Potential Future Phantoms Plentiful At World Junior Championship

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der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, PA

The Philadelphia Flyers might be keeping slumping teenage winger Travis Konecny, who has now gone 21 straight National Hockey League games and almost five full hours on the ice without scoring so much as one single goal, from helping host nation Canada defend its honor at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship but there still certainly will be plenty of potential future Lehigh Valley Phantoms about and in search of glory when the planet’s premier tournament for players under the age of twenty years old begins the day after Christmas.

The opening day of competition at the 41st installment of the annual WJC is almost surely guaranteed to generate fireworks — with no less than four Flyers prospects smack in the middle of it all — when fierce historical rivals Canada and Russia clash at 8:00 PM EST tonight in Toronto (which means there will be absolutely no time to waste at all after the Hamilton Street Heroes and intra-state foe Hershey Bears are finished skating at the PPL Center in Allentown).  Even though the Canadians have won more titles (16) at the annual WJC than their great adversary, the simple fact is that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics / Commonwealth of Independent States / Russia still hold a slight edge in the all-time series with a record of 18 wins against 17 losses with two ties (which are no longer possible) and the Canucks will not want to let the opportunity to even the slate on home ice just slide by.  Especially considering there was no meeting between the two countries last winter in Scandinavia, the Russians probably still feel as if there is a score to settle after having lost the Gold Medal Game of the 2015 WJC to the Canadians in a match that was, like this year’s contest will be, played at the Air Canada Centre in Ontario.
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Carter Hart (6’0″ 177 lbs), the 18-year-old goaltender from the Everett Silvertips who was the 2nd round pick (# 48 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2016 NHL Draft this past summer, is widely expected to be Canada’s main man in net for this 2017 WJC tournament.  Hart drew praise from none other than Flyers general manager Ron Hextall during the NHL club’s development camp this past summer, as well, but whether or not the untested teenager will be able to adequately cope with the eyes of an entire hockey-crazed nation upon him is another matter entirely.  Canada will be desperate to avoid experiencing back-to-back tournaments without a medal of any kind to show for only the second time since the early 1980’s, and so a certain amount of that manifest pressure will, naturally, rest on the shoulders of the number one shot-stopper in between the pipes … (read, all fabulous and invaluable training with regards to maintaining standards of excellence at the corner of 7th & Hamilton Streets).
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Philippe Myers (6’5″ 205 lbs) is the 19-year-old undrafted defenseman who skates for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League but is already under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers organization after being invited to training camp and then signing as a free agent in September of 2015.  The blue line corps could very well be Canada’s strongest asset with four first round and second round NHL Draft picks highlighting the host nation’s seven-man unit.  Whether the less heralded Myers, who does have a long reach, naturally, has more than a seventh defenseman’s role for the Canadians remains to be seen.
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Mikhail Vorobyov (6’2″ 207 lbs), the 19-year-old center who was the fourth round pick (# 104 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft, and German Rubtsov (6’0″ 190 lbs), the 18-year-old pivot who was tabbed by the Broad Street Bullies in the first round (# 22 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft this past summer, are two forwards who will be taking face offs on separate lines for Russia.  Both players, who have each previously appeared at the annual U-18 WJC tournament, are considered to be very good “two-way” players with outstanding vision and playmaking skills.  Rubtsov is thought to be the better overall skater of the pair but Vorobyov has had comparatively far more success skating in the crack Kontinental Hockey League to date.
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This season, Vorobyov has notched three goals and ten points while appearing in 36 of his team’s 43 games on behalf of a fairly high end Salavat Yulayev Ufa side that is currently ranked fifth in the KHL’s fifteen-team Eastern Conference.  This after totaling two goals and three points from 28 KHL games as an 18-year-old last season. Meanwhile, the younger Rubtsov is pointless in 15 KHL games for a fairly low end Vityaz Podolsk squad this season while spending a considerable amount of time skating for the farm club in the third division.
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The one forward to watch for the Russians, who have won a record 34 medals of all colors at the annual WJC but only have four titles to brag about since 1993, is returning silver medalist Kiriil Kaprizov also from Salavat Yulayev Ufa.  The 19-year-old winger who was chosen in the fifth round (# 135 overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild had a goal and three points for Russia at the 2016 WJC last winter and is the third-leading scorer for his KHL club team with 30 points (15 goals) from 37 games this season.  Another worth keeping track of should be Denis Guryanov, the 19-year-old who was the 1st round (# 12 overall) pick of the Dallas Stars at the 2015 NHL Draft and was a late cut from Russia’s WJC team last winter;  Guryanov (6’3″ 200 lbs) has registered four goals and 13 points skating in 25 AHL games for the Texas Stars thus far this term.
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As far as defense is concerned, the Russians have Mikhail Sergachyov, the offensive-minded 18-year-old who was the sixth overall player taken in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft this past summer and skated in three NHL games for the Montreal Canadiens at the start of this current 2016/17 season before being sent back to junior hockey. Two rearguards with silver medals from last season’s WJC return including Yegor Rakov of domestic powerhouse SKA Leningrad, the 19-year-old who was the fifth round selection (# 132 overall) of the New Jersey Devils at the 2016 NHL Draft.  Ilya Samsonov, the 19-year-old from top notch KHL club Metallurg Magnitogorsk who was the 1st round pick (# 22 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2015 NHL Draft, gives Russia a goaltender with prior WJC experience and that is always a vital commodity at this particular international level.
