pick might himself playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL as an 18-year-old this spring … after all, Scott Laughton did skate in half a dozen AHL games (one goal, three points) at the tail end of the 2012/13 season as an 18-year-old player for the Adirondack Phantoms!
Categories: Phantoms Hockey