The preliminary round robin of the 2017 World Junior Championship is over and teams will now begin to compete for medals. The first round held a few surprises with Denmark placing second in Group A and Finland falling into the relegation round.
Record format: regulation win - overtime win - overtime loss - regulation loss
The Relegation Round
Finland (5A) vs Latvia (5B)
Finland’s record: 1-0-0-3
Latvia’s record: 0-0-0-4
Few people, if anyone, thought that Finland would face relegation just a year after winning gold at the 2016 World Junior Championships, but Finland could only find one win before getting their coaching staff fired. Meanwhile, Latvia served as the punching bag of Group B as they were outscored 29-6 in their games against the USA, Canada, Russia, and Slovakia.
Latvia won’t try to make it easy, but Finland is the favorite to stave off relegation. A year after Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastion Aho, and Patrik Laine helped them win gold, the Finns have had trouble finding the back of the net. Luckily for Finland, while Latvia has scored the same number of goals so far, they have also let in the most goals of the tournament.
The Quarterfinal Medal Round
Denmark (2A) vs Russia (3B)
Denmark’s record: 1-1-1-1
Russia’s record: 2-0-0-2
After being written off for relegation by most pundits, Denmark has been feel good story of the tournament so far. Unfortunately for the Danes, they drew Russia and Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov for the medal round. While the Russians’ record doesn’t look special, their two losses came against the USA and Canada, who have both been superb during the tournament.
Denmark had the best penalty kill through the preliminary round and didn’t give up a single shorthanded goal. Despite that success, Denmark should try their best to stay out of the penalty box because Russia’s power play has been the second best of the tournament so far.
Russia is likely to upset Denmark in the quarterfinals, but that isn’t guaranteed. Russia’s overall team play hasn’t looked consistent throughout the tournament while Denmark’s team cohesiveness has been one of their key strengths.
Prospect update: Kaprizov has looked sharp during the tournament and he is currently tied for the second most points in the tournament with 8. In addition, he is tied for first for the most goals scored with 5 and has the most shots on goal of the tournament with 18.
USA (1B) vs Switzerland (4A)
USA’s record: 4-0-0-0
Switzerland’s record: 0-2-0-2
While well rounded overall, the US’s primary strength so far during the tournament has been the team’s defense. Lead by returning Boston Bruins’ prospect Charlie McAvoy, the rest of the US’s blueline is new to the World Juniors Championship. However, they were able to help the US shut down both Canada and Russia in decisive wins. It also helps that Joseph Woll and Tyler Parsons have been the second and third best goalies in the tournament thus far.
Switzerland, on the other hand, has yet to win in regulation time, which should worry Swiss fans hoping for an upset. Switzerland ranks in the middle of most team metrics so far except for penalties, of which they have taken the second fewest. With a top 2017 prospect in Nico Hischier, an upset is possible for Switzerland, but the US will likely continue its dominance into the semifinals.
Prospect update: US Captain Luke Kunin leads the tournament in penalty minutes thanks to a late hit on Canada’s Philippe Myers which led to a game misconduct and a possible suspension. Otherwise, Kunin has looked good throughout the tournament despite only scoring 2 assists so far. Jordan Greenway, meanwhile, has looked fantastic during the tournament. In the US’s final preliminary game against Canada, Greenway scored a goal and two assists (4 points overall in the tournament) as he used his size well to drive to the net and control play. In addition, Greenway has the second most shots in the tournament with 17 while Kunin has the 5th most with 15.
Sweden (1A) vs Slovakia (4B)
Sweden’s record: 4-0-0-0
Slovakia’s record: 1-0-0-3
The last time Sweden won gold at the World Junior Championship was also the last time the Wild had three captains in the tournament in 2013. The Swedes are looking to win it again this year as they have been dominant all tournament long. Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Alexander Nylander currently leads the tournament in scoring with 4 goals and 9 points, and 2018 draft eligible defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has looked like a star in the making.
Of the remaining eight teams, Slovakia has been the worst with only a single win over Latvia. It would be rather amazing if Slovakia was able to upset Sweden; however, with a few prospects eligible for the 2017 and 2018 NHL drafts, fans will still have plenty of reasons to watch the game.
Prospect update: Joel Eriksson Ek has done well as Sweden’s captain so far as his leadership skills have earned praise from commentators and pundits alike. So far in the tournament, Eriksson Ek has scored 3 goals and 5 points on 10 shots.
Canada (2B) vs the Czech Republic (3A)
Canada’s record: 3-0-0-1
Czech Rep.’s record: 1-0-2-1
Canada’s only loss came against the US on New Year’s Eve, but they have otherwise been the powerhouse many expected them to be. Canada’s power play, the best in the tournament so far, matches up well with the Czech’s second worst ranked penalty kill. Philippe Myers has been ruled out of the quarterfinals due to a concussion after Kunin’s hit, and is unlikely to return for the rest of the tournament. Despite the loss of Myers, Canada can likely look forward to the semifinals.
The main goal of the tournament for the Czech’s was to avoid relegation, which they succeeded in, but an upset over Canada is at least more likely than a Slovakia upset over Sweden.