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The Canadians and Russians have been placed in the same group as the United States for the first time since 2013, the same year that Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Cole Bardreau won their respective WJC gold medals as a members of the American squad, and that should make the preliminary round robin all the more exciting.  United States head coach Bob Motzko from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota has already created a fair amount of controversy by cutting two players, Alex DeBrincat and defenseman Chad Krys, who each earned a bronze medal with the Americans at the 2016 WJC in Helsinki last season. Truth be told, neither player had the greatest tournament a year ago and neither player was impressive in pre-tournament training camps so that’s that.
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Tanner Laczynski (6’0″ 190 lbs), the 19-year-old who was the sixth round pick (# 169 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2016 NHL Draft, is off to promising start with six goals and 22 points in only 15 NCAA games for the Ohio State Buckeyes and will be looking to help the United States beat northern neighbor Canada at the annual WJC in successive seasons for the very first time ever.  More on that topic later.  In the meantime, the Americans will open up this winter with what should be a comfortable engagement against newly promoted Latvia–back in the the top flight at the WJC for the first time in four years–at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto the day after Christmas at 3:00 PM EST.
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Sweden, who are third behind the Canadians and Russians in terms of overall medals won at the annual WJC over the years, appear to be the most talented team in the other group based in Montreal and, like the two aforementioned countries, also have two potential future Lehigh Valley Phantoms on their roster.  Felix Sandstrom, the 19-year-old goaltender from IF Brynas Gavle whom the Philadelphia Flyers plucked in the third round (# 70 overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, is just one of a whopping eight players who return from the disappointing Swedish squad that finished fourth at the WJC last season after getting blown out 8-3 by the United States in the Bronze Medal Game.  Sandstrom (6’2″ 194 lbs) posted a shutout versus upstart Denmark but also surrendered eight goals to the Americans despite facing ‘only’ 29 shots, too.
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Alexander Nylander, the 18-year-old winger who was the eighth overall player to have his name called when claimed by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft this past summer, was Sweden’s top scorer with four goals and nine points in seven games at the 2016 WJC last winter.  Rasmus Asplund, the 19-year-old center from BK Farjestad Karlstad who was the second round choice (# 33 overall) of the Sabres at that same 2016 NHL Draft, had three goals and five points at the WJC last winter.  Both return along with Joel Eriksson Ek, the 19-year-old center who was the 1st round pick (# 20 overall) of Minnesota at the 2015 NHL Draft and totaled two goals and five points in nine NHL games for the Wild at the start of this 2016/17 season before being sent out on loan to BK Farjestad Karlstad in the Swedish elite league.
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Defending gold medalist Finland, who have actually won the WJC title twice in the last three seasons, will have to go on without three teenage players who were not released by their respective National Hockey League clubs including Jesse Puljujarvi, the 18-year-old now with the Edmonton Oilers who was named the Most Valuable Player last winter.  The Finns will still have Olli Juolevi, the 19-year-old defenseman whom the Vancouver Canucks made the sixth overall player to be taken in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft; Juolevi led all defensemen in scoring by registering nine assists in seven games at the 2016 WJC.  A contest against the intriguing Czech Republic on opening day should do much to reveal whether or not Finland will again be a legitimate force at this tournament.
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The Czechs, meanwhile, still have 25 players (two over the limit per IIHF regulations) and reportedly will be leaving two roster spots open to begin this 2017 WJC event.  There have been rumors that negotiations have been ongoing in an attempt to get the New Jersey Devils to release Pavel Zacha, the talented 19-year-old winger who was the sixth overall player taken in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft but has only managed two goals and seven points in 29 NHL games as a rookie for the Devils this term.  The last minute addition of Zacha is unlikely, however, and the Czechs will definitely be without another veteran of last winter’s WJC squad now that Dominik Lakatos, the undrafted 19-year-old center from HC Bili Tygri Liberec who scored two goals in Helsinki, is injured.
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David Kase (5’11” 170 lbs), the 19-year-old winger from KLH Chomutov who was the fifth round pick (# 128 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft, passed a late fitness test and will be appearing at the annual WJC for the third time in his career.  Kase was an assistant captain for the Czech Republic last season and, aside from experience, brings a certain amount of leadership to the table.  Even without Zacha and Lakatos, the dark horse Czechs will still have eight players back from last year’s team including Jakub Zboril, the 19-year-old defenseman whom the Boston Bruins nabbed in the 1st round (# 13 overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
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Last season, the American Hockey League was fairly well represented at the 2016 WJC in Helsinki with half a dozen AHL players including the circuit’s leading scorer at that time, William Nylander of the Toronto Marlies, strengthening the rosters of four different nations. Officially speaking, this time around there will only be four AHL players on loan to three separate junior national teams although expected Czech Republic starting goaltender Daniel Vladar from the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators, the third round selection (# 75 overall) of the Boston Bruins at the 2015 NHL Draft, has already appeared in six AHL games for the Providence Bruins this term.  One of those four AHL players away on international duty at the 2017 WJC is none other than Alexander Nylander and that is excellent news for a Lehigh Valley Phantoms side that will be skating with the Rochester Americans on December 28th and again two days later on December 30th in upstate New York … (to review, the younger Nylander netted a goal for visiting Rochester versus the Hamilton Street Heroes during the AHL contest at the PPL Center back on December 10th).

 



Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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