Keller, Kaprizov, Nylander lead SI’s 2017 All-World Juniors team

The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship came to a close Thursday. The last few days of the tournament felt as though they were scripted by a Hollywood scribe with a penchant for traditional sports drama. The playoff rounds had everything: Incredible goaltending, echoes of teams past, screw-turning drama, and the definite possibility that Canadian fans demand the government establish a National Council of Goaltending. When the dust settled, the United States claimed gold, its third since 2010.

To get there, the U.S. had to eliminate Russia in a semifinal shootout where University of Denver forward Troy Terry channeled T.J. Oshie’s Sochi heroics, converting three times to give the Americans a berth in the final against Canada, which had to get past a tough Sweden entry.

The gold medal game became an early entry for the top game of 2017, as the U.S. recovered from 2-0 and 4-0 deficits against the Canadians, forcing overtime before needing a five-round shootout to decide things. Once again, Terry showed his mettle, scoring the only goal against goalie Carter Hart, while Tyler Parsons stopped all five shots he saw.

With the medals handed out the the 2017 WJC in the rearview, it’s time to look at which players stood out in the tournament, and who failed to make an impression.

FIRST TEAM ALL-WORLD JUNIORS

Kirill Kaprizov, RW, Russia (Minnesota Wild): The Russian forward had a record-setting tournament, leading all players with nine goals, the most by a Russian-born player since 1991 when Pavel Bure scored 12 for Team USSR. In fact, the last player to score at least nine was Sweden’s Max Friberg in 2012. Prior to that, you’d have to track back to 1993 when Markus Naslund scored 13 for Tre Kronor.

Kaprizov did it all for Russia and was possibly the best player in the tournament. He’s tough to defend because of fantastic puck skills and solid skating. His shot was dangerous from anywhere in the offensive zone and his strength might be what surprised most. He’s not a big player at 5’10” and 192 pounds, but does excellent work along the boards to retrieve possession and protect the puck.

Clayton Keller, LW/C, United States (Arizona Coyotes): The Boston University forward finished third in overall scoring with 11 points (3G, 8A). Every time he was on the ice it felt like he was on the brink of making something significant happen. He’s a shifty and immensely creative player who isn’t scared to hang onto the puck and wait for the play to present itself.

Keller was a leader on the U.S.’s most offensively threatening line with Joey Anderson and Colin White, who led the team with seven goals. Keller’s skill set might have been the best of any forward.

Alexander Nylander, RW, Sweden (Buffalo Sabres): In terms of raw skills, Nylander showed he’s on another plane. He thrived on the team’s top line, tying Kaprizov for the tournament lead with 12 points (5G, 7A).  Nylander’s hands and creativity stand out. He has the tools to be a very gifted NHLer in the not too distant future.

He’s not big and doesn’t play a particularly physical game, so you wonder how it translates up through the ranks of pro hockey. However, it didn’t matter here. He was excellent for Sweden despite their most recent disappointment in the medal rounds.

Thomas Chabot, D, Canada (Ottawa Senators): The number of minutes the 2015 first-round pick logged were incredible. He played 27:17 in a 5-2 semifinal win over the Swedes, then turned around the next day and skated 43:53 in the gold medal game. That’s 71:10 over the course of two days. He played over half of every period in the gold medal game, including somehow having enough in the tank to log 11:06 in overtime.

He was arguably the most complete defenseman in the tournament and earned MVP honors, which is exceedingly difficult to do as a defenseman. He makes intelligent plays, is tough to go into the corners against, and shined turning the puck out of the defensive zone for breakouts.

Charlie McAvoy, D, United States (Boston Bruins): Like Chabot, McAvoy was the American squad’s rock. He played 35:33 in the goal medal game, including 10:20 in the extra frame. The Long Island native is a quality puck mover, leads breakouts well, can play in all situations, and is an offensive threat.

He wasn’t perfect, but carried a big load for the U.S. in a year where their offense was deep, but the defensive group was average.

Felix Sandstrom, G, Sweden (Philadelphia Flyers): Coach Tomas Monten repeatedly extolled his goalie, saying how important Sandstrom was to the Swedish efforts, even going so far as to call him the team’s best player. Sandstrom played the second-most minutes of any goaltender, posting a .915 save percentage.

Though Russia’s Ilya Samsonov played 10 more minutes and faced more shots with a better save percentage, Sandstrom was impressive. He’s a big body, is surprisingly agile, and reads the play well, anticipating offense off the rush.

SECOND TEAM ALL-WORLD JUNIORS

Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Sweden (Minnesota Wild): The Swedish captain was the team’s utility knife. He was always hovering near the puck and was efficient in all three zones. He earned a ton of praise in the tournament but left many who heard the acclaim and tuned in for a brief moment a little perplexed. That’s because he’s not going to blow you away with high-end stickhandling or speed or the kind of razzle-dazzle Keller is capable of. Eriksson Ek is not elite, but quietly does everything right and can take a defensive zone assignment and get the ice tilted in the right direction.

Jordan Greenway, LW, United States (Minnesota Wild): The 19-year-old winger is a 6’5”, 229-pound powerhouse. For a guy his size, he has a lot of offensive skill, but he’s also able to use his frame for more than checking. He can protect the puck and make the smart play. Throughout the tournament he made his bones working in the corners, battling below the goal line on the power play, and being an immovable object in front of the net.

