|Carter Hart put together a strong showing at the 2017 WJC for Team Canada. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter
Now that the World Junior Championship is over, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate how the kids looked.
The Philadelphia Flyers sent an NHL-high nine prospects (!) to this year’s festivities. What’s crazy to think about is that it would probably be 11 had Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov been returned to the CHL for the 2016-17 campaign.
Then you have to factor in Pascal Laberge’s concussion issues. If he weren’t injured, he likely would’ve got a serious look for Team Canada.
And what about guys like Cooper Marody? He just missed the cutoff to be eligible for Team USA.
What’s blatantly obvious is that the Flyers’ system is stacked with promising youngsters. And what’s more impressive is that five prospects took home medals and two more finished in fourth place. That’s seven out of nine prospects to advance to the knockout round in just one WJC.
Yeah, Ron Hextall’s seat is looking mighty cozy right about now. There are more than just a few NHL GMs who would like to be in Hextall’s shoes moving forward.
After the jump, we’ll take a look at all nine of the Flyers’ representatives at this year’s World Junior Championship.
Goaltender Matej Tomek - Team Slovakia
Acquired: 2015 third-round pick (90th overall)
Season Stats: N/A
December Stats: N/A
WJC Stats: 2 GP, 0-2-0, 3.50 GAA, .912 save %
How about that? An opportunity for Tomek to finally play some meaningful hockey.
After appearing in just one exhibition game for the University of North Dakota over the past two years, Tomek got the nod in two preliminary round games for Slovakia at this year's World Junior Championship.
Oh, yeah. All he was tasked with doing was attempting to slow down perennial contenders in the United States and Russia.
The thing is, he certainly didn't look out of the place. Tomek made 45 saves against the Americans and turned aside 28 of the 30 shots fired his way in a 2-0 loss to the Russians.
Tomek even managed to show a little snarl. In the loss to the U.S., he channeled his inner Ron Hextall when he went after Jordan Greenway, who gave him a quick slash following a whistle. All Flyers fans can hope for now is that his impressive showing in Canada didn't go unnoticed at UND. Could he get a start or two down the road this season? We'll have to wait and see.
Goaltender Carter Hart - Team Canada
Acquired: 2016 second-round pick (48th overall)
Season Stats: 24 GP, 16-3-4, 1.85 GAA, .927 save %, 4 SO
December Stats: 3 GP, 2-0-1, 3.66 GAA, .835 save %
WJC Stats: 4 GP, 3-0-1, 2.38 GAA, .905 save %
Goaltending was assumed to be a major strength for Canada, the host country, headed into the WJC. It turned out to be a controversial talking point throughout, however.
Hart was given the first start in the prelims but was underwhelming in a 5-3 tournament-opening win over Russia. He made just 14 saves and surrendered some leaky goals.
So Dominique Ducharme turned to Connor Ingram in the next tilt, a 5-0 win over Slovakia. The rotation continued when Hart resumed duties between the pipes in a 10-2 victory over a weak Latvia squad. Hart made 23 saves in that contest.
Then it was back to Ingram in the final preliminary game. Canada ultimately fell to the United States 3-1, which led to speculation that Hart would get the nod in the quarterfinals. That wasn't the case. Ingram started against the Czechs and Canada pulled out a 5-3 win.
Back to Hart in the semifinals? Nope. Ducharme again trotted out Ingram and it almost proved to be a costly decision. Ingram allowed two goals on just three shots before Hart was forced to save the day.
The Flyers' prospect entered cold against Sweden and was tested immediately as he had to make 13 stops in the first period alone. He went on to finish the game with 29 saves on 29 shots to help Canada stave off elimination and also earned Player of the Game honors.
Hart's heroics made it a no-brainer to play him in the Gold Medal match against the rival United States. Despite giving up four goals on 35 shots, Hart was actually terrific in net, especially in overtime. It was unfortunate that the game needed a shootout to decide a winner but Hart did all he could. He blocked four of the five U.S. attempts in the skills competition but that the one Troy Terry (4-for-4 in the tournament in shootouts) scored was all they needed to grab gold.
