Now that the World Junior Championships are over, and host country Finland is revelling in their gold medals, the scouting focus on the departed tournament will surely be on the 2016 draft prospects like Team USA’s Auston Matthews and Finland’s Jesse Puljujarvi (who led the tournament with 17 points … and it wasn’t close). But the WJC was chock full of players who have already been drafted and are property of NHL teams. And surely, some teams saw great progress of their prospects in this huge tournament, and their scouting directors are smiling from ear to ear. Here are five teams whose prospects shined bright in the World Juniors in Helsinki:
The Hurricanes have a couple of second round picks that were excellent in the tournament. Team USA goalie and 2015 second round pick Alex Nedeljkovic ended the tournament with a GAA of 1.66 and an insane save percentage of 94.27. Meanwhile 2014 pick Sebastian Aho has been part of a powerhouse for Finland with a 5-9-14 line in seven games with a +9 rating. Carolina would do well to draft Puljujarvi or Patrik Laine this summer and recreate the chemistry that line had.
New York Islanders
Matthew Barzal was drafted 16th last year with the pick that the Islanders got in the Griffin Reinhart trade. But while Barzal had a decent tournament for Canada, Swedish goalie Linus Soderstrom has been the revelation. He ended the WJC with a GAA of 1.42 and two shutouts for Sweden. The one question Swedish fans will ask themselves until next year is why Soderstrom sat in the bronze medal match against the United States, where they got blitzed 8-3. But regardless, the Islanders have to be happy with his play on the big stage.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Defenseman Zach Werenski has been excellent for Team USA with a +10 rating and 9 points in the tournament. The 6’2″ 214 lb defenseman has been rumored to be turning pro after this good showing as he’s reportedly unhappy playing for the Michigan Wolverines. Adding a big man to the Blue Jackets defensive corps will no doubt make John Tortorella very happy. (Or at least as happy as John Tortorella gets.) Team USA left wing and Blue Jackets prospect Sonny Milano also had eight points and was a +9 in the tournament.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs present doesn’t look great but their future looks better and better. Canada’s Mitch Marner went 4-2-6 in the tournament and scored three of his goals on the power play. Sweden’s Dmytro Timashov has a 2-5-7 line with a +4 rating with both of his goals coming on the power play. Also, there’s Kasperi Kapanen, who came to Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade. His name should sound familiar … his father was former Hartford Whaler Sami Kapanen. So he has the bloodlines. And now he has “the clutch gene”. His tournament stats were pedestrian at 2-3-5 and a -2. But when it mattered most:
Werenski’s defense partner Brandon Carlo had a good tournament, punctuated by his goal and assist in the bronze medal game against Sweden and a +9 rating for the entire tournament.
Finnish/Rangers forward Aleksi Saarela went 4-3-7 and +2 in seven games. Russian/Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov had 8 assists in the tournament. Canadian/Coyotes forward Dylan Strome was 4-2-6 in five games. Swedish/Kings forward Adrian Kempe was 3-5-8 in seven games.