The semifinals are finished and the medal round is set with Russia facing Finland in the gold medal match, and the U.S. playing Sweden for the right to go home with some hardware. Here are nine players who made their mark during the semifinals at the 2016 World Juniors.
Mikko Rantanen & Kasperi Kapanen, Team Finland
Coming into the tournament it was expected that Rantanen and Kapanen would be two of the biggest forces for the Finnish team. They’ve been buried. Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho and Patrik Laine have been the story for Finland day after day. But Rantanen and Kapanen haven’t played poorly at any point, they’ve just not had bounces go their way.
Monday was different. Both Rantanen and Kapanen had an assist on each of the Finnish goals against the Swedes to move on to the gold medal game. If you can’t get the shots to go, make some plays.
Kapanen’s 19 shots rank second on the Finnish team and are tied for ninth in the tournament among non-relegation teams. That puts him above Aho and Puljujarvi. However, Kapanen has only had one of those 19 shots get behind a goaltender. Rantanen has just one goal as well. He’s taken just 10 shots.
Andreas Englund, Team Sweden
The 2014 2nd round draft pick hasn’t put up many points, but the team’s captain been a key piece of Sweden’s success, which has been prominently defensive success (goaltending included).
With William Nylander knocked out of the tournament early on, Adrian Kempe out as well, Joel Eriksson Ek held out once and Adam Ollas Mattsson knocked out during the quarterfinals, more and more pressure has fallen on the Swedish blue line. Englund has been the team’s answer to it all. He’s had good exit passes, good battle in the corners and has played the physical style that’s been required of him in some tight games.
Kaapo Kahkonen, Team Finland
Kahkonen was hardly used in the round robin stage and stepped into the game cold against Canada to help Finland to a victory. He allowed two goals on 24 shots there and then just a single goal on 22 shots against Sweden. Overall in the tournament he has a .919 save percentage and has become a key to Finnish success with a .935 save percentage in the elimination stage.
The Swedes were able to slow down the seemingly unstoppable Puljujarvi-Aho-Laine line — which I’ll get to in a second — but Kahkonen standing tall in the Finnish net allowed Finland to continue their march toward gold on home soil.
It also didn’t hurt that the Finns didn’t allow the Swedes a shot during the final 10 minutes of the game.
Alex Nedeljkovic, Team USA
Nedeljkovic allowed one goal that was a little on the weak side, when Yegor Korshkov overpowered U.S. defenseman Zach Werenski to get the second Russian goal. It would ultimately stand as the game-winner. But Nedeljkovic kept the U.S. in the game when they were at their worst.
Particularly during a 5-on-3 early in the game when Werenski took a slashing call at the same time the team had a too many men bench minor, putting them down two skaters for a full two minutes. Nedeljkovic answered the bell, making a couple of brilliant saves that kept the game within reach.
Ivan Provorov, Team Russia
Provorov has been a standout throughout the tournament, and Monday’s game was no exception. He was winning 50/50 board battles and showed that his battle level is something from another planet. Even if he lost a scrum, the smooth-skating Russian never gave up on the puck and won it back many times. He’s going to be a special talent when he joins the Philadelphia Flyers.
Yegor Korshkov, Team Russia
I mentioned it above, but Korshkov’s game-winning goal was a thing of beauty. He held Werenski off the puck in the corner and powered his way to the net, jamming it past Nedeljkovic. It was a great goal and just one of many great plays Korshkov made during the game. He was easily Russia’s best player on the night, sending them to the gold medal game for the fourth time in the last six tournaments.
Kirill Kaprizov, Team Russia
Kaprizov had a play similar to Korshkov’s goal early in the first. He absolutely dominated Werenski in the corner, moving up and down the boards with his back to Werenski, protecting the puck. He got an angle on the U.S. captain and then drove the net. Kaprizov didn’t score on Monday, but he was making an offensive impact early when Russia was on its heels and maintained his position as an impact player as the tables tilted in Russia’s favor.
Kaprizov finished the game with a team-leading nine shots, six of which he took in the first period. Despite just having one goal and three points through six games, the 18-year-old KHL winger has 18 shots, tied for 13th most in the tournament.
Sonny Milano, Team USA
The U.S. looked a little flat, but if you’re picking out some players that were effective, it was the Sonny Milano, Anders Bjork, Christian Dvorak line. The top line for the U.S. had been the real threat the whole tournament, but the Russians effectively shut them down until the last 10 minutes of play. Any time Auston Matthews touched the puck he had little space to work with.
This trio was one of the only lines to get any pressure going late in the first and into the second period. That pressure included the Christian Dvorak goal, the only U.S. goal of the game. It came when Milano made a play down the boards, blowing past the Russian defense — whose bad gap control made Milano look like Sergei Fedorov — and he dished to the netfront where both Bjork and Dvorak had set up.
They had planted themselves in the dirty area in front of the net, where the U.S. has been particularly impressive the whole tournament. Russia countered by placing two players in front of the net the rest of the game and stopping the U.S. from getting in on rebounds and banging one home.
William Lagesson, Team Sweden
Lagesson had a small task on Monday: Shut down the tournament’s best line. It’s a line featuring three of the top four scorers in the tournament. Aho, Puljujarvi and Laine have been unreal, combining for 37 points in the five games leading up to the match against Sweden.
Lagesson and his D partner Gustav Forsling did their part. It was an impressive performance from Lagesson, though it wasn’t flashy or all that noticeable at times. Unfortunately for Lagesson, Roope Hintz and Antti Kalapudas found the back of the net in the second and that was all it took to end the Oilers prospect’s gold medal hopes.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.