So after a relatively disappointing start to the WJC, Hart rebounded nicely. He brings a calm demeanor to the rink and his agility and rebound control are perhaps his top strengths. He usually has a strong glove hand but looked shaky at times during the tournament. It's also clear he still needs to improve on his puckhandling skills. He had quite a few adventures when leaving the crease but his athleticism and quickness helped get him out of jams. There were at least a half dozen highlight-reel worthy blocks he can add to his resume after last week.
Goaltender Felix Sandstrom - Team Sweden
Acquired: 2015 third-round pick (70th overall)
Season Stats: 11 GP, 9-2-0, 2.00 GAA, .918 save %, 2 SO
December Stats: 2GP, 2-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .960 save %, 1 SO
WJC Stats: 6 GP, 4-1-1, 2.17 GAA, .914 save %
Sandstrom, who was riding a 22-save shutout and 26-of-28 performance prior to the WJC with Brynas, was a busy man for Sweden in the Great White North.
The 19-year-old appeared in six of his country's seven games and was spectacular from start to finish. In all, he played just under 400 minutes and faced 152 shots on goal.
Sandstrom's best performances, however, came in his only two defeats. In a 5-2 loss to Canada in the semifinals, he kept the Swedes competitive while dueling with fellow Flyers prospect Hart. Sandstrom finished with 38 stops and had a multiple sequences where he was forced to make back-to-back stops. It was quite a site to be seen.
Then in the Bronze Medal match, Sandstrom was again the top Swedish player against Russia. It's really a shame the game ended so quickly in overtime - Sweden fell 2-1 - because all 24 of Sandstrom's stops seemed to come when his team needed them the most.
Though Sandstrom's theatrics weren't enough for a medal, he was still rewarded in the end. The IIHF named him the Top Goalie of the tournament after he finished with a 2.17 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
What was most impressive about Sandstrom in the world juniors was his lateral movements and reflexes. He was pouncing on every loose puck and when there were second attempts, he squashed them with his quickness.
Defenseman Philippe Myers - Team Canada
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in the summer of 2015
Season Stats: 19 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 30 PIMS, Plus-9, 65 SOG
December Stats: 3 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 4 PIMS, Minus-2, 9 SOG
WJC Stats: 4 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-1, 3 SOG
In a frustrating development, Myers' run at the world juniors was cut short after just four games.
The towering defenseman was on the wrong side of a nasty hit by Luke Kunin in Canada's final preliminary game against the United States and was eventually diagnosed with a concussion.
Myers, who had three assists in the tournament before suffering the injury, has now had two separate head injuries this season. His health moving forward will be a big storyline to follow.
The hit by Kunin knocked Myers out of the elimination round. He was unable to compete in the quarterfinals, semifinals and Gold Medal match.
Myers' absence didn't turn out to be crippling for Team Canada but it was a major blow. Myers was playing mostly on the top defensive unit and in key aspects (PK, 5-on-5 etc.) prior to the injury.
Defenseman David Bernhardt - Team Sweden
Acquired: 2016 seventh-round pick (199th overall)
Season Stats: 21 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 2 PIMS, Plus-7, 21 SOG
December Stats: 4 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 0 PIMS, Even, 2 SOG
WJC Stats: 7 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-6, 15 SOG
Nobody expected Bernhardt to blow people away at the world juniors but he still had a pretty good showing.
Playing mostly on Sweden's third defensive unit, the work-in-progress defender managed to chip in three assists in a limited role.
Bernhardt, a late-round pick, still tends to take too much time making decisions with the puck and can be a little rocky in his own end.
Overall, it was a promising tournament for him though. His skating ability stood out and his play didn't change much from game to game.
Consistency is something you can't teach. If Bernhardt can figure out how to be effective in all three zones at a high level, he could wind up becoming a big steal.
Forward Tanner Laczynski - Team United States
Acquired: 2016 sixth-round pick (169th overall)
Season Stats: 15 GP, 6 G, 16 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-15, 52 SOG
December Stats: 2 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-1, 5 SOG
WJC Stats: 6 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PIMS, Plus-2, 8 SOG
In a tournament like this, everybody has to serve a role. You can't expect every player to produce or rely on them to score goals.
Enter Laczynski. At Ohio State, the freshman plays top minutes and has been racking up points for the Buckeyes.
But on Team U.S., Laczynski was asked to do something different: Grind.