Mathew Barzal, C, Canada (New York Islanders): Barzal is one of the few players in the tournament who has seen NHL time. Though he put up three goals and eight points in seven games, it wasn’t his totals that impressed. He reads the play at a high level and can make high-skill plays in tight quarters. And he did it every game.

Barzal rarely took a shift off and he put together an incredible pass through traffic in front of the net during the gold medal game that should have delivered victory for Canada, though Pierre-Luc Dubois whiffed on the one-timer.

Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Switzerland (Washington Capitals): Like McAvoy, Chabot, and the fourth defenseman on this list, Siegenthaler logged a boatload of minutes, averaging over 25 per game as the Swiss depended on him in all situations. His battle level is high as well. He never shies away from a board battle or doing what he has to in front of the net. Working the power play, he showed offensive instincts, though that part of his gmae isn’t his strength.

Yegor Rykov, D, Russia (New Jersey Devils): Canadiens prospect Mikhail Sergachev was expected to be the class of the Russian blue line, but instead it was the Devil’s 2016 fifth-round pick Rykov. He’s not a particularly dynamic skater, but he’s a good puck-mover and consistently had himself in the right place at the right time. He’s also got a bit of a mean streak in him that played to his advantage during the tournament.

Tyler Parsons, G, United States (Calgary Flames): This should really be a tie between Parsons and Samsonov, but the former elevated his game at the end of the tournament and came up big for the U.S. Add to that, he was perfect in the gold medal game shootout and it’s hard not to give Parsons a bit of recognition. He wasn’t outstanding at the start of the tourney, but there’s little doubt the Americans have a gold in part because of his efforts against Switzerland. When the Swiss were storming the castle in the third period of their quarterfinal elimination game, Parsons came up with huge, impressive saves against both Siegenthaler and Nico Hischier.

SURPRISES

Rasmus Dahlin, D, Sweden (2018 Draft Eligible): You don’t see many 16-year-old skaters in this tournament and when you do, they tend not to impress. Dahlin, a top prospect for the 2018 draft, didn’t blow the doors off the arena and struggled at times in limited ice time. (He also made a costly mistake in overtime during the bronze medal game.) But expectations for such a young prospect at World Juniors should be tempered. He was solid, all things considered. He’s fast, he reads the play well, and his hands are incredible. Many have compared him to Erik Karlsson and it’s apt. He’s a dynamic offensive force from the blue line and you could see it even if no one would argue he had a perfect tournament.

Nico Hischier, C, Switzerland (2017 Draft Eligible): After the 2016 All-Tournament Team was full of draft eligibles, we’ve come back to Earth. Hischier showed a lot in the tournament and was close to being listed above. Despite being on a team that was unlikely to go far, the 18-year-old was a force. He seemed to be on the ice every other shift when it mattered most. Late in the game, he was more than the U.S. defense could handle in their quarterfinal match. Thankfully for the Americans, Parsons was on his game.

Troy Terry, RW, United States (Anaheim Ducks): Yes, Terry will get talked about at every tournament for the next 10 years thanks to his timely shootout prowess.

But Terry’s success goes beyond that. He never flashed elite skill, but reads the game well and shouldered increasing responsibilities as the tournament progressed. Just look at his ice time: When the game was on the line, coach Bob Motzko had him out there. Terry’s 6:44 in overtime during the gold medal game was third among American forwards. He wasn’t necessarily a player many thought would be a difference-maker prior to the tournament, but he turned heads even beyond being the star of two shootouts.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Canada (Columbus Blue Jackets): Selected third in the 2016 draft (where many believed Jesse Puljujarvi should have gone), Dubois didn’t do much during the group stage. He was expected to be a minute-munching top-line forward and was ultimately dropped down the depth chart. He played better late in the tournament, particularly in the semifinal on a very large all-QMJHL line with Nicolas Roy and Julien Gauthier (who had a good tournament). However, compared to what was expected, Dubois turned in a disappointing showing. That doesn’t mean it’s time to write him off by any stretch, even if he’s having a slow year in the QMJHL.

Olli Juolevi, D, Finland (Vancouver Canucks): We haven’t talked much about Finland, but that’s because there’s little to talk about. They were a disaster and narrowly avoided relegation after firing their coaching staff in the middle of the tournament. Juolevi, who was a major part of last year’s gold medal-winning team, is in a similar position to Dubois. He’s had a disappointing year with OHL London and this was a chance to get back on track. Instead, it was a middling performance. He finished second on the team in shots and was second in shots among all defensemen. (Though, it’s tough to weigh that when Finland played just six games and two of them came in a relegation round).

Just like with Dubois, it’s nowhere near time to write him off, but it wasn’t a heartening performance.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Kale Clague, Canada (Los Angeles Kings); Jonathan Dahlen, Sweden (Ottawa Senators); Carl Grundstrom, Sweden (Toronto Maple Leafs); Kaspar Krog, Denmark (Undrafted); Luke Kunin, United States (Minnesota Wild); Alexander Polunin, Russia (undrafted); Damien Riat, Switzerland (Washington Capitals); Dylan Strome, Canada (Arizona Coyotes); Mikhail Vorobyov, Russia (Philadelphia Flyers); Colin White, United States (Ottawa Senators).

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