Maple Leafs Well-Represented in 2016 World Junior Championship
The 2016 World Junior Championship, held in Helsinki, Finland will be the best tournament for Leafs fans in years. With the announcements made this past week that both Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen and Swedish forward William Nylander will loaned to their respective WJC teams from the Toronto Marlies, an unprecedented five Leafs players will be featured in this year’s tournament. Here’s a look at their teams and what kind of impact we can expect to see from them.
The defending gold-medalists will have an entirely different makeup of key forwards from last year. While Canada might not be able to match the skill of last year’s team, arguably one of the greatest teams in this tournament’s history, they do have London Knights forward and Leafs prospect Mitch Marner. Likely to be paired with Dylan Strome at centre and Travis Konecny on the right of Canada’s top line, Team Canada will have no trouble scoring goals this year. For Leafs fans, it will be exciting to watch his skillset on display in front of a mass audience with a gold medal on the line. Many Leafs fans haven’t seen his true potential other than reading boxscores and watching the occasional highlight reel. Last year, Coyotes fans were treated to the Domi and Duclair show, which carried over into the NHL this year. Perhaps in 2016, Toronto fans will be treated to a show.
Fans are beginning to see why the Leafs passed on choosing a second player in the first round and instead traded down to select Dermott 34th overall. He has been dominant on the backend with Strome’s Erie Otters this year, getting ample powerplay time as well as playing solid, smart, shutdown defence. He is second in the OHL among defenceman with 27 points in 29 games. With Team Canada, he is likely to be paired with Flyers prospect Travis Sanheim. While Dermott’s offense will be appreciated, it’s his defence that Canada will need the most. Projected starter Mackenzie Blackwood will not be available for the first two games of the tournament, including a crucial opening game against the Americans, due to a suspension so it will be up to Dermott and company to shut down the high-flying U.S. offense led by Austin Mathews.
What more can we say about him? Nylander has single-handedly torn up the AHL in his first full season with the Toronto Marlies, leading the league with 34 points in 26 games, and is arguably the Leafs top prospect – even ahead of Marner. Sweden does not have the same firepower that the Canadians do so Nylander will be tasked with providing the bulk of the offense. He will likely play on a line with LA Kings prospect Adrian Kempe (the duo found chemistry in last year’s tournament, after playing together on MoDo in the SHL). Nylander likely won’t set any scoring records in this year’s WJC but he will be the key factor in pushing Sweden into the medal round, despite being in a tough group A.
Leafs fans know that Nylander can provide a lot of offence but the focus of his development with the Marlies has been towards a complete game under head coach Sheldon Keefe. Nylander will also look to prove that he is not on the same level as the prospects in the tournament. Many scouts believe that Nylander is capable of playing in the NHL this year but the Leafs are willing to be patient and make sure he is put into a good situation but if Nylander is among the best forwards in the tournament it will only add to an already impressive couple of years for the young Swedish prospect.
Currently on pace to surpass last year’s point totals and score well over 100 points, Timashov will provide some much needed secondary scoring to Sweden’s offense. Timashov played with Nylander in MoDo as well before they came to North America and should be excited to play with a fellow Leafs prospect in this tournament. Once the medal round comes, Sweden will need to up its goal support which was a struggling point in the past and Timashov could be the answer for Sweden to rebound after last year’s disappointing 4th place finish.
Finland’s roster from a distance appears unspectacular and unlikely to compete for a medal. However, with a closer look, this team is the dark horse to win gold. Led by two 2016 NHL draft hopefuls for the top 10, Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, Finland might just have enough offense to push them over the top. Always defensive-minded, the Finns are notorious for grinding out low scoring games and squeaking by their opponent by a single goal. Add in Kapanen to the mix and this is a team with enough youth and experience to win it all. Kapanen did not have a great tournament last year with one goal in five games, and started out slow this year with the Marlies. Lately, however, he has been a lot better with 10 points in 17 games. Kapanen will be used in many important game situations, able to score and shut down opponents, and will be play a key role in trying to help Finland win gold on home ice.
The Leafs could’ve had as many as eight players but three American-born Leafs prospects were left off the tryout camp including Jeremy Bracco, JJ Piccinich and Dakota Joshua. Bracco had left the NCAA for Kitchener earlier this year and caught fire with 16 points in 14 games. Unfortunately for these young players, the Americans head into the tournament loaded with talented young forward depth and have no room for them. Perhaps they can use the sting of not being invited to their advantage by playing with a chip on their shoulder the rest of the season.
While they aren’t in the main tournament, Latvia is playing in the WJC Division 1 and Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals is on the team. Currently, Latvia sits first in group A, ahead of Austria, Germany, Norway, Kazakhstan and Italy. They play Germany tomorrow and face last-place Italy Saturday before the playoffs to determine which teams will get promoted for 2017. Dzierkals has one goal and one assist in three games thus far.
The World Junior Championship is the best head-to-head international display of young talent. The Leafs having five prospects featured in the main tournament plus one more in the second division is very exciting and encouraging that many players picked in the last two drafts are developing into elite skilled players.
Posted on December 16, 2015, in Blog, In the System, Prospects and tagged canada, finland, kapanen, leafs, marner, nylander, prospects, sweden, WJC, world juniors. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.