Laczynski, who missed the semifinal match against Russia because of the flu, skated on the fourth line and was tasked with wearing down the opposition. He obliged. The young forward was sound in all three zones, steady in the faceoff circle and finished nearly every single one of his check attempts in the corners and along the boards.
In the end, he was rewarded with a gold medal for his efforts. Just like he was when he crashed the net hard to bury a rebound for his lone goal of the WJC against Tomek and Slovakia.
Forward German Rubtsov - Team Russia
Acquired: 2016 first-round pick (22nd overall)
Season Stats: 15 GP, 7 G, 8 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-2 (MHL); 15 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 6 PIMS, Minus-4 (KHL)
December Stats: N/A
WJC Stats: 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PIMS, Minus-1, 0 SOG
Rubtsov was another Flyers prospect whose world junior experience was cut short because of an injury.
The 2016 first-round pick took a high hit in the second period of Russia's 4-0 win over Denmark in the quarterfinals and was reportedly concussed. He was also diagnosed with a broken nose and is scheduled to undergo surgery, which will be performed by Flyers team doctors.
Rubtsov's play wasn't the hot-button talking point, however. He was used sparsely - a gimme given his age and role in the KHL this year - in a fourth-line role and wasn't given much ice time.
No, the big news is that Rubtsov will be staying in North America. His contract with Vityaz has been terminated and he is now free to play for Chicoutimi of the QMJHL once he's medically cleared. Vityaz did retain his rights if he ever chooses to return to Russia, however.
This is fantastic news for Rubtsov and the Flyers' organization. He now has an opportunity to get acclimated to North American ice and Flyers brass can keep a watchful eye on him.
Rubtsov will also finally be given an opportunity to play big minutes. He has a high IQ, is a good distributor and has a great release on his shot.
He does have some physical maturing to do though. He is far more mentally/skills ready to play on this side of the pond but needs to bulk up.
So fans shouldn't be in a rush to see him turn pro. Just because he's AHL-eligible doesn't mean that's the route the Flyers should take.
Playing the rest of this year in the Q and possibly all of next season before joining the Phantoms at the end of each junior season would be a wise decision. This will give him time and summers to mature, grow and get bigger and stronger.
Communication and culture have great weight in this situation too. Rubtsov will have a lot of learning to do over the next few months. It would be best not to put too much on his plate at once. Let the kid develop.
Forward Mikhail Vorobyov - Team Russia
Acquired: 2015 fourth-round pick (104th overall)
Season Stats: 37 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 16 PIMS, Plus-1, 29 SOG
December Stats: 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 2 PIMS, Even, 2 SOG
WJC Stats: 7 GP, 0 G, 10 A, 4 PIMS, Plus-6, 8 SOG
If you saw Vorobyov's dominance coming, I'm going to need some lottery numbers off of you.
Another mid-to-late-rounder, Vorobyov finished tops in the WJC in assists with 10 and tied for third overall in points.
In a chance to play real top-line minutes, Vorobyov shined. He picked up two helpers in the quarterfinals and another in a 4-3 loss to the United States in the semifinals, a game in which he also scored in the shootout to temporarily give Russia a 2-1 lead in the skills competition.
Then in the Bronze Medal match, Vorobyov continued to set up his linemates extraordinarily well, earning a primary assist in Russia's lone goal during regulation.
Though he was one of the older, more experienced, players in the tourney, he was a major surprise nonetheless. His vision and swift skating ability was on full display, suggesting he could develop into an effective two-way forward.
Forward David Kase - Team Czech Republic
Acquired: 2015 fifth-round pick (128th overall)
Season Stats: 17 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 6 PIMS, Minus-1
December Stats: 1 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PIMS, Even
WJC Stats: 5 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 4 PIMS, Minus-1, 12 SOG
It's not hard to figure out why Hextall and company are so high on Kase.
The diminutive forward has a motor and goes all out every shift. He's also excelled while representing his country.
Kase, who can play both center and wing, took a hard hit against Sweden in the preliminary round but that didn't stop his persistence. He wound up scoring his team's lone marker to avoid a shutout defeat.
Though the Czechs didn't turn many heads, Kase was a standout. He was selected as one of the top three Czech players in the tournament and was noticeably active.
This will be a guy to keep an eye on if he can adapt to the more competitive North American game.